Evaluating Starters and a Lesson 26 Years in the Making

(SB Nation)

It was the winter following the 1992 season, and the Yankees had just about enough of their losing ways. The Bombers were the winningest franchise in baseball throughout the 80’s (but didn’t win a championship), and had stumbled into the new decade. Then GM Gene Michael was on a mission to right the ship, and his first order of business: sign Greg Maddux.

Just 26 years old at the time, Maddux was the reigning NL Cy Young and an UFA, making him a prime candidate for a record breaking contract. Gene Michael and the Yankees pulled out all the stops for Maddux, and offered him a contract that would make him the highest paid pitcher in the game.

The New York Yankees, The Big Contract, and The Big Apple — who WOULDN’T sign on the dotted line? Well, Greg Maddux wouldn’t, and when asked why, Maddux mentioned his desire to stay in the National League and pitch for a team that was in contention (the Yankees were a sub-.500 team). After signing with the Braves for less money, Maddux went on to capture the 1995 WS, but wouldn’t capture another in his career. As for the Yankees, well, the 90’s went pretty well.

It goes without saying that the Yankees now find themselves in more favorable standing compared to 26 winters ago. They have already cemented the young pillars of their franchise, and have established themselves as perennial contenders in the treacherous American League; which makes their hunt for a top flight pitcher all the more vital to their championship aspirations.

So what is there to learn from missing out on Greg Maddux? Well for starters, all of these athletes are people with preferences. Shohei Ohtani gave us a glimpse of this last winter, when he essentially brushed the Yankees offer to the wayside for reasons that didn’t pertain to baseball. The Yankees will have a lot of money to play with this winter, but that doesn’t guarantee their players of interest will trade their personal aspirations for the wealth and fame of New York.

It’s also valuable to recognize how the decade following Maddux’s signing panned out. The Yankees were a bad team, who swung and missed on a big free agent, and still went on to form one the greatest dynasties in the history of sports. When he was unable to sign Maddux, Gene Michael went out and acquired Jim Abbott and Jimmy Key, who became instrumental veterans in bridging the gap between the Yankees’s struggles and their championships.

Yes, acquiring a big name pitcher would drastically increase the Yankees’ standing in the public eye, but in the words of the great John Sterling — you can’t make plans in baseball. With Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine, the Braves were rolling out a rotation the likes of which baseball had never seen before; but it was the Yankees who became the dominant franchise when all was said and done.

The Yankees were a bad team headed into 1993, and still managed to change their fortune in just a couple of years. Headed into 2019, the Yankees are one of the top 5 teams in the sport, so don’t be completely discouraged if this offseason doesn’t unfold how you’d like it to.


So in winter without a Maddux-esc. figure on the table, who should the Yankees aim to acquire? Some things have changed since I wrote my complete Offseason Outlook, so I figured it’d be smart to re-visit the potential pitchers the Yankees should could be in on, and categorize them by HOT, WARM, and Cold:

Corey Kluber

HOT

(CBS Sports)

All signs point to Corey Kluber being available in trade talks this winter, which should be music to the ears of Yankees fans. Kluber is a top 5 pitcher in the American League, and has been performing at an elite level for several consecutive seasons now. His presence in the Yankees’ rotation would shift the paradigm of the team more than any other pitcher available.

A trade for Corey Kluber has shades of David Cone written all over it. Kluber is an elite spinner of the baseball, and the type of bulldog veteran who can lead a staff. He’s 32 years old (the same age Cone was when the Yankees acquired him) and is still hungry to put a ring on his finger. Would I trade Andújar without signing Machado, no, but I’m not uncomfortable with the idea of moving Miggy for a pitcher this good.

Carlos Carrasco

WARM

Cookie Carrasco is one of the better pitchers in the American League, but not among the elite. Another pitcher who spins the baseball very well, Carrasco would be a significant improvement over a Lance Lynn in the Yankees rotation.

That being said, he just isn’t as good as Kluber. If the Yankees call the Indians and come away with Carrasco it just looks like they are settling. Neither pitcher is breaking the bank, and the Yankees would actually have Kluber for one more season than they would Cookie. It’s not that I don’t think the Yankees should call about Carrasco, but the price shouldn’t include their top prospects, and the call should come after they’ve made a bigger splash to help their rotation.

James Paxton

HOT

(Toronto Star)

The Mariners are another team who have been rumored to be big sellers this winter, making James Paxton another game changing pitcher the Yankees could acquire.

Big Maple had a 2018 to remember, as he tossed his first career no-hitter in his native Canada (picture above). Paxton broke out in other ways in 2018 as well, surging into the top spot of Seattle’s rotation. He dealt with a few injuries last season, but maintains high upside while being one of the most affordable options on the market. Paxton also offers two years of control, which makes him a great option regardless of who else the Yankees bring in this season.

At the end of the day, Paxton fits the mold for what the Yankees have been missing: a left-hander with top of the rotation ability. That doesn’t mean he can be that in New York, but he’s worth investigating with his controllability.

Madison Bumgarner

Cold

We can all agree that MadBum would be an great fit for the Yankees. It’s a song I’ve been singing since the rumors were conceived at the deadline in July. The issue in trading for MadBum is that, by the looks of it, the Giants are looking to build a winner for 2019. There will be no fire sale from the Bay area, so trading for Bumgarner is going to be that much harder for Brian Cashman.

It’s one thing to expense prospects on a worthy investment, and it’s another thing to play into the hand of a franchise because you’re married to a specific player. I don’t see Brian Cashman as someone who will fold to the demands of the Giants because he feels it’s Bumgarner or bust, so view the Giants and the Yankees as being on ice with regards to trade talks until further notice.

Patrick Corbin

WARM

Corbin has seemingly been THE GUY for the Yankees since last offseason. I understand why; the combination of his age, makeup, and recent success make him a prime candidate to sign for big money as a starter, but is he worth the price?

Maybe. He showed a lot of promise in 2018, and although he doesn’t have top of the rotation, Luis Severino-type stuff, he can still be an effective 2-man for a contender like the Yankees. However, my issue with Corbin is just that. Could he be better than Severino down the line? Sure, but the Yankees signing Patrick Corbin in 2019 means that they start the season with Luis Severino as their ace still. I don’t hate that, I think Severino is still a diamond in the rough, but that’s exactly why I don’t view Corbin as the best option.

For the money the Yankees would pay him, he doesn’t give the Yankees what they really need — a proven commodity at the top of the rotation. Corbin has a bright future ahead of him, and I would still be excited if the Yankees signed him, but I think trading for a Kluber/Paxton should be more of a priority this winter.

Max Scherzer

HOT

(Sporting News)

I don’t know why this idea hasn’t picked up traction. Max Scherzer is Top 5 in all of MLB and is currently wasting his prime pitching on a team that hasn’t is going nowhere fast. Assuming the Nationals can’t retain Bryce Harper, they immediately become the third best team in their division — no man’s land.

They may not realize it until July, but this seems to be an ideal time for the Nationals to blow it up. Juan Soto is a player they can build there franchise around, and with the way they’ve expensed their farm system in recent trades, they could use some rejuvenation. The Yankees can offer more controllable, MLB ready talent that any other team in baseball that could take on Scherzer’s contract, and would do it in a heartbeat for a pitcher like Scherzer.

Maybe I’m viewing the Nationals in the wrong light, but this just seems to work. Even with Scherzer, I don’t see the Nat’s challenging the Braves or the Phillies for the division in 2019, and they may even struggle to beat the Mets depending on what they can maneuver in free agency. Players like Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, and Howie Kendrick are only getting older; and trading Scherzer could allow the Nationals to turn back into contenders sooner rather than later.