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Yankees potential trade target: Kevin Gausman

Does the former Oriole make sense as rotation depth for an ailing Yankees team?

Los Angeles Angels v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

A pessimistic appraisal of the Yankees’ season so far would center on two facts: that the club’s penchant for injuries, which dogged them all last year, has persisted into this one. And that the starting rotation, for however good Gerrit Cole has been and is, operates with little margin for error, thanks to shaky starts to the season from James Paxton and J.A. Happ (not to mention Jordan Montgomery being far from a sure thing).

The last thing the club needed was for those two inconvenient truths to intersect and leave them down a starter due to injury. But that’s exactly what happened when Paxton landed on the injured list Friday with a left forearm strain.

It’s probably a good idea to get a sense of the landscape for starting pitching depth on the trade market then, don’t you think?

So which hapless team’s carcass shall we imagine ourselves picking over? San Francisco Giants, you’re up!

The Giants are sitting dead last in the NL East and are a good bet to be sellers ahead of the August 31 trading deadline. Leading their pitching staff in fWAR at the moment is a name that should be familiar to Yankees fans: former Baltimore Orioles righty Kevin Gausman.

Gausman’s an interesting option to pore over, though he’s hardly a slam-dunk upgrade in the rotation. The 29-year-old has never quite lived up to his potential as a fourth-overall draft pick in 2012. In 956.2 innings spread over eight seasons, Gausman’s pitched to a 4.31 ERA (4.09 FIP), which is good for a 99 ERA+. In other words, he’s been remarkably average.

But he possesses some qualities the Yankees might find attractive:

He throws hard and strikes batters out

Gausman’s primary weapons are a fourseamer (which he’s thrown 50.9% of the time this year) and a splitter (40.3%), according to Baseball Savant. His average fastball velocity sits at 95.2 mph (up more than a mile an hour over last year), which places him in the 85th percentile of the league. His fastball spin rate is solidly above average (66th percentile), but his splitter is his swing-and-miss pitch. As he’s relied on it more over the last couple of years, he’s seen his strikeout rates improve. In 31 innings this year, he boasts a 31.5% mark, which is in the 83rd percentile league-wide.

Baseball Savant

He’s limiting walks

Gausman has always been a bit better than average in walk rate (his career mark is 7%, while the league average has hovered in the 8.5% range in recent years). But this season, he’s cut that rate down to 4.5% (while the league average is up to 9.2%). It’s no surprise, then, that with his strikeout stuff and ability to limit free passes, he’s pitched to a 3.14 FIP so far this year, despite his actual ERA being a more pedestrian 4.65.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to pry him loose

Gausman signed with San Francisco on a one-year, $9 million deal this past offseason, so he’d be a pure rental without any future value to an acquiring club baked into the cost. The only thing that could drive his price up would be if the Giants attracted multiple suitors. Given the way their season has gone, it’d be surprising if the Giants didn’t offload him somewhere.

It’s not all tulips and butterflies, of course. Here are some of the cons that might give the Yankees pause:

Where’s the third pitch?

One of the reasons Gausman hasn’t lived up to his potential is his complete lack of credible third pitch. He features a slider, which he’s thrown 8% of the time this year, but it’s pretty bad, ranking toward the bottom of the league in both horizontal and vertical movement.

In his limited usage of the breaking ball, batters are hitting .625 off of it, with a gaudy 1.250 slugging percentage. Ouch.

He has an inconsistent track record

In 2018, Baltimore traded Gausman to the Atlanta Braves, where he pitched to a sparkling 2.87 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 59.2 innings down the stretch. But he followed that promising start up with a putrid 2019 for Atlanta, registering a 6.19 ERA in 16 starts and 80 innings. The Braves designated him for assignment and he latched on with the Cincinnati Reds, where he rebounded out of the bullpen. But it’s fair for an acquiring team to wonder which Gausman they’ll be getting.

So does Gausman make sense for the Yankees? The team does have an affinity for hard-throwing righties who miss bats, and he certainly checks those boxes. But the lack of a third offering is a big red flag. I suspect the Yankees will look elsewhere for answers, but Gausman represents an intriguing fallback option should they come up empty in those pursuits.