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Yankees Potential Trade Target: Tyler Mahle

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The right-hander is young, good, controllable, and has a high-efficiency fastball, making him perfect for New York.

Washington Nationals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Luis Castillo has made all the headlines among the Cincinnati Reds’ trade candidates, and understandably so. He is perhaps the most talented member of a quality rotation that just lost Wade Miley (because the team owner wanted to cut salary). Some fans, like myself, even advocate for Sonny Gray’s return to the Yankees. But there is another pitcher in that rotation who should be getting the Yankees’ attention, even if he is not particularly likely to be traded: Tyler Mahle.

Mahle wouldn’t be easy to acquire for several reasons. The first and most important one is because he is pretty good at baseball. He accumulated 3.8 fWAR and 5.2 rWAR in 180 innings last year — really solid numbers all around.

The Reds also still have Mahle for a couple of seasons under relatively cheap team control. The 2022 campaign will be his second year of salary arbitration, and he is expected to make $5.6 million. The third aspect to keep in mind is that he is still young, at 27.

Furthermore, even though the Reds would like to pay less in salary during the 2022 campaign, they still have a good enough roster to be competitive in the NL Central. There are a number of entirely possible scenarios that could combine to really help them. Think of another step forward from 2021 NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India, another strong year from the reliable Joey Votto, a great debut season by Nick Lodolo, or key contributions from the likes of Castillo, Gray, and 2021 All-Star Jesse Winker.

But it doesn’t hurt to ask. As far as the Yankees concern, making an inquiry to see what it would take to bring in Mahle is free. Negotiations would take the Bombers to an uncomfortable place, but they could be worth it.

After a couple of seasons of high ERAs and lots of home runs in 2018 and 2019, Mahle’s real breakthrough came in the pandemic year of 2020. He finished with a 4.98 ERA (5.25 FIP) in 2018 and a 5.14 ERA (4.66 FIP) in 2019, but in the shortened campaign, he had a 3.59 ERA (3.88 FIP) in 47.2 frames as the Reds earned a playoff berth.

If the 2020 season was breakout, then 2021 was Mahle’s consolidation year. He posted a 3.75 ERA with the best FIP of his career, 3.80, in 180 innings. He had more wins above replacement this past season than the rest of his MLB campaigns combined.

The main drivers of his Mahle’s breakout are an improved strikeout rate and fewer long balls. Here are his HR/9 rates in those years:

2018: 1.77 in 112 innings

2019: 1.74 in 129.2 innings

2020: 1.13 in 47.2 innings

2021: 1.20 in 180 innings

And his strikeout rates:

2018: 21.7%

2019: 23.2%

2020: 29.9%

2021: 27.7%

Basically, Mahle was able to maintain his 2020 level over a larger sample size in 2021. An uptick in his fastball velocity certainly didn’t hurt (he went to 92.4 mph in 2018 to 94.0 mph last season), and the development of his slider and splitter over the last couple of years gave him three weapons to retire hitters. However, for him, fastball spin has been crucial.

Mahle not only has a high-spin fastball, but he has incredible spin efficiency, at 99.7 percent. That number ranks him first among starting pitchers and tied with Matt Barnes for best spin efficiency overall for a heater. Mahle has three true swing-and-miss pitchers, as his four-seamer generated a solid 26.9-percent whiff rate.

Mahle is an incredibly interesting pitcher that the spin-obsessed Yankees would surely enjoy. He won’t be easy to acquire, but the Reds are at least open to listening. He is exactly the type of starter who the Yanks need behind Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino. They should definitely make it happen.