NEW YORK – From the moment free agency opened, it seemed as if most projections had Patrick Corbin already being measured for his pinstripes.
Corbin would end up in the Bronx, pitching for the New York Yankees, the team he grew up rooting for in a Syracuse, New York, suburb.
The Yankees needed pitching. Corbin is very good at pitching. It seemed a perfect match.
“I made a couple comments last year how I grew up a Yankee fan and people took it out of context,” Corbin told Yahoo Sports. “I’ve kind of just wanted to – it was my first time in free agency. See what’s out there.”
Waiting out there for him were the Washington Nationals.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo prioritizes starting pitchers – and especially frontline, dominant starters – and he never concerned himself with the notion that the Yankees were the team to beat.
The Nationals made the most aggressive offer of six years and $140 million while the Yankees topped out at five years and roughly $100 million. The Phillies also offered five years.
Corbin then signed with the Nationals in a move that has paid big dividends for them and potentially hurt the Yankees.
The 30-year-old’s strong season has helped Washington rebound from a slow start to lead the NL wild-card chase, while the Yankees’ rotation is the team’s clear weakness and could ultimately prevent them from winning a title.
“I don’t pay attention to the rumors because they’re mostly that,” Rizzo said Saturday evening. “We had a good relationship with the player and the agent and we brought him into D.C., showed him what this organization is all about and he decided to come with us. We’re happy about it.”
While so much of the trade deadline chatter focused on the Yankees’ lack of activity and whiffing on acquiring a starting pitcher, a strong argument can be made that the Yankees’ bigger misses came in the offseason.
The Yankees prioritized adding starting pitching, and Corbin represented the top free agent arm. He finished fifth in the NL Cy Young voting with Arizona, struck out 246 batters in 200 innings, and posted a 2.47 FIP.
You sign Corbin and immediately slot him into the top of your rotation. Corbin’s 3.41 ERA is currently lower than any Yankees starter.
Corbin ultimately visited the Yankees as part of his East coast swing that also featured stops in D.C. and Philadelphia.
As the Yankees refrained from going beyond five years, Corbin and his wife, Jen, realized that making their new home in Washington D.C. made the most sense for their future. The couple had always loved visiting the nation’s capital.
“[The Yankees] are a really good team,” Corbin said. “They’re in first place for a reason. They do have some pitchers, had some injuries, you never know with things like that. Their number one went down early in the season. For me looking at this team having Max [Scherzer] and Stephen [Strasburg], young talent, it just felt right.”
Adding Corbin has proven to be a wise decision for the Nationals and helped them overcome a rough start and an awful bullpen.
Corbin has slotted into their rotation quite nicely alongside Scherzer and Strasburg, and the Nationals have arguably the best starting trio in the National League. He loves having young players such as Juan Soto, who homered twice Saturday, Victor Robles and Trea Turner working behind him.
Corbin’s numbers are slightly down from last year, but his FIP is lower than his ERA, and he’s still averaging 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
He entered Sunday with the 13th-best WAR — and seventh among current National League pitchers — among qualified starting pitchers.
“I’m still in the National League, facing these teams every year so you have a better idea,” Corbin said. “Since day one it was fairly easy to step in this clubhouse and became friends with a lot of them right away, and it wasn’t a weird feeling.”
In Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the New York Mets, Corbin allowed just two runs on three hits in six innings while striking out eight batters, giving the Nationals a chance to win. He made two mistakes in a span of three pitches to J.D. Davis and Wilson Ramos, which both landed in the stands, but otherwise pitched a fantastic game.
Nationals manager Davey Martinez and Rizzo both praised Corbin for all the work he does behind the scenes to prepare for his start.
“He’s true professional with good stuff, but the work ethic and preparation is like the really good pitchers in the league,” Rizzo said before Saturday’s loss. “He’s an elite left-hander that takes care of his business and really is the whole package.”
The Nationals are going to continue to have to ride Corbin, Strasburg, and provided he returns soon, Max Scherzer, to reach the postseason.
Rizzo believes that the team’s starting pitching is the “cornerstone” of the roster, and that’s why the Nationals have three frontline pitchers. But, had the rumors been true this offseason, the Nationals wouldn’t have such a strong trio this year, and perhaps not be in a strong position to land a playoff spot.
Instead, with Corbin choosing them, they have a reason to think that due to their starting rotation, they can be a tough out in October as long as they can minimize how many outs their volatile bullpen has to record each game.
And if Corbin delivers for the Nationals in October, it could be a decision that many Yankee fans can only watch and wonder what could have been.
“I’ve always enjoyed coming [to Washington D.C.] and over the years they’ve have had really good regular seasons and won a lot of games and always want to compete and win,” Corbin said. “Where I’m at in my career, that’s all that matters.”
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