(Photo Credit: REUTERS/KEVIN JAIRAJ)
It was another Yankees win, but another disappointing start by Masahiro Tanaka.
The final line of his night, five innings pitched, three hits, four earned runs and four walks, shows a continuation of a trend throughout the 2018 season where Tanaka has been hurt by the free pass and the long ball. Fortunately for him, the Yankees flexed their muscles and proved to be the strongest of the two fighters in a Texas slugfest that ended 10-5 on the strength of eight combined home runs.
If the Yankees are to win the AL East, they will need reliable pitching to match Boston's trifecta of Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, and David Price. Luis Severino is a bona fide ace who can pitch with the best of them, and CC Sabathia's pedigree shouldn't be ignored. But Jordan Montgomery has been sidelined on the DL since the beginning of May, and both Tanaka and Sonny Gray have been too inconsistent with their tantalizing arsenal of pitches.
Which is why the Yankees being in the market for a starting pitcher is a certainty. They lack the true number two behind Severino, and while it's too early to tell what the market will shape up to be, it is also certain that Cole Hamels, the southpaw who has pitched for the Texas Rangers these past three years, will be a person of interest come July 31st.
Much like Sabathia, Hamels' pedigree is enough for him to be seriously considered by any contending team.
Over a 13-year career, Hamels has finished in the Top 10 for Cy Young voting four times. He had pitched 200 or more innings in seven consecutive years, and eight out of nine from 2007 to 2016, most of which were spent during the Philadelphia Phillies' contending years from 2007 to 2011.
The Yankees would want to be trading for a pitcher who could not only handle the final stretch of a team in playoff contention, but a pitcher who also has not only experienced the playoffs but who has also flourished. Hamels was an essential arm when the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 where he was crowned NLCS MVP and World Series MVP after throwing a combined 27 innings and yielding seven earned runs. He has thrown just under 100 career innings in the playoffs, and his ERA sits at a respectable 3.48.
The numbers aren't flashy by any means, but besides Sabathia, Hamels would be the only pitcher in a Yankee rotation to have experienced the postseason more than once. It's difficult to put stock in the intangibles, but the Yankees would rely on Hamels to guide pitchers like Severino and Gray into the deep of October just as much as they'd be relying on him to record outs.
The financial situation
With the star-studded free agent class on the horizon for 2019, the Yankees want to make sure they aren't carrying dead money around in the bank. While they are well below the luxury tax threshold with a team payroll that is ranked seventh at just over $168m, Hamels' final year of $20m in 2019 will cause them to do maneuvering.
Will the Rangers be willing to take on Jacoby Ellsbury's contract, which is slightly more expensive at $21m? The problem here is that Ellsbury's contract runs until 2021 compared to Hamels' expiring after next year. If the Yankees feel as if Hamels is their man, will they be able to convince Texas to take the brunt of Ellsbury's salary while packaging a player like Clint Frazier, Brandon Drury, or Chance Adams?
As of now, the Yankees have a plethora of talented outfielders and right-handed power arms. If they feel as if they are in the running for Bryce Harper, that only complicates the situation for a player like Frazier, whose value to the Yankees could be greater if he's no longer in the Bronx. The Yankees inability to make a deal with Pittsburgh for Gerrit Cole, which would've included Frazier, will be in the back of their minds as they try to bolster their one true area of weakness before the final stretch.
It's still too early to determine how the market will shape up, but Cole Hamels' name will float out there come July's trade deadline.
The Yankees have time to determine what will be in their best interest. Cole Hamels has the pedigree to be a valuable veteran presence as the Yankees seek to make it to the World Series for the first time since their victory over Hamels' Phillies in 2009. But at 34 years old and with one year left on his contract, the Yankees might look for a pitcher both under team control for longer and who is younger, a la the Sonny Gray trade last year.
As of now, the Yankees are getting it done despite the inconsistencies of Gray and Tanaka. Severino is a true ace in the game and will be a serious contender for the Cy Young Award, and Sabathia has completely reinvented himself from a hard-throwing southpaw to the crafty veteran who has become a mentor in the clubhouse.
It's been said all season, but it's worth repeating: beware these Yankees. They'll only get better with or without Cole Hamels.