Though the New York Yankees have watched a patchwork starting rotation step up time and again in 2021, that’s no excuse for opting not to fortify things in the offseason, too.
Rest assured: the Bombers have learned their lesson. They will not let under-the-radar opportunities to acquire pitching pass by in the near future.
This season, the Yankees banked on a rotation featuring Corey Kluber and Domingo German towards the back, with a returning Luis Severino arriving midseason. Unfortunately, Sevy’s progression back from Tommy John surgery came with a leg-related setback, and Kluber has missed June, July and August; his likely return coincides with German maintaining his nebulous “still working on it” status.
Next year? Jameson Taillon, acquired based on the idea he’d likely bounce back, will be a huge factor after doing just that. Severino, Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery will ideally be at full strength. German’s role isn’t guaranteed; he might be a depth piece. Kluber likely won’t be back. Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia and Luis Gil will all theoretically be around. You can never, ever, ever have too much pitching, though, and right now, we’d say this snapshot qualifies as “just enough”.
So, who’s next?
The Yankees could always plumb the free agent market now that they’ve ducked under the luxury tax threshold this season (cool). Max Scherzer preemptively blocked a trade to New York a few weeks back, but maybe enough of an overpay over two or three years will convince him to let bygones be bygones. Other top starting pitching options of a slightly lower caliber include Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman and 38-year-old Zack Greinke, which could be kind of fun.
These are the 2021-22 Yankees, though. Now that they’ve spent for Gerrit Cole, do you really anticipate them spending again? It’s far more likely their next pitching reinforcement will come via trade from someone else’s roster, and there are a couple of obvious targets who could be unlocked — including a former Yankee.
The Yankees could trade for these 3 underrated pitchers after 2021.
3. Caleb Smith, Arizona Diamondbacks
Remember Caleb Smith?! We won’t begrudge you if you blocked him out of your Yankees memories, but in 2017, Smith made a few appearances (two starts) and totaled a 7.71 ERA before being shipped to Miami in the offseason trade for…Michael King! Garrett Cooper went to the Marlins, too. Odd deal.
Since that offseason, Smith has shown flashes of impressive performance, though his ERA hasn’t quite matched the whiff numbers in 2021. In 2018 and 2019, he posted 4.19 and 4.52 marks, while striking out well over a batter per inning (168 in 153.1 innings in 2019). Midway through 2020, he was dealt to the desert, ending up with the Diamondbacks (weird) and posting a 2.45 ERA in his new home in September.
This season, the ERA has ticked up tremendously into the mid-5.00s and Smith has found himself relegated to the bullpen (31 appearances, just 13 starts) while morphing into a swingman. Counterintuitively, the strikeouts are still there; Smith’s recorded 101 in 87 innings.
Whether he ends up a multi-inning lefty specialist or a starter moving forward, Smith has a relatively impressive profile and could likely be had for a song, even though he’s controllable through 2023. We could’ve opted to discuss D-Backs starter Merrill Kelly here, someone else we’re intrigued by the possible addition of. Kelly doesn’t miss bats, though, and there’s a much higher chance he’ll bust in the AL East — or, at least, provide mostly innings and nothing more.
We wouldn’t say no, but we find Smith more interesting.