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Yankees Potential Trade Target: Chris Flexen

Is this the year the Mariners finally cash in on the 28-year-old righty?

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Detroit Tigers v Seattle Mariners - Game One Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner and spring training following closely behind, the Yankees’ roster looks pretty much set. Left field, shortstop, and the fifth starter remain the most unsettled positions, but New York appears content to resolve those three spots via internal competition over the next several weeks. It is likely we will see either Domingo Germán or Clarke Schmidt deputizing for the injured Frankie Montas in the first month of the regular season, however if the Yankees exit spring unsatisfied with what the pair showed, one external option to consider would be Mariners starter Chris Flexen.

In a recent mailbag, Corey Brock of The Athletic reiterated his belief that Flexen will get moved this spring. Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors seconded this line of thinking, writing that the arrival of the next wave of Seattle pitching prospects could push the likes of Flexen and Marco Gonzales out of the rotation. With Flexen set to earn $8 million in 2023 while Gonzales is owed $19 million between this year and next, Adams believes Flexen is the more moveable of the two starters.

2022 Stats: 33 games (22 starts), 137.2 IP, 3.73 ERA (99 ERA+), 4.49 FIP, 16.1% K%, 8.6% BB%, 0.7 fWAR

2023 Contract Status: Signed two-year, $4.75 million contract prior to 2021 season with $4 million club option for 2023. Club option vested to an $8 million player option for 2023 upon completion of either 150 IP in 2022 or 300 IP between 2021 and 2022. 300 IP mark achieved on August 30, 2022. Becomes free agent following 2023 season.

Flexen’s career started in rather uninspiring fashion with the Mets, making 27 appearances between 2017 and 2019 with a 8.07 ERA, 6.92 FIP and -1.2 fWAR across 68 innings, leading the Mets to designate him for assignment. He rebounded pitching for the Doosan Bears of the KBO in 2020, going 8-4 in 21 starts with a 3.01 ERA, 2.74 FIP, and 21.6 percent K-BB%. He boosted his stock enough for the Mariners to ink him to a two-year deal, and he more than paid it off his first season in Seattle.

That 2021 campaign represented a remarkable turnaround for a player with zero previous experience with major league success. He finished in the top-10 among qualified AL starters in ERA, FIP, home run rate, and walk rate en route to producing 3.0 fWAR. He didn’t quite hit the same heights in 2022, with Flexen shuttling between the rotation and bullpen. His walk, home run, and groundball rates all took steps back, but all the same he was league-average from a run prevention standpoint.

Flexen throws a four-seamer whose average velocity clocks in under 92 mph, a cutter with well above average horizontal movement, and a changeup that’s his best put-away pitch at a 33.1 percent whiff rate. His hard hit, barrel, and chase rates were better than league average in 2021, and it’s fair to wonder whether the refinement of another secondary pitch could cause those rates to rebound to those levels after they suffered in 2022.

There was a fair bit of speculation that the Mariners would cash in on Flexen’s resurgent 2021 season last winter, but they ended up hanging onto him and likely saw his trade stock fall a bit as a result. Still, as a 27-year-old with a far-from-onerous payroll number in 2022, Flexen would be an attractive add to the back end of many teams’ rotations.

For what it’s worth, several of the projection systems expect Flexen to convert to more or less a full-time reliever with only a few spot starts sprinkled in. As such it’s difficult to gauge the return required to pry him from Seattle, though that discussion may be moot from a Yankees perspective as his $8 million in 2023 would push them over the “Steve Cohen tax” threshold that they are rumored to want to avoid. Adhering to such a financial limitation as that may be a foolish tack to follow giving the lingering uncertainty over the health of Montas’ shoulder, and as they say, you can never have too much starting pitching.