The Yankees are prepping for another winter of improvements, and have a lot of places to check. The free agent market will be the center point of most people’s attention, and there are definitely some highly-prized options available like Gerrit Cole there. The Yankees have been averse to making moves there recently however, and are always hunting for deals to work out with other teams. Regardless of how their pursuit of the free agent arms goes, they’ll be working the phone lines with rival GM’s throughout the offseason.
The Yankees needs are straightforward, they have plenty of bats and a relief core that can dominate when not overworked. Their immediate concern is starting pitching, just as it was during the trade deadline of this past season. While the deals that were floated around then didn’t interest Brian Cashman, there’s a whole new pool of teams willing to make moves again and prices have certainly changed. Let’s break down some potential targets of various risk for New York to consider bringing in before pitchers and catchers report.
The Indians flexed their pitching depth at the trade deadline, dealing frontline starter Trevor Bauer to the Reds in the three-team swap that netted them a pair of hitters in Yasiel Puig and Frenmil Reyes. The Indians core of young pitching is coming around nicely to back up stars like Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco, which may open the door for them to deal their other former ace Corey Kluber.
Kluber is the highest risk, highest reward target out on the market. The two-time Cy Young winner was the picture of stability before last season, pitching 200 innings five straight years. A broken forearm prevented Kluber from pitching most of the season, which in and of itself might not have been an issue were it not for the strained oblique that shut down his rehab assignment as well. Kluber was shut down after starting just seven games, and at 34-years-old he isn’t going to be a long-term investment for any club acquiring him. The Indians picked up his $17.5 million team option for this season, and he has another $18 million option for 2021, so he’s affordable and able to be dropped if things don’t work out. Kluber won’t come cheap, but the Yankees could afford to buy low on him and potentially pick up a frontline starter.
Robbie Ray is the type of middle-ground improvement that was available at the deadline, but not for the price that Cashman was willing to work with. Now that the season is over, however, the market may shift in his favor if the team approaches the Diamondbacks again. Ray is arbitration-eligible for 2020 and will be a free agent afterwards, meaning the team is only dealing one year of control if they move him. That could be the main factor inflating Ray’s value, and if he’s available for a fairer price now he would be an interesting piece to add.
Ray matched a career-high 174.1 innings last season, and broke out with a career-high 235 strikeouts. The concern with Ray is his walks, as he allows way to many baserunners on board for free. His 1.342 WHIP is mostly due to his 4.3 BB/9 line, which is actually down from his 5.1 mark in 2018. If the Yankees could fix his walk issues Ray becomes a stud, but if he doesn’t he becomes a lateral move; another starter that averages 5-6 innings with some power pitching.
A more unlikely but potentially interesting pitcher to focus on would be Colorado’s Kyle Freeland. Freeland appeared to be an emerging ace in 2018, pitching to a 2.85 ERA despite the awful pitching conditions up in Coors Field. Then 2019 promptly brought him crashing down. He pitched to a 6.73 ERA, and he barely crossed 100 innings logged. According to his FIP both Freeland’s high in 2018 and low in 2019 shouldn’t have been so drastic, but the volatility of a young pitcher is unpredictable sometimes.
Freeland would be a surprise move, mainly because he’s still so controllable for Colorado. Freeland can’t be a free agent until 2023, which would drive up the price a fair bit, but it’s still uncertain which version of him is more likely to appear in 2020. The Rockies fought tooth and nail to make it to the NLDS in 2018 before getting pummeled by the Dodgers, and then they fell back into the bottom half of the NL West last year. Pitching rarely works out for them, so if they want to infuse some different pieces to reboot and go at it next year, dealing Freeland may be a possibility. Besides, something about former Rockies seems to be working for the Yankees.
Making deals for starting pitching will be the main focus of this offseason, but while Cashman keeps his eyes on free agency he’s got a good number of choices to keep an eye on. Signing a big free agent would be the easiest way to get what the Yankees want, but if that doesn’t work out expect New York to be busy making calls.