The Yankees bolstered their bullpen yesterday by trading for Zach Britton. The Yankees gave up pitching prospects Dillon Tate, Cody Carroll, and Josh Rogers. The bullpen already ranks among the best in the league, posting a 2.75 ERA and a 31.5% strikeout rate. This trade does not mean that the Yankees are done with deadline acquisitions though. The Yankees desperately need rotation help.
Yesterday I shared the big names that people have been talking about all year. I talked about players that could stand at the front of the rotation with Severino in a postseason race, but are less likely to be available. However, with a strong bullpen, and potential bounce backs from Tanaka and Gray in the second half, the Yankees may simply need an arm in the back of the rotation.
That is why I will look at the second tier of pitchers today. The second tier consists of players who are available but are regarded as back-end options. They are not top of the rotation starters, but these players could still help the Yankees clinch the division and offer potential upside.
TIER TWO: BACK OF THE ROTATION OPTIONS THAT SHOULD BE AVAILABLE
Cole Hamels (LHP, 34 years old)
Cole Hamels was an all-star as recently as 2016 when he posted a 3.32 ERA and a 3.98 FIP over 200 innings. Everything else aside from that shows a downward trend for the 34-year-old pitcher, who finished in the top 10 of Cy Young voting four times during his career. His increased home run rates and his increased walk rates seem to indicate that his best years are behind him. He currently owns a 4.72 ERA, 5.20 FIP, and a 0.7 WAR in 114 innings pitched.
The upside that you are hoping for with Hamels is that he has a resurgence by going to a playoff team. It seems unlikely though that he will be Justin Verlander 2.0. Verlander was not as bad as Hamels has been for the last two seasons, and it is unlikely that his home run woes will be solved in Yankee Stadium. Could he be an upgrade at the back of the rotation? It seems unlikely given the trends that we have seen.
Tyler Skaggs (LHP, 27 years old)
Tyler Skaggs is having the best season of any pitcher on this list. Skaggs owns a 2.68 ERA, 3.10 FIP, and 2.8 WAR. He was a former top prospect, but he has battled injuries throughout his career. This is also his first healthy season. His success this year can be attributed to his increased ground ball rate (47.7 GB%), and his increased changeup usage (12.5%). He is now throwing his changeup out of the zone more and getting more swings and misses, especially when facing right-handed batters.
The concern that I have with Skaggs is his innings and injury history. Between 2016 and 2017, he did not pitch more than 85 innings in a season. Can he really continue this production for the rest of the season, let alone in a postseason race? The Yankees want to trade for someone who can help them down the stretch, and the Yankees might hesitate to offer much for a player that has a limited track record.
Michael Fulmer (RHP, 25 years old)
A lot of fans were excited about a potential Michael Fulmer trade at the beginning of the year. Fulmer has had a disappointing season though. The 25-year-old, who is a former all-star and rookie of the year, currently owns a 4.50 ERA, 4.27 FIP, and a 1.2 WAR. His struggles this year can be attributed to his increased walk rate and his inability to put batters away. It is also worth noting that he was recently placed on the 10 disabled list with a Grade 1 oblique strain.
However, prior to an elbow injury that Fulmer suffered last year, he posted excellent numbers and was pursued aggressively in trade talks by many contending teams. Between 2016 and 2017, Fulmer posted a 3.45 ERA and was known for being a ground ball heavy pitcher. At the same time, he struggles to strike out batters. He throws hard, and his four-seamer and sinker both sit in the mid-90s. He also throws a slider and changeup, which sit in the upper 80s, and throws everything very regularly. It is possible that the Yankees could help him increase his strikeout rate through various tweaks, such as changes to pitch selection and frequency. The tools are certainly there for Fulmer to be successful, but the recent struggles, lack of strikeouts, and injury history are valid reasons for caution.
J.A. Happ (LHP, 35 years old)
J.A. Happ could be a steal at the trade deadline. Happ has accumulated a 4.18 ERA, 3.84 FIP, and 0.9 WAR in 114 innings. He would instantly be a reliable starter in the back of the Yankees rotation. Happ is making 13 million this year and he is a pure rental.
I am a big fan of Happ, not just because of his performance or assumed inexpensive cost. I like him because out of the players on this list, he comes with the most certainty. Happ has been in the AL East now for several years, and he has pitched very well. He contributed to the Blue Jays team that went to the ALCS, and he has pitched in big games at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. None of that will be new to him. That is not the only reason the Yankees should target him, but it is certainly a bonus given his reliability. Having an easy transition does not hurt.
WHICH PITCHER SHOULD THE YANKEES AQUIRE?
I just mentioned how much I would be open to the idea of trading for Happ. I do not think he would cost very much since he is a 35-year-old rental. I also like the idea of going after Michael Fulmer. He has certainly struggled of late, but he has the tools to be a solid starter in the rotation for the next four seasons. I would be reluctant to give up much for Skaggs and Hamels given the concerns that I have for both of them down the stretch of the season.