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Yankees Potential Trade Target: Pablo López

The Miami starter was the subject of trade rumors at the deadline. Could New York revisit him?

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Miami Marlins v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

With the 2022 season in the books, the Yankees need to leave no stone unturned in their efforts to improve the club, especially after Houston emphatically displayed its superiority over New York in the ALCS. With Jameson Taillon a free agent, an innings limit likely looming for Luis Severino in 2023, and Frankie Montas ineffective and then hurt after coming to the Bronx, shopping for starting pitching on the trade market seems a logical way to try and bolster the Yankees rotation. Enter the Miami Marlins’ righthander, Pablo López.

2022 Stats: 32 G, 180 IP, 3.75 ERA (108 ERA+), 3.71 FIP, 23.6 K%, 7.2 BB%, 2.8 fWAR

2023 Contract Status: entering his second year of arbitration eligibility, projected to ear $5.6 million (2025 UFA)

This would not be the first time the Yankees have discussed acquiring López from Miami. The two clubs engaged in trade talks in the leadup to the trade deadline, but those ultimately came to naught. The details differ, depending on who you’re reading, but GM Brian Cashman felt the Marlins’ asking price was too steep.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that Miami, in exchange for López and shortstop Miguel Rojas, wanted not only Gleyber Torres, but Oswald Peraza as well. Jon Heyman at the New York Post broadened the range of the Marlins’ ask, reporting that they inquired about Anthony Volpe as well. Can’t blame the Marlins for aiming high, but it’s unsurprising the Yankees balked at including one of their top prospects in addition to a resurgent Torres.

There are reasons that López will not come cheap. Let’s start with his contract situation — should the Yankees acquire him prior to Opening Day, they’ll have two full seasons with López, with his annual salaries unlikely to be cost-prohibitive. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to earn $5.6 million this season, his second arbitration-eligible campaign. 2024 would see him in his final season of arbitration, with his cost unlikely to spike.

He’s also coming off a campaign where he showed he can carry the load of a full season of taking the hill every fifth day and eating innings. López started 32 games for Miami, and tossed 180 innings. The former number finished tied for third in the senior circuit, and the latter finished just outside the top 10.

From a repertoire standpoint, López overwhelming relied on a fastball-changeup combination in 2022. He threw the heater 39 percent of the time, and the change 35 percent of the time. Nothing jumps off the page with the fastball, with both his velocity and spin rate coming in below average last season (37th and 32nd percentiles, respectively).

The changeup was far and away his best offering in 2022. He readily threw the pitch to left- and right-handed batters alike. In the end, he tossed it over 1000 times, resulting in an opposing batting average of .220 and an opposing slugging percentage of .374.

Notwithstanding the underwhelming velocity and spin rate on the fastball, López has a legitimate track record of inducing average-to-below-average contact. Twice in his career, he has finished in the 90th percentile or higher in average exit velocity allowed, and in five seasons in the majors, his highest average exit velocity was 88.2 mph.

The end result is a pitcher who puts the ball in play (8.63K/9 for his career). Moreover, balls in play are often hit on the ground. His 46.1 GB% ranked 12th among National League starters with at least 150 innings in 2022. His aforementioned changeup left opponents’ bats at an average launch angle of four degrees, undoubtedly contributing to López’s ground ball rate. For a Yankees defense that was a sight better on the infield in 2022 than previously, that wouldn’t be the worst combination in the world.

And it’s not that he is incapable of making batters miss. In July 2021, he opened a start by whiffing nine consecutive batters:

Even if López never evolves beyond his current iteration, he’s still a valuable pitcher. He’s still only 26 years old, under club control for multiple seasons, and has proven an ability to put the ball in play on the ground while mitigating hard contact for the most part. Moreover, his 2022 campaign showed he has the ability to take the ball every fifth day and to throw quality innings.

Unlike some trade targets, we have an idea of what Miami might ask in return for López. But, a deal for him now comes with half a year less of club control, so maybe the asking price comes down a bit. At any rate, it seems like due diligence to make the call to Miami and see what it might cost to bring the young righthander to the Bronx to slot in alongside the rest of the arms in the Yankees’ rotation.