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Yankees potential trade target: Ian Kennedy

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Even though he didn’t come with Joey Gallo, reliever Ian Kennedy could still theoretically find his way back to the Bronx before the trade deadline ends.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Texas Rangers Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The New York Yankees, despite their mediocre season so far, still have several paths towards a playoff spot, the most likely being the second Wild Card slot. To get there, though, they need to get healthy, and make upgrades at the trade deadline.

They got to work yesterday and traded for Texas Rangers’ outfielder Joey Gallo, a top power bat who happens to be an elite corner defender. They also brought left-handed reliever John King, plus Clay Holmes from the Pirates a few days ago.

However, the Yankees also parted with Justin Wilson and Luis Cessa, so they could potentially entertain the idea of adding another reliable bullpen arm. Chad Green, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Zack Britton haven’t been all that sharp recently, and Darren O’Day is lost for the year. Yes, Aroldis Chapman seems to be coming around as of late, but more help is needed.

That’s why, as incredible as it sounds, the Yankees should give Ian Kennedy of the Rangers a long look. There’s quite a bit of mileage on his right arm, but right now, he is performing well and isn’t too expensive, both in salary (he is making $2.15 million this season) and in prospect capital.

One would think that if the Yankees really wanted him, he would have come with Gallo. But the dynamics of a trade deadline mean that every situation is fluid, and perhaps his price tag gets lower and the Yankees can pounce.

The 36-year-old Kennedy has, before Wednesday’s games, a 2.51 ERA in 32.1 innings. Other ERA estimators say that, while not as dominant as his ERA suggests, he has been good: so far, he has a 3.24 expected ERA, 3.65 FIP, and a 3.79 expected FIP.

Kennedy is a Yankee draftee: fans old enough to remember him will also recall that he was once a member of a “Big Three”, alongside Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. Those were the days. Kennedy was seen as the least talented of the three, yet ended up having the best and longest career.

His days as a starter ended after his disastrous 2018 with the Kansas City Royals (4.66 ERA) He had been even worse the year before (5.38 ERA), so they decided to try him as a reliever, a move that worked wonders: in 2019, Kennedy had his best ERA, 3.41, since 2011, in 63.1 frames.

He was bad in 2020, with a 9.00 ERA and seven home runs allowed in 14 innings (yikes). He looked finished. However, the Rangers scooped him up on a minor league deal and he made the team. The rest is history: he is now an attractive trade piece for contenders looking to bolster their bullpen.

The move to the bullpen a few years ago skyrocketed his strikeout rate from around 20 percent to 27.4 percent in 2019 and 27.8 percent this year. He adjusted his pitch mix, and his velocity went up by virtue of not having to throw six innings per outing. Kennedy is now averaging almost 95 mph with his heater, as opposed to the low-90s when he was a starter.

Kennedy is on the older side at age-36, and would be a rental since he is on a one-year deal. But he may give the Yankees one of the things they need: another reliable bullpen arm, one that can get strikeouts and limit walks (career-low 1.95 walks per nine innings in 2021). He may allow some dingers, as his 1.39 homers per nine frames in 2021 may suggest, but he won’t get beat with walks. He is not his own worst enemy.

The Rangers are surely going to deal him (they are not competing in 2021 and probably not even in 2022) and the Yankees can use him. It’s an easy fit, even if the Yankees’ work with the Rangers may appear done.