It’s that time of year when rumors fly and teams scramble to determine where they stand. The trade deadline is only four days away, and still more than half of the clubs in MLB have to decide whether they are buying, selling, or standing pat. The Yankees find themselves in this purgatorial predicament as they continue to sleepwalk through the season, unsure if they are legitimate playoff contenders. If they are serious about making a push for that final Wild Card spot, they will need to make additions, and the starting rotation could use a lift.
I say this, yet dating back to Jameson Taillon’s July 6th start against the Mariners, the Yankees’ starting staff has sneakily been one of the best rotations in baseball. They ranked second in ERA (2.22) and strikeout rate (26.5 percent), third in fWAR (1.8) and fourth in FIP (3.67). Unfortunately, many of those efforts have been squandered by a now-floundering bullpen, but the fact the starters have found their footing bodes well as the team enters the back stretch. Still, this newfound stability in the rotation should not preclude the Yankees from pursuing reinforcements before the trade deadline, considering the all-of-a-sudden productive trio of Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, and Domingo Germán can just as quickly fall off the table.
Scouring the league, there are few starters more likely to be on the market than Kyle Gibson. The 33-year-old righty has rejuvenated his career after being arguably the worst qualified starter in the league last year, and has finally rewarded the Rangers’ faith in him after they signed him to a three-year, $28 million deal prior to last season. It has been quite the turnaround, with the veteran righty taking top-billing in the Texas rotation with his 6-3 record, 2.86 ERA, 3.75 FIP, and 94 strikeouts in 113 innings.
Gibson is a groundball artist, pure and simple. He doesn’t miss bats, won’t strike you out, and issues his fair share of free passes. However, his 50.8 percent groundball rate is seventh in MLB. Gibson is elite at missing the barrel, sitting in the 94th percentile in barrel rate allowed. He even earned himself an All-Star nod this year for the first time in his career.
The conundrum for any acquiring team is to project which version of Gibson (2020 vs. 2021) is the real McCoy. The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle — no one expected him to be so poor last year, nor so effective this. The 26.7 percent home run per fly ball rate he carried in 2020 was unsustainably high and has since leveled off to 10.1 percent (which admittedly is due to regress upwards in the future). That said, he has been the recipient of some good luck this year, including the aforementioned HR/FB rate and a .267 BABIP that likely won’t remain that low forever.
The other two aspects of Gibson’s trade candidacy that make him such an appealing option are his availability and affordability. As Josh laid out at the beginning of the month, the Rangers have no illusions of contending and will certainly be selling at the deadline. Alongside Joey Gallo, Gibson is their most valuable trade asset, and would be a boost to any rotation from an innings-eating standpoint at the very least.
Now on to his cost. Gibson becomes a free agent after the 2022 season and therefore is not a pure rental. Demands seem to go up in orders of magnitude for each additional year of control; however, at Gibson’s age and with his run-of-the-mill stuff and spotty track record, I could envision him being one of the more affordable impact starters on the market. His CBT hit this year comes in a smidge over $9.3 million, which prorates to just under $3.5 million if acquired on Deadline Day.
If they Yankees are interested, they would either need Texas to eat some of the remaining salary or send back players to shed salary in order to remain below the first CBT threshold. Granted, Gibson is hardly the marquee Ranger who New York ought to be prioritizing. But if the Yankees are determined to make additions on the pitching side without yielding a significant prospect package, they could do a whole lot worse than Kyle Gibson.