TORONTO — Max Scherzer. Justin Verlander. Gerrit Cole. Patrick Corbin. And now Dallas Keuchel.
That quintet shares a bond beyond the obvious of being highly accomplished starting pitchers. All five have switched teams in the past five years, and none has gone to the Yankees due to Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman standing their ground on the accompanying acquisition costs.
Keuchel, a rare in-season free agent, became the latest member of this group when he passed on the Yankees’ one-year offer for the prorated qualifying offer of $17.9 million (about $11.6 million) to sign instead with the Braves for one year and a prorated $21.05 million ($13 million); The Post’s Joel Sherman confirmed the signing, first reported by The Athletic’s David O’Brien.
Hence we recycle a question that has become routine with this club and starting-pitcher pursuits: Now who?
Now, it should be a trade for Madison Bumgarner, a most intriguing Plan B, with Marcus Stroman not far behind. And yes, Clint Frazier stands as the most obvious trade chip.
Another pinstriped Plan B, J.A. Happ, turned in a fine performance Thursday, shutting down his old pals the Blue Jays in a 6-2 Yankees victory that halted a three-game losing streak and maintained American League East leads over the Rays (1 ½ games) and Red Sox (6 ½ games), both of whom also won. The 36-year-old southpaw lowered his ERA for the third straight start, this time from 4.83 to 4.48.
“We need those types of outings,” said Aaron Boone, who has worked his bullpen pretty hard, closer Aroldis Chapman getting the call Thursday when Chad Green encountered trouble in the ninth.
The Yankees re-signed Happ, whom they received from Toronto in a 2018 trade, for two years and $34 million last December after they let Corbin’s free agency play out, with the lefty opting for the Nationals’ generous, six-year, $140 million package over the Yankees four- and five-year concepts.
They drew a line, too, in January 2018 trade discussions with the Pirates concerning the right-hander Cole, as they refused to include Miguel Andujar in the swap. They never seriously engaged on Scherzer, a free agent in the 2014-15 offseason who signed with the Nationals, or Verlander, whom the Tigers traded to Houston in August 2017, due to their initiative to get under the luxury-tax threshold for the 2018 season (which they did).
The Astros ousted the Yankees in the 2017 American League Championship Series en route to their first title in franchise history, and after falling to the Bosox in last year’s ALCS, they remain a major threat. As do the Yankees, though they field a deep starting rotation with no one guy matching Verlander’s or Scherzer’s ace profile; to be fair, neither does Keuchel.
“The season’s a long one,” Boone said after Thursday’s game, upon being informed of the Keuchel news. “There’s lots of things that need to unfold. But we have the [starting pitchers] in that room, absolutely, to be elite.”
“I think we like it,” Happ said of his team’s current rotation, adding that if Luis Severino returns from his right shoulder and lat woes, “that’s going to be huge.”
Nevertheless, with Domingo German running up against an innings limit and attendant health concerns for James Paxton, CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka as well as Severino, room remains for another starter.
Stroman possesses the higher ceiling than Bumgarner and two years of team control as opposed to one, so he’ll cost more in a trade at a time when the Yankees are still healing their farm system; Frazier is most expendable of those on the major league roster.
Throw in this small-sampled observation: In recent years, the Yankees have fared better with veteran rentals (Happ and Lance Lynn last year and Brandon McCarthy in 2014) than younger, multi-year commitments (poor Sonny Gray in 2017) on the pitching front, another reason why I’d go with Bumgarner as long as he’s willing to waive his no-trade protection; he included the Yankees on his list of eight forbidden teams.
The pressure sits on the Yankees to get this right. To not be haunted — anymore — by their disciplined approach to the arms race. With one less name on the board, the heat only intensifies.
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