So which pitcher are the Yankees targeting?

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I went to bed assuming that Buster or Rosenthal or Feinsand one of those guys would have the Yankee trade story all nailed down by the time I woke up. Then I remembered that reporters and general managers sleep too. So no new news on the Yankees’ pursuit of a pitcher. 

Feinsand does have a nice breakdown of the possibilities this morning.  His candidates: Josh Johnson, Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Roy Oswalt, Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang and Brandon Webb. He throws in Felix Hernandez to make Yankee fanboys crazy for a minute, but he’s not serious. Makes me like Feinsand a lot more than I already do, however.

Oswalt is an intriguing name on that list (UPDATE: David Pinto mentioned him first, last night). I’ve heard bubkis along the lines of him being shopped, but it would probably be a really smart move to trade him in order to jump start a much needed rebuild. Of course, (a) Oswalt has a full no-trade clause that he’d have to waive, and given that he once asked for (and received) a bulldozer as a gift from owner Drayton McLane, it doesn’t strike me like the kind of guy who would waive it to go to New York City; and (b) if Houston was really interested in a rebuild they wouldn’t do things like pay Brandon Lyon $15 million. So maybe it’s not Oswalt.

I still think the most likely target on that list is Javier Vazquez.  Here’s my reasoning:

  • The Braves are the only team around openly shopping starting pitching;
  • Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez have been prominently mentioned as potential trade candidates out of Atlanta;
  • Mark Feinsand of the Daily News doesn’t know who it is, but he says that it’s not a salary dump deal, which seems to rule out Derek “$45 million” Lowe. Vazquez, however, is only on the hook for
    one year at $11.5 million;
  • Vazquez is coming off a 2.87 ERA season with a whole mess of strikeouts. Even if you added a run or so on account of league-change and regression, he still projects to have a pretty nice season as a third or fourth starter, which is what the Yankees are looking for;
  • The only reason to shy away from Vazquez is that he has a history in New York. 2004. It was one of his worst years as a major leaguer. Feinsand, however, notes that Vazquez was hurt much of that year.  He’s a better pitcher than he showed in 2004, and I don’t think Brian Cashman is such a slave to the tabloids that he’d avoid Vazquez simply because someone at the Post would come up with some biting headline about his return.

We’ll obviously see how this develops today, and of course, the Yankees could be talking to someone completely different than Atlanta about someone completely different than Vazquez.  But there are a handful of circumstantial reasons why Vazquez makes sense to the Yankees, and why someone the Yankees could trade — Nick Swisher? — makes sense to the Braves.

We’ll see.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.