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December 18, 2018

Matthews: The Yankees sealed their 2018 fate when they refused to go after a stud starter like Jacob deGrom

October 10, 2018

The Yankees pursuit of a 28th World Championship officially came to an end at 11:35 p.m. Tuesday night when their last-gasp challenge to overturn Gleyber Torres’ ninth-inning groundout with the tying run at second base was rejected, confirming the Boston Red Sox 4-3 win in Game 4 of the ALDS.

But in fact, that chase may have really ended three months earlier, when the Yankees chose not to make an all-out effort to acquire the player who could have put them over the top: Jacob deGrom.




For all the flaws shown by the 2018 Yankees, notably their over-reliance on the home run and their inability to hit in the clutch, none was more apparent or damaging than their lack of a lights-out starting pitcher.

Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and even CC Sabathia all had their moments during the regular season, but never did the Yankees have that one weapon they really needed – a stud starting pitcher who could make all the difference in a five-game series.

If the Yankees can made an offer the Mets couldn’t refuse for Jacob deGrom the Bombers are likely still alive in the postseason. (Bill Kostroun / AP)

The Houston Astros have it in Justin Verlander. The Cleveland Indians have it in Corey Kluber. And the Red Sox had it in Chris Sale, who won Game 1 for them as a starter and helped nail down Game 4 with a shutdown eighth inning. If Alex Cora had wanted to, he could have sent Sale out again for the ninth and spared himself some aggravation and Yankees fans some false hope.

But all of that could have been different had the Yankees put the full-court press on the Mets to part with deGrom — as the Daily News suggested in May — at the point in the season when they were most vulnerable.

We’ll never know, of course, how seriously the Yankees considered such a thing, or if the Mets would have considered it.

But you have to believe that in late June, when the Mets were in the midst of a tailspin in which they lost 22 of 27 games and plunged from five games back in the NL East to 14-1/2 games back, they would at least have listened to a serious offer, even from the Yankees.

And the Yankees had the pieces to not only make a serious offer, but a virtually irresistible one.

All it might have taken was a package of Torres, at the time a legitimate AL Rookie of the Year candidate, Justus Sheffield, the highest-rated pitcher in the Yankees farm system, and perhaps Clint Frazier, who couldn’t crack the Yankees outfield but on many big-league teams would be an everyday player.

Gleyber Torres is a fine young player, but unlikely to be the guy who can influence a playoff series by himself.
Gleyber Torres is a fine young player, but unlikely to be the guy who can influence a playoff series by himself. (Bill Kostroun / AP)

Frazier’s season, of course, was curtailed by the lingering effects of a concussion that limited him to 15 games and forced the Yankees to shut him down in September. But he seemed healthy throughout May and June and hit .307 with seven home runs and 17 RBI over that span for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. The Yankees, in fact, promoted him to the big club the first week in July.

And if Frazier was not acceptable to the Mets, they could have substituted Brett Gardner, who immediately would have become their starting left fielder; those were the days when the Mets were even trying Dominic Smith in left.

But the point is, had the Yankees really wanted to nab deGrom, they could have put together the proverbial offer the Mets could not refuse. And had they been able to see three months into the future, they would have stopped at nothing to add him to their staff. And had they done that, odds are they’d be heading to Houston today and the Red Sox would be heading home.

As for the Mets, trading deGrom, who is 30 years old and will be a free agent they will neither want or be able to afford in 2021, for a package of young players would have sent a signal to their long-suffering fan base that they were serious about rebuilding their wreckage of a franchise.

Ask yourself this, Yankees fans: what would you rather have seen Tuesday night, Gleyber Torres at the plate at the end of the game or Jacob deGrom on the mound in the beginning?

Even though his production fell off over the second half of the season, Torres is a fine player who will have put up excellent numbers by the end of his career.




But unless he’s Manny Machado, Robbie Alomar, Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez in his shortstop days, a middle infielder is not likely to be a season-changer.

A top-flight starter, however, almost always is. If there is one criticism to be leveled at Yankees GM Brian Cashman and his staff, it is their failure to recognize what they were lacking in their starting rotation.

Instead of trying to acquire a top-of-the-rotation starter – and last winter, the pickings were admittedly slim – the Yankees couldn’t resist adding Giancarlo Stanton, the 2017 NL MVP who had hit 59 mostly meaningless home runs in 162 definitely meaningless games for the Miami Marlins, to an offense that didn’t really need his help.

We all saw how well that worked out on two occasions in Game 4: in the fourth inning, when he overanxiously swung at a bad 2-0 pitch and grounded out with a runner on second, and most damagingly, in the ninth, when he came to bat as the potential tying run and struck out on four pitches by Craig Kimbrel, who couldn’t find the plate with a GPS.

At that point in the game, it might have been wiser for Aaron Boone to have sent Miguel Andujar up to hit for Stanton, because even though Andujar is also a free-swinger, he was much more likely to have put the ball in play.

What’s done is done there. The Yankees are stuck with Stanton and his $275 million contract until 2027, which gives him plenty of time to match A-Rod for post-season futility with the Yankees. Already, he is ahead of Rodriguez’ pace – it wasn’t until three years into his Yankees tenure that Joe Torre distrusted him so much he batted him eighth in an ALDS elimination game. Among the fans at least, Stanton seems to have reached that point in his maiden season in the Bronx.

But Stanton’s lack of production, along with the Yankees futility in the clutch (they were 4-for-26 with runners in scoring position) or their inopportune power outage at home, where they failed to hit one out of the ballpark in two games, were not the biggest reasons why their season ended eight games earlier than it did last year.

Aside from the 16-1 Game 3 blowout, their two other losses were one-run games.

A lights-out starter at the top of their rotation might have reversed those two.

Someone like Jacob deGrom. Had the Yankees been able to pry him loose, they’d probably be playing Thursday night.




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