Returning Yankees pitchers will lead to a trade deadline narrative

Dan Kelly

The Yankees are primed to make a move or two before the July 30th trade deadline. The team remains in the mix for a playoff spot but there are glaring holes on the major league roster. With the Yankees exploring every option to stay under the luxury tax threshold it is likely that fans wishing for a blockbuster trade will more likely hear a narrative that has frustrated fans for years, “we are getting back injured players and that is just like making a trade.”

In early July as the Yankees were in the process of losing seven of eight games and dropping to the .500 mark, a full 10 games out of first place in the American League East. AS the team floundered it was beginning to looks like the franchise would be sellers at the trade deadline for the first time since 2016. Following a crushing loss to the Mets that capped that stretch of losing the Yankees have won 9 of their last 12 games keeping themselves within arms reach of a Wild Card spot and if a lot of things break right the American League East crown. The recent success also will certainly push the Yankees in the category of buyers at the trade deadline with fans expecting the team to significantly upgrade the major league roster.

Injuries to any major league pitching staff are expected throughout the year. Teams routinely talk about their sixth through eighth starters during the buildup to a season as organizational depth is part of the game. With the toll of a long major league season in full swing, Yankees fans have eyes on some of the pitchers who could easily be on the move by the end of the month such as Kyle Hendricks, Jon Gray and for those who dream big Max Scherzer. What is far more likely for Yankees fans is that the team will view their pitchers who are returning from injury as the trade upgrades that the team needs.

Clarke Schmidt was one of those depth pieces the Yankees were counting on this year. A first-round pick in 2017, he is considered the Yankees top pitching prospect by many minor league observers. After making his major league debut in 2020, it was not out of the question that he could potentially grab a steady major league role during the 2021 spring training.

That plan went sideways when Schmidt was shut down early in camp with a forearm strain. Initial estimates that he would be shut down for a month or two proved overly optimistic and Schmidt has yet to pitch in a game at any level this season.

Still factoring into the Yankees plans, Schmidt recently pitched to batters for the first time in his rehab process and is building up for game action. Barring a setback he should begin a rehab assignment by the early part of August. If Schmidt returns healthy then he would give the Yankees a fresh arm that can help them down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Another arm that the Yankees are counting is Luis Severino who is returning from Tommy John surgery that took place in March 2020. The hard throwing right hander was a bonified ace in 2017 and for much of 2018 as he carried the load for the Yankees pitching staff. If he can return to form it would provide the Yankees with two legitimate frontline starters at the top of their rotation as he backs up Gerrit Cole.

Severino already started his comeback once this season but in just his second start back on June 12th he pulled up in the second inning of the game with a groin injury. Sidelined since, Severino recently threw a bullpen session with the Double-A Somerset Patriots and is on the verge of restarting his rehab assignments.
Luis Severino's first rehab assignment was cut short due to another injuryPicture from MiLB.TV / by Dan Kelly

Veteran pitcher Corey Kluber also seems to have a promising timeline to return to the Yankees. The team’s front office took a chance on the two-time Cy-Young award winner this past offseason following a pair of seasons where he threw just 36.2 innings combined.

The early results looked promising as Kluber found his stride and had a 3.04 ERA after 10 starts. He also provided one of the highlights of the first half when he tossed a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers.

When he went to the injured list shortly after the initial reports on Kluber’s shoulder made many wonder if he would return at all in 2021. Yankee manager Aaron Boone recently said that “he’s scheduled to throw a bullpen Friday” when asked about Kluber’s progress. That could put Kluber in line for rehab games in August and an early-September return.

The trio of pitchers returning will almost certainly have the Yankees leery of dipping into the trade market for more pitching help. Fans looking for the Yankees to make the impact moves at the trade deadline will certainly be met with the returning player narrative that many teams have used before. The Yankees should continue upgrading their roster and only count the returning players as an additional bonus if they actually do return to their top form down the stretch.

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