We’ve wasted countless words here talking about specific players the Yankees may or may not target at the trade deadline, and the majority of the time we’ve written about pitchers. The one point we keep missing or just ignoring is the goal of a trade. Yes, it’s to make the team better (duh), but for when? Given the Yankees and their perpetual pursuit of World Championships, the goal is too build a better postseason team, specifically a better postseason pitching staff. That’s a different animal than a regular season staff, very much so.
Right now, at the end of June, the pitching staff is a dozen guys deep because they’re playing everyday and they don’t want to overworking certain players, yadda yadda yadda. Come playoff time, that all changes. There’s no screwing around, you’ll see clubs rely heavily on their three best starters and three or four top relievers. That’s pretty much it. Just look back at 2009, the Yankees used just three starters in the playoffs and the relief quartet of Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Phil Hughes threw 34 of 46.1 total relief innings (73.3%). Those seven guys combined to throw 92.5% of the team’s total innings that postseason.
If anyone beyond the six or seven top pitchers gets into a postseason game, it’s either a) an emergency (short start or extra innings), b) a blowout, or c) overmanaging. This is nothing new, and it’s not something unique to the Yankees. As much as we don’t want to see them on the roster, the Brian Gordons and Buddy Carlyles of the world are only here to help navigate this current stretch of the 162 game regular season. The beauty of the postseason is that we get to see who the manager really trusts because he’s in “win at all costs” mode.
At the moment, I see just three guys on the Yankees’ staff that are absolute locks for the postseason roster: Mo, Robertson, and CC Sabathia. I don’t think anyone else’s spot is guaranteed. Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia have done a bang-up job at the back of the rotation so far, but will they start a playoff game for the Yankees this year*? Who knows if Bartolo Colon will return from the hamstring injury and pitch the way he did earlier in the year. Furthermore, who knows if he’ll hold up all year? It’s a roll of a dice every time he goes out there. How effective will Rafael Soriano be? Phil Hughes? A.J. Burnett was not used out of the bullpen in last year’s ALDS, he’s certainly not guaranteed to pitch. Obviously some guys will step up and seize jobs between now and then, but others will make it by default.
The clear needs right now for a potential Yankees’ postseason pitching staff are a legitimate number two starter behind Sabathia, two reliable right-handers out of the bullpen, and a lefty specialist that can actually get lefties out. It’s entirely possible that all four needs will be filled from within, but the smart money is on some outside help being needed. The Yankees have another month to really evaluate their internal options before the trade deadline, and beyond that they can sort out the rest of the staff and ride the hot hands into October. Just remember, the pitching staff at the end of the season will look little the one the Yankees have now, and with good reason.
* Assuming they get that far, of course. The playoffs are far from a given.