The Yankees are losing their grip on a postseason berth, suggesting any moves this trading period will diverge from a limited, yet costly, starting pitching market. Rentals are not a good idea and the controllable pitchers might require the Yankees to relinquish more from the farm system than they would desire.
The only thing we can say with some certainty is that Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino will have slots available to them in the Yankees' rotation in 2018. Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia are free agents at the end of the season, while Masahiro Tanaka can opt out of his deal as well.
My guess is the Yankees will veer from Pineda. As for Sabathia, he could be a last-minute addition to the rotation as a No. 5 starter. Sabathia has certainly showed enough to be on the mound next season -- 3.81 ERA in 78 innings. Whether it's with the Yankees will be based on Sabathia's health and performance in the second half.
Two weeks ago it would have been easy to argue that Tanaka would be unwise to opt out of his deal. He's made three starts since and looks much like the pitcher who finished tied for seventh in the American League Cy Young voting in 2016.
If Tanaka keeps the upswing going, he could once again be a candidate to pitch elsewhere. The Yankees would have to think long and hard about him. Ignoring potential elbow issues and a long swoon this season would be a mistake.
The Yankees have been linked to controllable pitchers like Gerrit Cole, Sonny Gray, and Jose Quintana as the trade deadline approaches. While none of those pitchers are performing to their abilities, there is a chance they will be moved at the trade deadline -- so we'll avoid discussing them within this exercise.
The Yankees' roster construction of late has been reliant on players within their system. This makes Chance Adams an early favorite for a spot in the 2018 rotation. Adams could get the call this season if someone completely falters or falls to injury.
MLB Pipeline ranks Adams, who was drafted in the fifth round in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft, as the Yankees' No. 7 prospect. In 52 2/3 innings since his promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Adams (6-2) owns a 2.39 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and .167 BAA with 58 strikeouts and 19 walks. He sports a 2.09 ERA in 250 1/3 minor league innings.
Another organizational top-10 prospect in the Yankees system is Justus Sheffield. The right-hander is throwing well for Double-A Trenton -- 3.15 ERA in 86 IP -- but there is a good deal of development left. Sheffield has a shot to be a factor during the 2018 season, but I'm not certain it will be out of spring training.
One "non-prospect" pitcher in the Yankees system who is not being talked about is Caleb Smith, who turns 26 in July and leads the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders with an 8-0 record. Smith, a 14th round pick in the 2013 draft, has a 2.07 ERA, .201 BAA, and 1.00 WHIP with 86 strikeouts and 24 walks in 87 innings this season. He is a long-shot, but shouldn't be ignored.
The Yankees also have some familiar hurlers ready to make a statement next season -- Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell. Each of these pitchers has been involved in recent rotation competitions and have made a number of starts for the big league club.
Cessa took the turns in the rotation for Sabathia when he was on the disabled list. Cessa seems better suited to be a long reliever and has performed well in the role for the Yanks (4 2/3 shutout innings relieving Sabathia in Tuesday's loss).
Green would need to find and master a third pitch -- much like Severino did this past offseason -- to get consideration. The organization could just as easily utilize Green in the bullpen as his stuff plays up as a reliever.
Mitchell is becoming a mystery. He's had his moments as a starter, but he's also succeeded in the bullpen. He has also disappointed. Mitchell does not seem to be high on the Yankees' pecking order at the moment, which could mean he's not in the plans.
Admittedly, of the current farmhands, only Adams profiles to be a legit answer for the 2018 rotation. One or two of the others could surprise, but the fact is the Yankees might be ready next season to make the next step and they would like to have at least one more top arm.
The free agent market has a couple of "A-list" players -- Yu Darvish (3.56 ERA, 111 1/3 IP) and Jake Arrieta (4.33 ERA, 95 IP) -- and Johnny Cueto (4.26, 105.2 IP) has an opt-out clause. The next tier of free agents has notable pitchers Lance Lynn (3.87 ERA, 95 1/3 IP) and Jason Vargas (2.22 ERA, 101 1/3).
The market is, well, thin. That said, the Yankees will have the money to dip into free agency if they choose. Further, the offseason trade market is too difficult to diagnose now.
That leads us back to Tanaka, Pineda and Sabathia. Would it be so hard to see the Yankees maintain one or even two of them? I don't think it is out of the question. Maybe Tanaka's market will not be as lofty as expected, or he decides to stick around. Tanaka remains in his prime and could still be the anchor of the staff.
Pineda is a frustrating enigma for sure, however the Yankees might feel he's a better option than other free agents. As mentioned earlier, Sabathia might be considered as a No. 5 starter.
I could see the Yankees running this rotation out in 2018 -- Tanaka or Darvish, Severino, Montgomery, Adams, and Sabathia. They will want a proven ace and Tanaka or Darvish fits the bill. If Sabathia falters, the Yankees can hope Sheffield is ready or that someone else steps up by midseason.
In essence, the Yankees do not have obvious options for the 2018 rotation, which could mean they have to rely on the potent offense once again to carry a majority of the load until other choices inside or outside the organization emerge.