The Yankees, the Angels and the free-agent starting pitching market have fallen apart in the second half.
Needing rotation help is never a good place to be. Needing multiple pieces in an offseason, such as the Mets and the Cardinals will, is worse. A few weeks back in this space, I ranked the clubs 1-through-30 by which teams are positioned the best for 2024 with starting pitching.
Clubs such as the Mariners and Guardians who can stay out of the market are particularly in good shape. And that is even more so now — as we will examine in this week’s “Got my attention.”
Shohei Ohtani might remain the No. 1 free agent available this offseason. But he is not going to pitch in 2024 due to an elbow injury — and there even will be questions about when and how much he will be able to pitch in 2025. It is not as if he will have a normal rehab next season when he is serving as a club’s designated hitter.
Julio Urias probably was the No. 2 free-agent starter available. MLB placed the Dodgers lefty on administrative leave last week while investigating an alleged domestic abuse incident. Who knows when and if Urias might be eligible to pitch again?
Aaron Nola, who was meh in the first half with a 4.39 ERA, has been worse in the second half at 5.18. Lucas Giolito twice has changed teams in this pennant race, first with the Angels, then with Guardians, and has been one of the majors’ worst pitchers in that period.
Luis Severino, who probably was going to be looked at as a reclamation project worth some money as a gamble, broke down once again with an oblique injury amid his worst season. It just made him a more difficult gamble.
Clayton Kershaw’s continuing shoulder issues perhaps will lead to a retirement, as he has toyed with previously. That only will make it more likely Lance Lynn won’t get out into free agency. The Dodgers can pick up Lynn’s $18 million option for 2024. They very well might do that even if Kershaw returns, because they know they will be without Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May (who both had elbow surgery) to begin next season — and might not have them for the entire season — while they will have to be careful with Walker Buehler returning from Tommy John surgery.
Marcus Stroman, who had been likely to opt out of the $21 million he is owed next season, has not pitched for the Cubs since July 31 because of a rib cage injury.
Want more to suggest the free-agent starting pitching market is perilous?
The free-agent starter who signed for the most money last year, Jacob deGrom with the Rangers (five years at $185 million), lasted six starts before needing Tommy John surgery. The second-most was Carlos Rodon (six years, $162 million), who has spent the season vacillating between injured and terrible.
In the past week, Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals argued about his status moving forward. It is clear he is never pitching again. That means on his seven-year, $245 million pact signed after the 2019 season, Strasburg will have made eight starts with a 6.89 ERA.
The cautionary tales are everywhere about just what an inefficient market this is. It is why something like the Yankees’ experiment trying to turn Michael King into a starter is so important. Because finding internal solutions lowers the risk.
But the need for starting pitching will be such that I suspect those with player or mutual options who end the season healthy, such as the Padres’ Seth Lugo, will make themselves free agents.
Frankie Montas hasn’t thrown a pitch for the Yankees this season, but the desperation is such that a team will give him some guaranteed dollars and a chance to make more.
And I also expect this environment will mean a substantial contract for Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The Orix Buffaloes ace is just 25. He just threw his second career no-hitter with Brian Cashman in attendance over the weekend. He might have more bidding on him than any other free-agent starter.
The demand for quality starting pitching will be so high that clubs could be overwhelmed by offers to trade rotation pieces. The Pirates dabbled with moving Mitch Keller at the trade deadline. He will be inquired about again. The Brewers are bolder than most clubs in trying to balance winning today with not falling apart tomorrow. Their top two starters, Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, will be in their walk years in 2024. Would they trade both, one or neither?
Tyler Glasnow is the kind of starter — due to earn $25 million in his walk year in 2024 — the Rays would typically make available in the market. But do arm surgeries that leave Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs either out next year or questionable force the Rays to think differently?
Roster stuff maybe only I notice
As stated above, the Mariners are one of the teams positioned well with starting pitching next year. They have their five main starters under control for 2024: Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo. Plus, Robbie Ray should be available some time in the second half after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
And it makes sense that Seattle is well stocked in starters. Because the Mariners do such a fine job of developing pitchers. Four of their five current starters (all but Castillo) have been taken in the draft since 2018 — Gilbert in the first round in 2018, Kirby in the first round in 2019, and Miller and Woo in the 2021 fourth and sixth round, respectively.
Through Sunday, the Mariners had 47 players in the majors who signed their first professional contracts with the organization. Just 12 of them were position players. There are some really good ones in that group, such as Julio Rodriguez, Ketel Marte and Cal Raleigh. But 12 is not even enough to make up the mandatory 13 position players needed on a roster.
However, it means they had 35 pitchers sign their first pro contracts with the organization. And among those 35, there are 10 who have made at least 19 starts this season: Gilbert, Kirby, Miller, Pablo Lopez, Yusei Kikuchi, James Paxton, Freddy Peralta, J.P. Sears, Taijuan Walker and Brandon Williamson. Plus, Woo has made 14 starts, and Zack Littell has made 11 as the Rays transition him to the rotation.
Whose career do you got?
Mike Trout is going to finish with a better overall career than Bryce Harper. But this category is called “Whose career do you got?” and this should be about more than just statistics. Because it isn’t like Harper is lacking in stats. They may not be as good as Trout’s. But they are going to get him into the Hall of Fame.
I just wonder when it is all done whether Harper will have been better than Trout in their 30s. Trout turned 32 last month. Harper turns 31 in October. And that Harper may be playing on his birthday accentuates a difference between the two — is it possible that Harper has so many more postseason games and distinctions that you would rather have his career? The choice comes down to what you think about winning, notably championships.
For example, Phil Niekro won 318 games and is in the Hall of Fame. But I would rather have had David Cone’s career, though he won 194 games and fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year.
Niekro started two postseason games in his career and never played in a World Series. Cone made 18 postseason starts and won five rings and was a vital player on four of those champions. He also had a perfect game. And, for me, that is a more joyous career — one I’d rather have — even without the plaque in Cooperstown.
The more I watch the general ineptitude of the Angels and the fact that Trout has a contract with that cursed organization through 2030, the more it becomes possible that those three Division Series games (all losses) in 2014 against the Royals in which Trout went 1-for-12 are going to be his entire postseason ledger.
The Angels squandered his prime by being unable to put a quality roster around him. They wasted the combo of Trout and Ohtani, who is a free agent this offseason and may not be back.
This version of Trout has a tougher time making it through the year healthy. When this season is over, Trout will have played in just 237 of 486 possible regular-season games from 2021-23. He was still good this season, but his 130 OPS-plus will be his worst in a season by a lot, not counting his cup-of-coffee season as a 19-year-old rookie in 2011.
Harper is no iron man. He played just 99 regular-season games last year and missed the first month this season recovering after Tommy John surgery — and he has been limited to DH and first base.
But Harper already has played in 36 postseason games, including 17 last season as he was so central to helping the Phillies reach the World Series. Harper’s two-run homer off Robert Suarez in the bottom of the eighth to put Philadelphia ahead for good in what became a Game 5 NLCS clincher is one of the greatest moments in Phillies history.
And the Phillies are a near lock to be back in the playoffs this year. The Angels are tied with the Tigers for the majors’ longest playoff drought.
Again, Trout has some undeniable edges here. On Saturday, Harper played his 1,489th career game. That tied him with Trout, who will not be playing again this season. At that moment, Trout had 85.1 Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference) compared to 45.1 for Harper. He had 368 homers to 300 for Harper, 206 steals to 130 for Harper and three MVP awards to two for Harper. Trout also has four second-place finishes for MVP, one fourth and one fifth. Aside from the two wins, Harper does not have another top-10 MVP finish.
When both won Rookie of the Year in 2012, a comparison started over who would have the better career. I think there is no doubt there. Trout is going to have the better career. But the more desirable one?
Would another long postseason run by Harper and a championship at some point change the idea of whose career you would want?
It would be an interesting awards battle for the most disappointing team in the majors among the Cardinals, Mets, Padres and Yankees — with the Angels or White Sox rounding out the top five.
Which leads to a philosophical question: How much respect at MVP time should members of one of those teams get before, say, a second or third or fourth candidate from the Braves?
Three Padres, for example, finished the weekend among the top 12 in National Wins Above Replacements (Baseball Reference): Ha-Seong Kim (fourth), Fernando Tatis Jr. (eighth) and Juan Soto (12th). Perhaps it is easy to knock out Tatis because he missed the first 20 games serving out a suspension for testing positive for an illegal performance enhancer. Want to dock points from Kim for being a very good but not high-end hitter or Soto for a blah batting average and subpar defense?
The Braves have been the NL’s best team near wire-to-wire this year. Ronald Acuña Jr. and Matt Olson almost certainly will finish in the top five of the MVP vote. But would you, for example, vote for Austin Riley before any Padre? How about Sean Murphy? Do the Braves deserve four vote-getters before the Padres have one? Do the Dodgers (Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith) deserve three before the Padres have one? Or the Mets (Francisco Lindor) have one? Or the Cardinals (Paul Goldschmidt) have one?
Those voting for NL MVP are going to have to consider this issue.
The Yankees have been prepping all season, especially since Aaron Judge injured his right big toe, for a day like Sunday.
Their offense was never particularly good this year, and grew considerably worse when they lost their best player. It never recovered even when Judge returned.
It has been as if they have been waiting to be no-hit at some point in 2023, and on Sunday they were for 10 ⅓ innings — eight of them by Burnes. They ultimately prevailed 4-3 in 13 innings when Kyle Higashioka’s double drove home the winning run. It also represented just the third hit the Yankees accumulated in 13 innings.
That marked the MLB-high 16th time this season the Yankees amassed three or fewer hits in a game. The Yankees had been 0-15 before Sunday in such games. It also matched a franchise record for the most times a Yankee team had three or fewer hits in a season. The other time was in 1913, when in their first season after transitioning from being the Highlanders, the Yankees also were held to three or fewer hits 16 times. That 1913 squad’s .377 winning percentage is the worst ever for a team called the Yankees.
So Sunday should not have come as a surprise.
Consider that in the first game that Judge missed after slamming his foot into the base of the Dodger Stadium right-field wall, on June 4, Dodgers rookie Bobby Miller no-hit the Yankees for 4 ⅔ innings.
The next game, Giolito — then with the White Sox — no-hit the Yankees for six innings. Joe Kelly relieved in the seventh and gave up a two-out double to Isiah Kiner-Falefa to end the no-hit bid.
From June 22 through Aug. 26, the Yankees were no-hit into the sixth inning five times: by Seattle’s Woo for 5 ⅓ innings, by then-Cardinal Jordan Montgmery for 5 ⅔, by the White Sox’s Dylan Cease for 5 ⅓, by the Red Sox Sox’s Kutter Crawford for 5 ⅓ and by the Rays’ Glasnow for 5 ⅓.
Really no surprise, then, that the Yankees ended the weekend with a .225 batting average, tied with the A’s for worst in the majors. That would tie the 1967 Yankees for the second-worst in franchise history, better only than the 1968 Yankees’ mark of .214.
The 1968 season was known as the Year of the Pitcher and led to rule changes to try to increase offense, notably by lowering the mound. This year, rules were implemented to help offense and the Yankees still can’t hit.
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