The Yankees are reportedly a frontrunner for free agent left-hander Dallas Keuchel, according to SNY's Andy Martino. The report doesn't necessarily come as a surprise, as New York has long had a clear need.
Staff ace Luis Severino is out for the foreseeable future, Domingo German will eventually face an innings limit, and the durability of James Paxton and CC Sabathia will be monitored.
If the team does sign the 31-year-old after the amateur draft, they won't need to give up a compensatory pick. This is an important factor of potentially signing Keuchel, as any team interested will likely be more willing to add a large one-year deal, the kind he's been seeking.
With a clear need and financial flexibility present, New York adding Keuchel to a one-year deal is a very possible scenario.
If GM Brian Cashman pulls the trigger on a deal, two things will likely remain unchanged. Until Severino returns, Masahiro Tanaka will keep his spot as the No. 1 option in the rotation, a spot he's performed well in. In seven of his 12 starts he's allowed 2 runs or less, good for a 3.20 ERA on the season.
Secondly, Paxton will remain the No. 2 starter. His latest outing, a return from a trip to the injured list, was sharp (4 IP, 7 K, 0 H). If he continues his strong season (2.81 ERA), manager Aaron Boone will have a strong 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.
But after Tanaka and Paxton, things get interesting.
As of now, J.A. Happ occupies the third spot. He's had a less than ideal season thus far (5.09 ERA in 11 starts), and has been the weakest link of a surprisingly strong Yankees rotation. Happ is being paid $17 million this season, so it's quite certain he stays in the rotation no matter what.
The question then becomes where does he fit in it? It's not hard to imagine Keuchel having a couple of good starts and getting bumped up near the third spot. In this case, Happ would shift towards the bottom of the rotation.
After Happ, the focus moves to German and Sabathia. It would be surprising to see either bumped from the rotation, but it could happen. German is the American League leader in wins (9) and has excelled in Severino's absence. It's entirely possible he could (almost unfairly) be bumped to the bullpen in an effort to make room for Keuchel and stretch his innings limit.
Sabathia, on the other hand, is the leader of the team and the usual No. 5 starter. Would it be easy to simply bump him to a bullpen role? Probably not. Father time has been kind to Sabathia in recent years, as his 3.48 ERA in eight starts makes for great production from the rotations backend.
The team floated the idea of a six-man rotation as early as spring training, and while it's not a given, it could be used in the season, if it's not off the table. In that scenario, Sabathia likely is the sixth man.
For these reasons alone, the potential addition of Keuchel can appear to be a tricky one. Severino is due back after the All-Star break, while Jordan Montgomery figures to be an option sometime in August once he returns from Tommy John surgery.
While adding another arm to the mix could make for difficult decisions, Keuchel would be giving the Yankees something they surely need - an experienced, durable arm for the stretch run. Sabathia and Paxton's season-long health are far from guarantees, and German's role will change as his innings increase. While not the same pitcher he once was, Keuchel is still just 31 years old and two years removed from a 2.90 ERA finish.
Martino also reported that signing Keuchel would not prohibit the team from dealing for another pitcher, such as Trevor Bauer or Marcus Stroman. Acquiring either one of those guys would require prospects or a major league piece in return. Keuchel, on the other hand, would cost just money.
The Yankees wouldn't need him to be an ace or even close to it, but instead an innings eater and a reliable arm in the middle of the rotation, one that could bounce back after a "down" 2018. An eventual top four of Severino, Paxton, Tanaka and Keuchel would instantly be one of the best in the AL, if not the entire sport. Does Happ act as a swingman in this role, or is it Sabathia?
Signing Keuchel isn't a necessity for the Yankees, but it would bring stability to a rotation that certainly has questions beneath the surface.