Pitchers and catchers officially check in this week in Florida and Arizona and the Yankees will be greeting a pitcher who resembles an archetype with which they have not had much success.
Jameson Taillon fits these criteria: 1) 30 or under starter. 2) High talent level that has not been fully expressed in his previous stop, often (but not always) with injury as a contributor. 3) Acquired via trade in the offseason, usually for prospects. 4) Having controllable years that leave the Yankees believing they are buying a stock that will reach its highest value for years with them.
This is how Michael Pineda also became a Yankee. And Nathan Eovaldi. And James Paxton.
Like Eovaldi and Paxton, injury has helped derail any chance at serial success for Taillon prior to the trade to the Yankees. Like Eovaldi, Paxton and Pineda, Tallion arrives with a big arm and huge promise and the potential to provide the Yankees a top-of-the-rotation piece for more than just one season (Taillon can be a free agent after the 2022 campaign).
“I don’t think there is a type we gravitate to besides really talented players,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “But we understand it comes with risk. Can they stay healthy? Can they pitch in New York? Can they pitch in the AL East?”
Pineda, Eovaldi and Paxton could not stay healthy in New York and could not sustain excellence for long stretches. The trio had highs and the overall numbers — 70-49 with a 4.24 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning — were fine. But they were not obtained to be fine. They were acquired to be high-end pieces for championship runs — just like Taillon. Paxton, though, was the only to even pitch in the postseason as a Yankee.
Trading for starters 30-and-under with control and perceived upside at any time just has not worked during Cashman’s tenure — think also Jeff Weaver, Javier Vazquez and Sonny Gray. The best in this group were mid-season afterthoughts who really helped stretch runs in Shawn Chacon and Brandon McCarthy.
The Yankees’ 25 best Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference version) for starters in Cashman’s term (since 1998) have come via big-price free agency with Mike Mussina, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, David Cone and Masahiro Tanaka, mid-range free agency with David Wells, Orlando Hernandez and Hirorki Kuroda, trades for older veterans with Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson and international amateurs with Chien-Ming Wang and Luis Severino. What isn’t here is the more cost effective drafted players or prime-age trade acquisitions such as Pineda, Paxton, Eovaldi, Vazquez, Weaver, etc.
The Yankees are not alone here. The Indians, for example, are expert at identifying starters before they develop any kind of major league track record (Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, Corey Kluber). But there just are not many success stories around the majors in the last two decades of players more in the Pineda, Eovaldi, Taillon bucket — time in the majors, under-30, who are traded elsewhere and blossom for a stretch with their new team. Two that have, however, do have Yankee ties.
In the December 2009 three-way trade that netted the Yankees Curtis Granderson from Detroit, Max Scherzer went from the Diamondbacks to the Tigers. In January 2018, the Yankees could not find the mix of prospects to appease the Pirates and Gerrit Cole was traded instead to the Astros.
The Yankees have not been burned in these kinds of recent deals by what they have surrendered. Jesus Montero floundered after going to Seattle for Pineda. Martin Prado and David Phelps were both useful to the Marlins after being obtained for Eovaldi, but the Yanks also received Domingo German in that trade. Justus Sheffield did begin to show promise in the shortened 2020 for the Mariners after being the key to the Paxton swap.
And the Yankees are consistently encouraged that they are not alone trying to obtain these toolsy starters. This time, for example, pretty much every AL East contender was trying to beat them to Taillon (and also the veteran free agent, Kluber), including the Rays; generally viewed as among the best at identifying pitching skills.
“The job is to never be afraid to keep trying,” Cashman said when it comes to chasing talent.
So the Yankees try this arena again. Now, it is Taillon. Will the stock rise for them this time?