Yanks need to be active to get Jeter into October
Club must make some moves to extend the Captain's career past regular season
CLEVELAND -- This was the place where Derek Jeter hit his first home run, and this is his last scheduled trip here, and Monday was the day he met with the media at Progressive Field to say another farewell, of sorts, with the usual tinge of local color.
But when discussing the difficulty of getting too emotionally invested in the goodbyes, Jeter also said this:
"We have so many games left."
Exactly how many, though, is an open-ended question.
It's become increasingly clear, even in the wake of a 5-3 win here Monday night, that the Yankees are going to have to be active this month if they're going to get a satisfying answer, a satisfying end to Jeter's October-rific career. Because if you thought Mariano Rivera's big league journey coming to an official close in Houston felt odd, certainly the prospect of Jeter bidding adieu in Boston (the Yanks end the regular season there Sept. 26-28), of all places, is even worse.
The trouble, though, is that right now the Yankees simply need more horses to avoid such an end.
Relying on the uncharacteristically underwhelming nature of the American League East this year is not enough. Not after the losses of CC Sabathia (likely done for the year with knee woes), Ivan Nova (definitely done for the year with Tommy John surgery) and Michael Pineda (slowly recovering from the ever-problematic shoulder strain). Masahiro Tanaka can't pitch on zero days' rest, and the Yanks naturally have to be careful not to overtax David Robertson, All-Star setup man Dellin Betances and Adam Warren.
Yankees starters not named Tanaka have averaged 5.57 innings per start, a good deal less than the 5.92 AL average.
"That's one of the things that we've kind of fought, with some of our starters going down, is getting some length out of our starters," manager Joe Girardi said.
They got some length from an unlikely source in Monday's victory over the Indians. Shane Greene, owner of all of a third of a big league inning coming in, had sharp sinking stuff in six innings of work, allowing just a pair of runs on four hits with no walks.
More sinkerballing support arrives Wednesday, when Brandon McCarthy, acquired from the D-backs for Vidal Nuno in a swap of struggling back-end starters, officially joins the rotation. It's notable that McCarthy's ugly 5.01 ERA in the National League is somewhat misleading, as his peripherals point to a 3.79 Fielding Independent Pitching mark that is much more palatable.
"We're looking at how we can make him better," said pitching coach Larry Rothschild, "because he can really help us."
Of course, it's also worth noting that Yankees pitchers don't pitch in "Fielding Independent" conditions. They pitch in front of one of the more range-proof infields in the Majors.
So in Greene and McCarthy and possibly even lefty David Huff (currently in the 'pen), the Yanks have options to offset some of the lost innings and maybe to push the struggling Chase Whitley out of a starting slot. But there's obviously nothing bankable about that bunch, and the need for rotation consistency is augmented all the more by a lineup that can now add some knee soreness for Carlos Beltran to its list of fits and frustrations.
In other words, general manager Brian Cashman has his work cut out for him in the coming weeks.
Given their defensive limitations, what the Yankees need more than anything are strikeout pitchers (yes, plural, if possible). Bonus points if they're under contractual control beyond 2014, because it's not as if anybody's expecting a quick recovery and return to form for Sabathia or guaranteeing another stateside stay for Hiroki Kuroda.
David Price is simply not an option, because of inter-divisional reality, insufficient trade chips and the simple fact that the Rays are back in the race.
The Padres' Ian Kennedy is really an ideal fit, with a 3.87 ERA (and, since we're on a roll with it, a 2.88 FIP), 9.5 strikeouts per nine and a 4.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio that is the best of his career.
He's not a free agent for another 16 months, and the Yanks are obviously familiar with him.
They're familiar, in a very different sense, with Cliff Lee, and they're also familiar with investing incredible amounts of money in guys well on the wrong side of 30. Lee, nearing a return from a left elbow strain, is both tantalizing and treacherous at this stage, because who knows when that ligament might snap and the minimum of $50 million remaining on his contract might become an albatross. The good news is that the Yanks might be able to basically buy him -- something that's not as likely with the 30-year-old Cole Hamels, who would command a king's ransom should he be dangled.
There could be more economical options, the Wade Mileys or Jorge De La Rosas of the market. But the Yankees, at this point, need a game-changer. They've fared well in close games like the one played Monday night. Their 26-16 record in games decided by two runs or fewer is a credit to that bullish bullpen.
But they've also had 38 games in which they scored three runs or fewer, and all but nine of those have gone the way of the opposition. They've had 35 games in which the opponent scores five or more, and they've lost all but three of those. They've done what they can to weather the storms that attacked their rotation, but reinforcements are necessary to lessen the frequency of the lopsided affairs.
Otherwise, Jeter's actual adieu could come sooner than he'd like.
In 18 seasons prior to this one, his Yankees teams have averaged 96.5 wins, and he's never been a part of a sub-.500 squad. But his final Yankees team is one that has, for the most part, hovered right around .500, because Tanaka and the 'pen can't do it all. The Yanks are going to need more consistent length from their starters -- whoever they may be -- if they're going to extend Jeter's career into another October.