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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Jakob Junis

Arguing for one more addition to the back end of the Yankees’ rotation.

San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies - Game Two Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Yankees’ rotation has been a topic for much of the offseason, particularly after the team acquired Juan Soto and was able to shift focus almost exclusively to that side. However you want to look at it, more than likely the bulk of the work has been done. Sure, Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell are still available, but the rumors on that front have dialed down, and the big shot at Yoshinobu Yamamoto came up short.

As of right now, the Yankees would begin the season with Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole, new free agent addition Marcus Stroman, rebound hopefuls Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes, Marcus Stroman, and Clarke Schmidt bringing up the rear. As far as starting fives go, it’s not bad.

No matter how you feel, the investment in Rodón is done, and at this point, it’s up to the staff and the southpaw himself to extract his best version. The Yankees even tried to bring in another No. 2-type starter in Stroman, but the true role is Rodón’s to fill. The problem with the staff isn’t so much with a single pitcher, but the lack of organizational depth remains.

While a splashy move is unlikely, the front office has plenty of time to go out in the market and acquire another capable starter — no one who will make waves, but a source of some stability.

Assessing the market, a particular name that stands out is that of Jakob Junis. The right-hander quietly had a decent campaign with the Giants, filling a multi-inning out of the bullpen while also pitching in the in the rotation.

Junis covered 86 innings across 40 appearances with San Francisco, earning a 3.87 ERA with a 26.2-percent strikeout rate. The right-hander started more games for the Giants in 2022 (17 then compared to 4 in 2023) but moved to this swingman role after the team added some pieces to the rotation.

A slider specialist, Junis threw the pitch 62.5 percent of the time in 2023, otherwise primarily using a so-so sinker to play off it in relief. But he has a changeup as well that didn’t look too shabby.

You may look at these numbers and assume the Yankees are better off keeping things in-house, but part of the problem stems from the general lack of options. As things currently stand, if someone were to get hurt in the Yankees’ rotation, and for anyone who has followed even a single baseball season, someone always gets hurt, who would step in to start games?

The most promising possibilities at the moment would be Will Warren, particularly if he shows out in spring training, or the veteran Luke Weaver, who signed an MLB deal earlier in the off-season. This is not to say that Junis would be without a doubt 100-percent better than them—Junis himself doesn’t even necessarily have be the back-end target—but they need more alternatives.

Clarke Schmidt was a lot better in 2022, primarily working out of the bullpen. He has the potential to take steps forward, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be more open about bringing in different options. With an arm like Junis on the back-end, you could even rotate the two, riding the hot hand, and more importantly, limit both of their exposures in a game, not facing the lineup a third time.

For a bit of context, both Schmidt and Junis allowed an OPS below .700 facing a lineup the first time through, with that number considerably increasing for Schmidt. MLB Trade Rumors had Junis pegged for a two-year deal worth $15 million per year at the beginning of the off-season, and perhaps with a slightly higher AAV, you could even get something done for only one season. It’s not as though there has been a plethora of rumors about him this offseason.

Even if Schmidt grows into the pitcher the Yankees expect and want him to be, you’d still have the option of deploying Junis in the bullpen. It’s a move to increase the floor and sometimes, little moves like that can go a long way.