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Four Yankees free-agent targets after the trade deadline

The Yankees couldn’t pull off a trade, but perhaps a signing could be in the works.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline didn’t go as expected for the Yankees. Major-league talent was available, ranging from ace pitchers like Zack Grienke to pitching prospects like Zac Gallen and everything in between. The fact that the Yankees didn’t get one starting pitcher or reliever comes as a surprise to many.

Now that trades are no longer an option, the Yankees can possibly add some reinforcements through signings. There might not be any pitchers on the open market who can make a greater impact than the arms exchanged on the trade market, but adding some depth in the minor leagues and testing them out doesn’t hurt. The Yankees made such moves earlier this season on the hitting side when they were looking for left-handed power bats in the absence of Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius, signing Brad Miller and Logan Morrison as insurance.

There is a wide range of pitchers that are available on the free-agent market, but these four could catch the interest of the Yankees, just as Miller and Morrison once did.

James Shields

We’ll start off with the eldest of the bunch, and one of two candidates who haven’t thrown one professional pitch this season. However, Shields arguably had the best 2018 out of all four hurlers on this list, after having pitched a total of 204.2 innings for the Chicago White Sox. His stats, like most of these pitchers, aren’t exactly promising, but we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel here.

Over his career, Shields has proven to be a work horse, continuously pitching over 200 innings season after season. This is not to say we are just looking for an innings eater on the Yankees, but just to acknowledge that Shields’ arm likely could handle a workload even after having sat out the season’s first four months.

Looking through Shields’ campaign last season you quickly notice his best pitch was the knuckle curveball identified by Statcast. With a sample size of 114 batted ball events, Shields was able to produce an xBA of .233 and xSLG of .398 against the curve, together with a whiff rate of 33.9%. The problem is Shields only used his knuckle curve about 20% of the time, while his four-seam and cut fastballs were both producing poor results at about a 50% usage, each allowing xSLG percentages over .500.

Shields doesn’t possess the velocity he once had to keep hitters off balance, averaging just under 90 mph last season. However, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to stash Shields in Triple-A and see if he could figure out a way to utilize his knuckle curve more often. That, combined with a changeup that produced similar results, while also lowering his fastball usage, could one day help him back to the majors again.

Matt Harvey

Harvey is tricky because of his reputation and his understandable dislike for pitching in the minor leagues, as he once refused to play in the minors while with the Mets. But out of all candidates, Harvey is the only one that has three pitches with a whiff rate of 30% or higher per Statcast, which he managed this season with the Angels. His slider is the most impressive, generating an xBA of .245 and xSLG of .428 against.

Like Shields, Harvey is also experiencing a lack of production against his fastball, resulting in an ugly xwOBA of .456. Additionally both Harvey and Shields have complementary changeups that produce slightly less than their best pitches but use them at a low rate. Overall, Harvey might not be the first choice for the Yankees but he did show some potential with his breaking pitches and could find success if he lowers his fastball usage under 40% like both Domingo German and Masahiro Tanaka already have.

Luiz Gohara and Andrew Triggs

Triggs and Gohara are on the free market after just having been released, but both have injury questions attached them.

Gohara was once one of the Atlanta Braves’ better prospects, ranking ninth in the organization before the season according to FanGraphs. Thus, he is particularly interesting because of his youth, checking in at just 23-years-old. Just as recently as 2017, Gohara was averaging about 97 mph on his four-seam and sinking fastballs according to Statcast. He’s left-handed and features a slider with outstanding results in 2018. He was used out of the Braves bullpen last season but the slider produced an xBA of .174 and xSLG of .314 with a whiff rate of 42.6.

Unfortunately, Gohara hasn’t been able to stay healthy enough this season and will miss the remainder of the year because of should surgery. He therefore wouldn’t profile as pitching depth for this season, but could become useful down the line. Nonetheless, a hard-throwing left-handed pitcher featuring a sharp slider would be a welcome sight in the Yankees’ system.

Unlike Gohara, Triggs has been able to pitch professionally this season with Oakland’s Triple-A club, but has dealt with a strained hip. He’s for sure a project who would have to prove his health first but could possibly work his way back in the minors. During 2018, Triggs’ curveball produced an xBA of .097 and xSLG of .200 with a whiff rate of 44.6%. His curveball-slider combination helps him perform in the majors with an average fastball around 90 mph.

The Yankees missed out during the trade deadline but could take a flyer on any of these four options. We can’t expect any one of them to be a savior, or even to make it to the major leagues, but they could add further depth at a crucial position. It might not be what the Yankees organization wanted, but it could be what they need.