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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Trevor Cahill

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The versatile righty has been used as starter and a swingman, and should not cost a fortune.

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

This past Friday, the Yankees addressed three of their most pressing objectives this winter in one fell swoop. First, they brought back DJ LeMahieu on a six-year, $90 million deal. They promptly followed that up by adding Corey Kluber on a one-year, $11 million pact, bringing much needed help to a depleted rotation. Finally, they were able to achieve all of this while still staying below the $210 million CBT threshold, leaving them on pace to reset their luxury tax rate.

Even with this business in the books, the Yankees have a handful of needs that remain to be addressed if they are serious about contending for a title this season. The rotation, despite Kluber’s addition, is still compromised, and it is hard to imagine the current construction being able to cover the requisite innings of a 162-game schedule. According to Cot’s Contracts of Baseball Prospectus, the Yankees have just under $6 million to play with before entering the first tax bracket, which eliminates many of the remaining free agent options. One budget option they could turn to is Trevor Cahill.

Cahill is one of the preeminent journeyman starters in the league, having suited up for eight different franchises since his major league debut in 2009. Over that span, he has vacillated between quite effective (18-8, 2.97 ERA, 4.19 FIP in 196.2 innings, ninth-place Cy Young finish with Oakland in 2010) to borderline unplayable (4-9, 5.98 ERA, 6.13 FIP in 102.1 innings with the Angels in 2019). However, he appeared to have figured something out in the small sample size of 2020, pitching to a 3.24 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 4.48 xFIP, and a career-high 29.2% strikeout rate in 25 innings with the Giants.

He was able to achieve this without overpowering velocity on the fastball. Instead, Cahill features plus raw stuff on multiple offspeed and breaking pitches. His changeup exhibited the third-most vertical movement in the league vs. the average in 2020 at 38.3 inches of tilt while his curveball sported the ninth-highest average spin rate, clocking in at just shy of 3,000 rpm.

Additionally, Cahill throws each of his five pitches (changeup, sinker, curveball, cutter, and four-seamer) at least 10% of the time. Whereas in previous years he was predominantly a sinkerballer, in 2020 Cahill created a true guessing game for the hitter. The deception he generates by varying his pitch mix is reflected in his career-best zone swing rate (54.8%), whiff rate (28.7%), and meatball swing rate (62.5%). Hitters were unable to recognize good pitches to hit, and when they did swing, they missed at a decent clip.

As with many pitchers in the lower tiers of the free agent market, Cahill comes with an assortment of concerns. Cahill posted a career-low groundball rate (35.6%) and career-high line drive rate (33.9%) in 2020, leading to a career-worst 10.2% barrel rate against. There is also the fact that he has not pitched over 111 innings since he was a full-time starter with the Diamondbacks in 2013.

Still, there is plenty of need on the Yankees’ staff for a pitcher of Cahill’s capabilities. His versatility as a hybrid starter/swingman would give the Yankees extra flexibility in how they deploy him. There’s also the fact that he is affordable. FanGraphs predicts a two year, $12 million deal for Cahill, while MLB Trade Rumors did not include him on their list of the top 50 free agents. Given the fact that he only earned a pro ration of a $2 million salary in 2020 and probably is not due a significant raise, the Yankees can get creative with a prospective contract offer so as not to exceed the $210 million threshold if they so choose.