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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Adam Wainwright

The Yankees have a lot of unmet pitching needs. Would Waino, a veteran starter with a nasty curveball, fulfill them?

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Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

After learning he was the 2020 winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, Adam Wainwright received a call from Yadier Molina, his longtime teammate. The pretext for the call was to congratulate Wainwright on winning what is arguably baseball’s most prestigious award, according to The Athletic’s Mark Saxon. But the real reason for Molina’s call was to check in and get the latest updates on how Wainwright is faring in this free agency period.

Whether to offer Wainwright a new contract could be a tricky decision for the Cardinals. On one hand, Wainwright is coming off the best season he’s had in years. The 39-year-old pitcher is also a franchise player with strong ties to the fans and community in St. Louis. On the other, the degree to which the pandemic has curbed the Cardinals’ spending power in 2021 is unclear.

The same goes for the Yankees. It’s imperative that the Yankees replenish and fortify their pitching staff. A few of the most valuable starting pitchers, including Lance Lynn and Charlie Morton, are already off the market. Tanaka’s future with the Yankees is currently uncertain, and to some extent, so is Domingo Germán’s. Plus, Luis Severino won’t return to the mound before June. Not having a full rotation was the Yankees’ Achilles heel in 2020 and right now, there is a limited supply of quality starters on the market. The most attractive options will begin to dwindle if the Yankees don’t aggressively pursue them.

Adding a reliable veteran arm like Wainwright to slot in the second or third spot in the Yankees’ rotation makes a lot of sense.

At 39, Wainwright’s age is arguably a concern. But he also had a resurgence during the shortened 2020 season. From 2016 through 2019, Wainwright finished each season with an ERA of 4.19 or higher. In 2020, Wainwright had a 3.15 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in ten starts. He pitched two complete games—the most of any pitcher in MLB—while notching 54 strikeouts and allowing 15 walks in 65 2/3 innings.

Wainwright’s renaissance this year didn’t come out of nowhere. His recent success is, in part, attributable to his continued effort to refine his pitch mix. Starting in 2017, Wainwright began relying less on his four-seamer and a lot more on his curveball—which, in terms of movement and spin-rate, is among the best in MLB. The new balance he’s achieved has allowed him to have more effective outings on the mound.

Adam Wainwright’s Pitch % by Season

Padding the rotation with a veteran like Wainwright, who also has experience pitching in the postseason, isn’t a bad idea for the Yankees to entertain. His curveball-heavy repertoire is unlike that of the Yankees’ current pitching staff. Balancing out Gerrit Cole’s 100-mph fastballs and Luis Severino’s mix of fastballs and sliders would likely work in the Yankees’ favor and add versatility to the rotation.

That said, it’s questionable how much the Yankees would be willing to spend on a one-year contract for Wainwright. He’s a workhorse who pitches deep into games, and to a certain extent, Wainwright does have the qualities the Yankees are looking for in a starter. But he’s also a well-respected veteran who requires a salary of several million dollars. Brian Cashman has a penchant for going after “bargain” deals and acquiring players who represent a low-risk, high-reward value. Wainwright doesn’t really fit that profile, which makes me believe the Yankees aren’t planning to pursue him.

José Quintana and Taijuan Walker are two starters on the free agent market who better resemble the kind of transactions Cashman prefers to make. The bottom line? New York has a lot of unmet pitching needs. I hope the Yankees make it a priority to fulfill them and are willing to spend enough to do so.