Keidel: Yankees Need True Ace Pitcher To Win Title

Trio Of Cole, Verlander and Greinke Was Difference For Astros

Jason Keidel
October 22, 2019 - 1:06 pm
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When the Yanks went to the Wild Card game in 2015, they were a team in transition, trimming fat from the Core Four and old-world dynasty days. In fact, they still had Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez on the club that got punked by Dallas Keuchel in their lone playoff game. 

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In 2017, they were the Baby Bombers, new and fresh and fun, wide-eyed sluggers who stunned the sport by reaching the ALCS, losing to the world-champion Astros in seven games. Last year, they won 100 games but you still had the sense they weren't quite there, not quite in that October orbit, and didn't have the physical and emotional timbre to take the leap they had made 27 times over the last 100 years. 

But 2019 was different. This year, the Yankees were supposed to win 100 games. They were supposed to win the AL East. They were supposed to rumble toward the pennant, and play the Astros in the ALCS. But they weren't supposed to lose. 

As Aaron Judge said after the Yanks were bounced by the Astros, this season is a failure. While some teams may delight in winning 100 games in consecutive seasons, the Yankees are just the fifth team in history to do exactly that yet fail to reach the World Series in both years. 

So while it's become trendy to blame Giancarlo Stanton, flex a finger at Edwin Encarnacion, or just dump on the entire lineup, they didn't lose largely because their big-ticket batters whiffed. They lost because Houston has Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke, while the Yanks have Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and Luis Severino. One team has two aces (or three if you include Greinke), and the Yankees have none. 

An article from MLB.com lists the top-20 possible free agents this winter, and four of the top-five are pitchers. So while the Yankees have become suddenly splurge-allergic it's time for that old-school, Steinbrenner DNA to kick-in, borrow that Darth Vader mask, and make it rain on their rotation. Hal Steinbrenner is a self-styled numbers geek, but after this wholly somber exit from the playoffs, no one will feel pity if he pays some luxury tax as the owner of a $4 billion franchise. (Imagine the ire from his father after the Yankees finished their first calendar decade without a World Series appearance since 1919.)

Two of the soon to be super-wealthy starters will pitch in this World Series - Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg must opt-out of his current deal, which has four years and $100 million left. But with starter-starved contenders like the Yankees drooling over his talent, count on Strasburg to become a free agent. Some say Cole, who hasn't lost a start since May 22, will grab a 7-year, $240 million deal. Let's assume Strasburg will get slightly less. It's just money, something the Yankees have in absurd surplus.

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MLB.com's fifth-ranked free agent is current Yankee Aroldis Chapman, who has lost some warp speed from his fastball, and burped the ALCS-ending homer to Jose Altuve, which was followed by an odd smirk from the Yankees closer. Chapman can also opt-out and taste some free agent offers. With Dellin Betances rarely healthy, Adam Ottavino pitching as though he wanted no part of the playoffs, and Zack Britton too wild to be crowned as a closer, the Yanks may be cornered into keeping Chapman. 

The only true free agents of import able to leave the team anytime are Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorius. Both are great clubhouse guys. Both were productive in 2019. But Gardner turns 37 next summer and Gregorius (who turns 30 next year) has injury issues. If they lose Gardner they still have outfielders. If they're worried about losing Didi's bat, remember that the younger, better Miguel Andujar will be back next year. 

Brian Cashman got a pass this year because he was so masterful in patching these pinstripes together after a laughable litany of injuries plagued the club. In August, the Yankees broke the all-time record with 36 separate trips to the IL. Yet the Yankees’ GM mined the minors and majors for subs who played like stars. 

But Cashman also froze at the trade deadline, and it bit them on the backside this autumn. After July 31 drifted away, he asserted that the club was getting a frontline starter, with Severino returning from injury. But that was a bit specious, if not sarcastic. If you want the blueprint for pitching acquisitions that lead to World Series rings, look no farther than the last few years. In 2016 the Cubs snagged Chapman from the Yanks and won their first title in 108 years. In 2017, the Astros stole Verlander and won their first World Series title. In 2018, the Red Sox bagged Chris Sale and then rolled to their fourth title since 2004. This year, Houston got Greinke, vanquished the Yanks, and are favored to topple the Nats. 

That's what the Yankees need. Not some ham-handed call-up from the IL or Class A. Not another Happ. They need an undeniable ace, a meat-eating monster who snarled on the mound, demands the ball, breathes and throws fire. 

The Yankees will still have the bulk of the ball club that moonwalked to the AL East crown. But if they want to hurdle that Houston roadblock that's thwarted them three times in their last four trips to the AL playoffs, they need to poach some pitching. And what better way than to peel two pitchers from this year's World Series? 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.

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