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A way too early look at potential Yankees’ free agent targets

The Yankees could target these free agents for their 2020 roster

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

A lot can happen between now and the start of free agency. The Yankees could win the World Series, or they could get bounced in devastating fashion. Didi Gregorius and Dellin Betances could agree to new deals or decide they want to test the waters and see just how much they’re worth to a team outside of New York. Aroldis Chapman also has an opt-out clause that some believe he’ll take advantage of, and the Yankees need to decide if they want to retain Edwin Encarnacion for $20 million.

You also can’t discount the effect of injuries, especially with the 2019 Yankees. It wasn’t until the ALDS last season that Gregorius required Tommy John surgery. It’s never too early, however, to take a look ahead at the upcoming free agent class and start thinking about some players who might be on the Yankees’ radar.

Anthony Rendon

Rendon played in the shadow of Bryce Harper for years in D.C., but he’s not sneaking his way into free agency. The 29-year-old third baseman is an MVP candidate in the National League with a .317/.395/.602 slash line and 5.0 WAR through 110 games.

After the Yankees passed on Manny Machado, there was speculation that they could have their eyes on Nolan Arenado, but he signed an extension in Colorado. That left Rendon as the biggest prize on the market. The performance of Gio Urshela and the impending return of Miguel Andujar should take the Yankees out of the Rendon sweepstakes, but if they lose Gregorius, the Bombers could try to slide Gleyber Torres to shortstop and find a way to fit Rendon into their talented infield. Unlikely, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the Yankees’ interest.

Gerrit Cole

The Yankees have loved Cole ever since they drafted him in the first round out of high school. Obviously Cole passed on signing with the Yankees as an 18-year-old, but they had discussions with the Pirates when Cole became available again via trade two winters ago.

This offseason, the Yankees will have their third crack at the right-handed ace. If the Yankees don’t win the World Series because their starters struggled, you can expect the front office to push ownership hard to invest in someone like Cole. He’s likely the only true ace to hit the market this offseason, so expect him to cash in. You can also expect the Yankees to at least have a meeting with him.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Ryu bet on himself this season by accepting a qualifying offer from the Dodgers, and it’s paid off for him in a big way. The left-hander owns a combined 1.76 ERA in his last 230.2 innings over the past two seasons, leading all MLB starters by a wide margin. He’s battled injuries consistently since coming to the U.S. in 2013, but he’s having his best season yet at age-32. Teams are going to line up for his services.

If the Yankees aren’t willing to go all-in on a pitcher like Cole, they could get similar results from Ryu at a much lower cost. Ryu’s age and injury history won’t deter him from signing a lucrative deal, but they will lower the price substantially in comparison to Cole. With CC Sabathia retiring after the season, and J.A. Happ quickly losing any reliability, Ryu might be a left-hander the Yankees covet for the front of their rotation.

Bargain Shopping

When the Yankees passed on Machado, they decided to sign DJ LeMahieu for two years and $24 million instead. The infielder has outperformed Machado across the board and put any fan outrage to rest. LeMahieu was hardly a scrap-heap player, but he flew under the radar in comparison to big names players on the market.

A few lesser known free agents who could fit the Yankees’ plans next season are former Yankee Rich Hill, Scooter Gennett, Collin McHugh, and Michael Wacha. Many of the Yankees’ offseason decisions will depend on how the rest of the 2019 season unfolds, but one thing’s for certain: Brian Cashman and the front office are always key players when free agency kicks off.