The Yankees have made no secret of their major goal this winter - add young, controllable starting pitching. So far, they've picked up a few players - Aaron Hicks, Starlin Castro, Aroldis Chapman. Hicks and Castro meet the young and controllable criteria and Chapman is well, a pitcher, one who gives them the best back-end bullpen in baseball. Still, their starting rotation, for now, is exactly what it was at last season's end: a unit that sat near the middle of the MLB pack in stats like ERA (4.25 - 19th), opponent OPS (.740 - 17th) and WHIP (1.30 - 15th). The Yankee staff features zero pitchers who made 30 starts last year, zero who threw 170 innings or more and five of six starters who can elect free agency by the end of 2017.
Unfortunately, finding capable starting pitchers is like finding an umbrella in New York City after it's started raining. You can get one but you're going to pay. This offseason, we've seen that high price appear in a couple different forms. A well-stocked free agent market hasn't kept available starters from cashing in. We've seen two of them, David Price and Zack Greinke, sign for over $200 million and two more, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmerman, join the nine-figure club as well. Jeff Samardzija got $90 million despite an ERA of nearly 5.00 in 2015 and Mike Leake scored $80 million even though he's never had an fWAR above 2.3. Scott Kazmir, who hasn't averaged six innings per start since 2007, is apparently worth $16 million per year. There are still some good pitchers out there like Wei-Yin Chen and Yovani Gallardo, but even in January, there's no reason to believe their price tags will be much more reasonable.
In recent years, Brian Cashman's had a preference for addressing his rotation via trade. Since 2009, Masahiro Tanaka is the only significant out-of-organization free agent starter he's signed, while he's dealt for Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda, along with Brandon McCarthy and Javier Vazquez. The problem is that this year, the trade market has been arguably even more onerous than the free agent scene, as evidenced by the Braves' mugging of the Diamondbacks, which got them 2015 number 1 overall draft pick Dansby Swanson, top-40 prospect Aaron Blair and 25-year-old outfielder Ender Inciarte for the solid but unremarkable Shelby Miller. That deal came only days after bastion of mediocrity Wade Miley landed the Red Sox a younger starter, Roenis Elias, and high-octane reliever Carson Smith, who struck out 92 in 70 innings. Those types of returns have buoyed general managers to ask for the moon for their own more elite starters who are reportedly available. The Yankees can fantasize about Jose Fernandez, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Tyson Ross, or even Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi, but unless they're parting with more than one of Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Jorge Mateo - and then some - none of those guys are actually "available."
Cashman would rather keep his top young talent and deal one or more of his veterans, which is why he's shopped Brett Gardner, Andrew Miller and Ivan Nova around. Nova's value is close to nil - telling the world you need starting pitching and then trying to trade a starting pitcher isn't much of a sales pitch. Miller's is higher, if the returns the Padres and Phillies received for Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles are any indication, but Cashman's yet to receive an offer that meets his high asking price. The only close-to-MLB-ready pitcher involved in either deal was Vincent Velasquez, who went from Houston to Philly for Giles, and some scouts view him as a future reliever. It's very hard to see the Yankees getting someone they can slot in near the top of their rotation for Miller. He was among the closers in the game last year but he's still that - a closer - which means he's limited to 70 innings or so. Trading him for anything less, like prospect depth, would make the Chapman deal an even harder sell on the public relations front, since the end that the means are supposed to justify would no longer be a historically stacked pen.
Gardner, we know, has drawn at least some interest as the Cubs' initial asking price for Castro. That was a no-go for Cashman, as it should have been, but it's a reminder that he shouldn't expect an extravagant return for the second-longest tenured Yankee. Gardner's a good, versatile player, but his value is capped by his age, 32, the three years and $39 million remaining on his contract and the fact that there are a plethora of outfielders, including the similarly skilled Dexter Fowler, still available as free agents. Gardner's at the tail end of his prime as a hitter and base runner and his -2.2 UZR/150 last year might have teams wondering if he's still a viable option in center. That's not to say the Yankees couldn't move Gardner tomorrow if it was just about shedding money. He fits big market teams like the Nationals and Angels who need top-of-the-order and outfield help and clubs like the Cardinals and Royals who might want to replace departed or departing outfielders. But the popular pipe dream of landing someone like Andrew Heaney for Gardner is just that. A more reasonable, albeit less exciting, return from the Los Angeles would be Hector Santiago, Nick Tropeano or Matt Shoemaker.
There's still a chance the Yankees add a starter before spring training. Cashman may be able to finagle a three or four or maybe a Larry Rothschild fixer upper like Andrew Cashner or Trevor Bauer without handing out a monster contract or wrecking the farm. There's also a Mat Latos or Cliff Lee type one-year reclamation to consider. The question, though, is whether anyone of that ilk actually makes the Yankees a better team. They probably won't go with a six-man rotation all year, which means that if someone comes in, someone goes out. That won't be CC Sabathia or Tanaka and it probably won't be Pineda or Eovaldi either. A new starter likely means Severino in the minors at least early on. That's palatable for a top-line guy, but short of that, the Yankees are better off waiting and seeing how their in house options perform before possibly making a deal during the season.