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Yankees potential trade target: Merrill Kelly

The Arizona Diamondbacks righty is no ace, but he is a very competent pitcher, one that the Yankees could look to acquire if they don’t want to pay a premium prospect cost.

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

The Yankees have solid pitching depth, especially in the bullpen. However, Luis Severino’s lat injury could encourage them to bring in a good, reliable starter to compete with Domingo Germán for a rotation spot. The latter is capable of holding down a place, but competition never hurts.

With that said, it’s unclear if the Yankees will pursue a starter or not. If they do, the type or range of that starter is also a question mark: will they go for the big prize and bring in Luis Castillo or Frankie Montas? Or will they seek a tier below and pursue the Tyler Mahles or Germán Márquezes of the world?

If they go for the second option, the Arizona Diamondbacks may be willing to listen to offers for 33-year-old right-hander Merrill Kelly. They could be open to dealing him for the right return: even though he is not young, he is good and affordable, so his availability is not a sure thing.

Kelly, who is currently sporting a solid 3.26 ERA (3.33 FIP) in 19 starts and 110.1 innings, is having one of the best seasons of his career if we don’t include his stellar, but short 2020 (2.59 ERA in 31.1 frames). He has struck out 89 hitters (19.7 percent strikeout rate, 7.26 per nine) and has a good 1.21 WHIP.

Granted, Kelly rarely faces great offenses in the NL West, except when he toes the rubber against the Dodgers. However, he could give the Yankees a solid backend starter who can eat innings and keep the team in the game.

Kelly has a rather broad repertoire that includes five pitches, all with at least 10 percent of usage: a four-seam fastball, a changeup, a curveball, a sinker, and a cutter.

All of them but the sinker have a whiff rate over 20, but none of them are over 30 — that means he isn’t a traditional power pitcher that gets by on swings and misses, but rather a hurler that thrives on a diversity of stuff, command, and control to get outs. This year, he has been throwing fewer four-seam fastballs and more cutters and changeups, and has gotten good results.

Baseball Savant

He doesn’t walk a lot of people (8.0 percent walk rate in 2022, 6.9 for his career) and has suppressed homers at an impressive rate this year, at 0.57 per nine.

That last number may be due for a correction, as his career mark is 1.16, but it would be interesting to see how the Yanks’ pitching coaches approach a guy like Kelly. He can have success as things stand, without too many changes, but there is always room for improvement and if anybody can find potentially impactful tweaks, it’s the Yankees.

Kelly, while not a world-beater or an ace, is a good, smart pitcher. The best thing of all, however, is that he is affordable: he is earning a base salary of $5.25 million in 2022, and then a recent two-year, $18 million extension will kick in during the 2023 and 2024 campaigns. He also has a $7 million option for 2025.

Talent always comes with a cost, so luring the D-Backs, who may not be looking to trade him, could mean a couple of good prospects could be lost. But the price shouldn’t be terribly expensive, either.

If the Yankees lose out on Castillo or Montas, or if they spend most of their prospect capital in a certain outfielder that may become available — highly unlikely to happen, but never say never — they could look to begin negotiations with Arizona and bring in a solid, if unspectacular pitcher in Kelly.