By now, the Yankees long-term plans have started to take shape for perpetually speculating fans. They have been surprisingly quiet during free agency, which is unusual for a team with such a massive payroll. With this in mind, many believe that they are looking to build around the up and coming core of minor league players and could go crazy in a few years when players like Matt Harvey and Bryce Harper hit the market. The good news for Yankee fans is that they still plan on contending in 2016, behind a high-powered offense and a lockdown bullpen.
The Yankees starting rotation figures to be a very significant question mark in 2016. If the rotation can just be slightly above average, the Yankees could be playing in late October. However, every projected starter is a cause for concern, even if most of the pitching staff has significant upside. If the Yankees find themselves on the cusp of being serious contenders, they may have to seek an upgrade via midseason trade.
Looking to the 2016-2017 free agent class, there are certainly some intriguing names. If the Washington Nationals are selling, Stephen Strasburg will undoubtedly be the most sought after player during the trade deadline. Beyond Strasburg, San Diego Padres flamethrower Andrew Cashner could be on the move. Much like Nathan Eovaldi, Cashner has often struggled with putting hitters away despite having electric stuff, averaging less than six innings per start last season.
Another dark horse trade candidate could be Derek Holland, the southpaw starter for the Texas Rangers. After throwing 213 innings with a 3.42 ERA in 2013, Holland only made 6 appearances in 2014, before getting lit up to the tune of a 4.91 ERA last year. If he is anything like his 2015 self, his $11 million club option for the 2017 season will probably not be exercised. Before getting hurt in 2014, Holland was flashing a good changeup, which complimented his two-seam fastball and slider. If he is still struggling in July, someone could take a chance on his ability to rediscover his offspeed pitch. However, after coming out of nowhere to win the AL West in 2015, the Rangers will probably not be selling at the Trade Deadline. Still, the Rangers will have both Cole Hamels and the returning Yu Darvish anchoring the rotation, so trading Holland wouldn't be too crazy if he still hasn't found his form.
When it comes to trade chips, the Yankees have some interesting options. Higher-level prospects like Greg Bird, Luis Severino, and Aaron Judge have been off limits to everyone who has asked about them. The Yankees recently sent mid-level prospects Eric Jagielo and Rookie Davis to Cincinnati to bring Aroldis Chapman to the Bronx. As far as we know, Gary Sanchez has not been untouchable recently, as he has struggled over the past couple of seasons. However, after his dominant performance at the Arizona Fall League, his stock is as high as it ever was when he was tearing through the lower levels of the minors. If the Yankees find themselves buying before the trade deadline, they will likely have to make due with their fringe prospects at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkesbarre. Prospects like Rob Refsnyder, Mason Williams, and Slade Heathcott turned heads over small sample sizes in the big leagues, but are all blocked on the depth chart.
Further down the system, 20-year-old shortstop Jorge Mateo has the makings of a blue chip prospect. If he can get off to a hot start at High-A Tampa, Mateo will probably the only prospect the Yankees could realistically build a major deal around. If need be, the Yankees could also look to flip prospects like Ian Clarkin or Jacob Lindgren, who should bounce back after injury-plagued seasons in 2015. In addition, 6'7" righty Domingo Acevedo could be an elite prospect as early as next season if he can build around his blazing fastball, which has touched 103 mph.
In the end, Brian Cashman's approach to the Yankees rotation might not be the end of the world. Instead of throwing eight or nine figure deals at free agent starters, Cashman is seeing how far the offense and bullpen can take the Yankees without mortgaging the future of the franchise. If the 2016 Yankees show World Series potential, Cashman has the necessary pieces to pursue an upgrade before the trade deadline. The Yankees might not be juggernauts on paper, but they do have flexibility, which could end up going a long way.