Baseball in 2018 is being played more efficiently, and thought about more critically, than ever before.
Teams across the league are tinkering more with shifts, stealing less, striking out more, walking more and homering more. Starting pitchers are going shorter and shorter in games as a greater emphasis has been placed on the bullpen.
With that as the relative context, could the Yankees spurn trading for a starting pitcher before the trade deadline and instead attempt to assemble a super 'pen?
Of course, the league has wisened up to the value of relievers. It wouldn't be cheap. The Yankees should know best, considering they acquired Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen for Andrew Miller and Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman.
Thanks to trades like that, though, the Yankees farm system is well stocked. With the organization's self-imposed salary cap restrictions expiring ahead of the 2019 free agency class, there may not be room on the big league roster for some of their older prospects. Frazier is the prime example of that notion.
In short; Brian Cashman has plenty of chips to move. Now, he must decide where to invest.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the Yankees need to acquire at least a no. 2 caliber starter to supplement Luis Severino in the postseason. With Jordan Montgomery having just undergone season-ending Tommy John surgery, the Yankees mat well also need another backend of the rotation starter.
The list of realistic (i.e.: not Jacob deGrom) starters is currently underwhelming. Things change, more teams will become sellers as the trade deadline nears and postseason chances dissipate. But if nothing really opens up, oft-rumored Cole Hamels may be the likeliest outcome. Will the 34-year-old do more for the Yankees than one of the top relievers on the market?
If the playoffs started right now, the Yankees would lean on Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Sonny Gray. It's not exactly what the Astros get to trot out, but they could be adequate with a deep bullpen behind them.
The Yankees already have Chapman operating at an elite level, and hope to see Dellin Betances, David Robertson and recently-demoted Tommy Kahnle return to dominant form.
With that quartet, plus potential pieces acquired at the deadline, the Yankees could effectively shorten games. The trio of starters behind Severino would have a lightened burden, expected to go just twice through the opponents' lineup.
Would two top of the line relievers be better than one Hamels? If nothing else, it's an interesting thought exercise.
Here are some arms that the Yankees could chase ahead of the trade deadline.
Kelvin Herrera: The reliever who is having the best season of the bunch, Herrera has a 0.79 ERA in 22.2 innings and has converted 13 saves in 14 opportunities. The Royals, already 20 games under .500, would be wise to cash in if given the chance.
Herrera is an unrestricted free agent after the season, making him a realistic target.
Jeurys Familia: After an 11-1 start, the Mets have crashed. If they continue their trend they'll be far enough out of the playoff race by the deadline that it'd be malpractice for them not to shop someone like Familia, who is out of contract after this season.
Familia has a 2.48 ERA in 29 innings with 33 strikeouts this year and has 14 saves in 18 opportunities.
The Mets may be reluctant to deal with the Yankees-- unless it's at a premium price.
Raisel Iglesias: The last time the Yankees acquired a Cuban reliever from the Reds it worked out well. Chapman has been a huge success for the team, including when he was traded to the Cubs for Gleyber Torres before re-signing with the Yankees the following offseason.
Iglesias was initially tried as a starter before transitioning to the bullpen where he's excelled. This season, Iglesias has a 2.08 ERA in 26 innings with 32 strikeouts and 8 walks. Over three years in the bullpen, he's converted 43 of 49 save opportunities.
Without question, the Reds will be sellers at the deadline. Iglesias could command a big package, though, as he's under contract for another two seasons at a team-friendly $5 million per season.
Brad Hand: Of the Padres' 29 wins this season, Hand has collected saves on 18 of them. The 28-year-old has a 2.01 ERA in 31.1 innings with 49 strikeouts and 14 walks. He has two blown saves.
Hand has a team option of $10 million for next season. The Padres are still conceivably in the wildcard race despite being bottom of the competitive NL West division. Over the next month they could fall off the pace and look to replenish their farm system.