With Patrick Corbin inking a 6-year/$140 million dollar contract with the Washington Nationals on Tuesday afternoon, and Nathan Eovaldi signing a 4-year/$67.5 million dollar contract with Boston shortly there after, the Yankees remain on the hunt for additional starting pitching support ahead of the 2019 season.
Part of that equation includes the subtraction of Sonny Gray, which is a developing situation everyone is keeping tabs on, but the more important component for the Yankees is finding the right marriage to make in their rotation.
At a quick glance, the Yankees need for starting pitching is apparent, but what options remain now that teams have sunken their teeth into the 2018–19 offseason, and which are the best fit?
JA Happ: 2 YEARS/$25 MILLION
I wasn’t in love with bringing Happ back at the start of this offseason, and I was less in love with it once the Yankees resigned CC Sabathia, but Corbin and Eovaldi signing certainly changes the equation.
Happ now becomes one of the few “knowns” on the market. There are plenty of unknowns (Kikuchi, Harvey), but you can pretty much pencil in Happ at about a 3.50 ERA and 160 IP. Is that what the Yankees need? I still think they would be better suited rolling the dice on a younger player (like the ones below), but Happ’s familiarity with the team and friendly price tag might make him the favored option by the Yankees.
Brian Cashman has said publicly that the Yankees are going after starting pitching before filling their other team needs, but that isn’t a claim that holds a ton of weight. The longer the Yankees wait to sign Happ, the lower their chances at pinning him down will be (not rocket science), but I saw that because lower budget clubs like the Brewers and Athletics could view Happ as an ideal fit. I don’t see him being a tough negotiator this winter (especially if a competitor comes knocking), so the Yankees would be wise to make their move sooner rather than later if they view him as their guy.
Dallas Keuchel: 4 YEARS / $64 MILLION
It wasn’t a 2018 to remember for Dallas Keuchel, but the southpaw still has the most impressive career resume of any free agent starter. With a Cy Young, World Series, and 4 Gold Gloves already under his belt; I think clubs would be foolish not to take advantage of the discount Keuchel could be signed at this winter.
I see him as a strong fit for the Yankees, someone that could come in and offer invaluable length and consistency in the middle the team’s rotation without a hiccup. He fits perfectly with his incumbent club Houston, but could also be an impact player on a team like the Cardinals or Phillies (and of course the Yankees) as a number two or three starter.
Kuechel isn’t a SABR-metric stud, and because of that, management might not view him as the most bang for their buck. JA Happ isn’t either, but when you combine his familiarity with the organization, his expanded role last season, and how much cheaper the could potentially get him at; I can understand why the Yankees would prefer Happ over Keuchel. [Nothing I totally agree with]
Yusei Kikuchi: 4 YEARS / $64 MILLION (PLUS POSTING)
Spoiler alert: I’m kind of in love with this kid.
He’s the youngest of the lot at 27, with a quasi herky-jerky mechanic that resembles a blend of Rich Hill and John Lester. His velocity converts [from kph] to 94–96 mph, but with the baseballs being different in Major League Baseball, Kikuchi projects a pitcher that maxes out at 96mph and sits closer to 92–94mph.
The Yankees ties to Japan have been well documented, and after missing out on Ohtani last season, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried their luck in the overseas market once again. Kikuchi is, most certainly, not the caliber of player that Shohei Ohtani was, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worth a solid look. Eliminate Shohei Ohtani, and Kikuchi is the best Japanese born pitcher to be posted since Masahiro Tanaka, which worked out pretty well for the Yankees. The Japanese league has been a microcosm of free agency that the Yankees have dominated, so they’ll definitely do they’re homework on him before deciding.
It goes with out saying that there is risk in Kikuchi. Japanese pitchers often come overworked, and less polished than advertised, so while the Yankees might be up on him, don’t be surprised if there isn’t a bidding war for this Japanese southpaw.
However, in the Yankees’ case, Kikuchi’s upside could be worth the gamble. His ceiling is probably somewhere between Masahiro Tanaka and JA Happ, and he would ultimately be ensured by Jordan Montgomery. Best case scenario, Kikuchi is a stud and you can score another for the Yankees scouting; the flip side, the Yankees are banking on Montgomery+trades/prospects come July.
The market hasn’t shaken the Yankees way this winter. In addition, the front office that build a reputation for its spending has been acting uncharacteristically frugal.
Everyone has an opinion on who is the best fit for the Yankees, but just remember the Luke Voit(s), Aaron Hicks(s), and Didi Gregorius(s); guys who came in as unknowns and have blossomed. The Yankees haven’t left a stoned unturned, and while that doesn’t mean they’ll never be wrong, it’s probably smart to stay optimistic when a franchise has had the sustained success they have.