With the Yankees holding the best record in baseball, Hal Steinbrenner has very little to quibble about. Even after a 5-4 loss to the Washington Nationals at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, the Yankees were still a couple percentage points ahead of the Boston Red Sox in what Steinbrenner called a heck of a pennant race.
But the one area that concerns many Yankees fans is the starting pitching, and Steinbrenner, the team’s managing general partner, did not disagree.
“Look, I think there is definitely a need,” Steinbrenner said in the lobby of Major League Baseball’s headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. “It is one of the areas we will be looking at.”
Steinbrenner noted that the Yankees had a sizable amount of leeway in their payroll to pay for a potential new pitcher acquired in a trade while still remaining below the $197 million luxury tax threshold. He said they could add more than $10 million in payroll — flexibility that was purposely built into this year’s budget.
“I absolutely think, if we decide to go get a pitcher and if a pitcher is available, I think we definitely have the flexibility that would allow me to do just that,” he said.
And with each passing week, the need seems to increase. Jordan Montgomery was lost for the season after having Tommy John surgery. Masahiro Tanaka is expected to miss several weeks with hamstring injuries, and on Wednesday Sonny Gray squandered a two-run lead against the Nationals as his earned run average rose to 4.98.
Going into Wednesday’s games, the Yankees starting pitchers’ combined E.R.A. was a respectable 3.85, fifth in the American League. But they are now relying on inexperienced pitchers like Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga, who will make his major league-debut on Friday.
If the Yankees do acquire a starter this summer, Steinbrenner seemed to be more concerned about the cost in prospects than he was about the monetary outlay. The list of starters who could potentially be available before the July 31 trade deadline includes Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ and even Jacob deGrom of the Mets. But in order to acquire a pitcher of that stature, the Yankees could be forced to part with many good prospects.
Convincing Steinbrenner to relinquish them would not be as simple as it was when his father, George Steinbrenner, owned the Yankees and, at times, readily traded young talent for established stars. Even under the younger Steinbrenner’s direction, the Yankees have gone through periods of spending lavishly on aging free agents like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran.
But the culture of the front office has been much different in recent years with the success of young stars like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino. The more recent additions of the rookies Gleyber Torres, who hit his 12th home run on Wednesday, and Miguel Andujar have reinforced the notion of the so-called Baby Bombers — talented, popular and cheap.
“I love the young guys,” Steinbrenner said. “Our fans love the young guys. I think it’s obvious to all of us. They’ve made a heck of an impact. To see Gleyber and Andujar and others right off the heels of Judge and Sanchez and Severino, it’s pretty amazing.”
But it was Washington who had the most eye-popping performance from a young player on Wednesday. Juan Soto, the Nationals’ 19-year-old left fielder, became the youngest player to hit two home runs in a regular season game at either Yankee Stadium since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989.
Soto hit a three-run home run off Gray in the fourth inning to give the Nationals the lead, 4-3. Then, after Torres’s solo homer tied it in the fifth, Soto blasted a bases-empty shot off Chasen Shreve deep into the right-field bleachers in the seventh to give the lead back to Washington for good. He became the youngest player with four R.B.I. in a game since Robin Yount did it at age 19 in 1975.
“He’s kind of old school,” said teammate Ryan Madson. “He’s very humble, quiet and respectful. I like that.”
Giancarlo Stanton had three hits for the Yankees to break an 0 for 11 stretch. Steinbrenner was asked earlier in the day if he is concerned about Stanton’s inconsistent start.
“National League M.V.P.” Steinbrenner said in response to a question about Stanton’s performance, referring to the slugger’s title from a year ago. “It’s going to be hard to get me to be concerned.”
The loss kept the Yankees virtually neck-and-neck with the Red Sox in their race for first place in the A.L. East. For most of the last six weeks they have been locked in a taut battle for divisional supremacy, and Steinbrenner said the old rivals owning the two best records is good for the game.
“Never boring, never dull,” he said. “To have both of us doing what we’re doing right now is a pretty cool thing.”