Right now, unless something unexpected happens, the Yankees rotation looks pretty much set to start the year. They will go with some mix of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and CC Sabathia as the first four. After that, Chris Capuano could end up as the fifth starter, though Bryan Mitchell and Adam Warren should at least be in consideration to replace him. Scott Baker will also be in camp, but he'll likely spend most of the year in Triple-A. Instead of creating a strong starting five in the offseason, the Yankees could instead look to improve upon what they do have come July. They have done the same thing with the infield over the last few years, so if they choose to implement this method of roster construction again, they'll have plenty of options to choose from.
It's unlikely that the Yankees will try for anything flashy this year, but if they end up in a spot to contend they could choose to go for a blockbuster trade. Next offseason will have a plethora of aces, so the Yankees could target any one of these guys to get a jumpstart on the competition.
Johnny Cueto | 29 | RHP | Reds - The Reds decided to save money in order to prepare for a potential longterm deal, but it doesn't seem like anything is happening on that front. If they think the situation is hopeless and they fall out of contention, it might make sense for them to see what they could possibly get back in return.
David Price | 30 | LHP | Tigers - After trading for Price last seasons, Tigers the initially explored the idea of moving him before his contract expires, but now that Max Scherzer is gone and Justin Verlander is bad, it might be smarter for them to keep him around. Then again, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez might not start the year with the team, so if they find themselves in a hole by the trade deadline, it might be the smarter baseball decision to move him.
Jordan Zimmermann | 29 | RHP | Nationals - The Nationals are clearly interested in retaining their ace, but the real question is if they can actually get a deal done. They have already tried and failed last year, so now that Max Scherzer is in the fold, they could survive without him if it comes to getting value for him in July or lose him for nothing in the offseason. It's more likely that they'll keep him all year and hit him with a qualifying offer, though.
The Yankees are reemphasizing the farm system, so it doesn't seem like these three will be among their first choices, especially if they can just wait a few months and sign them for only money.
If the Yankees are looking for a strong addition to the rotation, but also want to plan for the future, they might look at a few guys they think they could extend after acquiring.
Doug Fister | 31 | RHP | Nationals - If the Yankees could get the criminally underrated Doug Fister to agree to an extension, it would be a total coup almost automatically. He's been one of the best pitchers in the game in recent years, but very few teams seem to see his true value. The Nats have pitchers to spare, so if they can't afford both Zimmermann and Fister, moving the older Fister might be in their best interest. It's best to try to lock Fister up before anyone else has the chance to bid.
Hisashi Iwakuma | 34 | RHP | Mariners - The Japanese right-hander was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2013, but only managed to be league-average last year. His high contact rate might be ill suited for Yankee Stadium, but his ability to generate ground balls could more than make up for any fly ball tendencies. If the Mariners fall out of it, he could be the mid-season veteran replacement for Hiroki Kuroda and he's at least worth exploring a short-term extension with.
Mat Latos | 27 | RHP | Marlins - The Marlins seem to be putting together another All-Star team in 2015, which could set themselves up for another fire sale, like in 2012. The difference now, though, is that if they want to convince Giancarlo Stanton to stay through the entirety of his contract (he probably won't) then they're going to have to commit to this team for more than a half a year. Still, if Miami's makeover doesn't net them much success this year, they could trade off Latos for future pieces. Latos is one of the youngest pitchers on this list and he'd be a great longterm addition to the Yankees.
Rick Porcello | 26 | RHP | Red Sox - He might be in Boston now, but he's still only 26 and seems to finally be figuring everything out. If the Red Sox falls out of the race, they don't seem like an organization who would say no to a good deal, even if it was from the Yankees. Then again, Porcello is much more talented and valuable than Stephen Drew, so he's probably a long shot.
Jeff Samardzija | 30 | RHP | White Sox - Samardzija wanted longterm deal with the Cubs, but instead got shipped off to Oakland, and then back to Chicago. At this point he's probably not looking for an extension unless he's overwhelmed by the offer. He's the least extension candidate-y of the extension candidates, but if the White Sox fall out of contention, I'd still try to make a trade happen if Shark would first agree to an extension.
Even if the Yankees can't sign any of these guys to extensions, and in this day and age most players won't, their status as free-agents-to-be should lower the final return to make it worthwhile for the Yankees, just like they were able to do with Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy last year.
A majority of the trade option include players on the last year of their deal, making it easy to see why the Yankees might not be in a hurry to give up valuable prospects for only a few months of return. On the other side of things, there are players with multi-year commitments, which may or may not be a good thing. the Yankees will have to decide.
Trevor Cahill | 27 | RHP | Diamondbacks - His career absolutely cratered with the Diamondbacks over the last three years, but could still be a potential rebound candidate, like McCarthy was, if the terms are fair. He's owed a whopping $12 million in 2015, so a deal is probably not going to happen, but if Arizona takes on enough money it could make sense if they think they can fix him. A deal like this could potentially be a steal if it is a matter of reversing whatever the D-Backs have done to him who had been considered a rising star with the Athletics just a few years ago. He has a $13 million team option for 2016 that the Yankees could trigger if he finds success, but also a $300,000 buyout if he tanks. There's also another option for 2017 that could at least make a trade worth looking into, as far as potential hidden value is concerned.
Cole Hamels | 31 | LHP | Phillies - The interest surrounding Cole Hamels might be even more proof that Ruben Amaro doesn't know what he's doing. The Phillies are terrible, and while he has no reason to trade Hamels any time soon, he could get a huge haul for his left-handed ace that could help the team rebuilt toward the future. With $96 million in guaranteed money over the next four years owed to him and another option year after that, he's the most longterm option out there. If the Yankees want to stay away from signing pitchers to big deals again next year, then it might make sense to trade for someone who is already signed to one.
Cliff Lee | 36 | LHP | Phillies - Amaro might be stuck with Cliff Lee now. He has an asset that just missed a good portion of the year, is in his late 30's, and is still very expensive. Since Lee is owed $27.5 million in 2015, he'll have to lighten his prospect demands before anyone bites. The biggest trouble, though, is the fact that Lee has to pitch 200 innings this year to trigger a $27.7 million vesting option which, sure, is a lot, but it certainly beats having to pay him a $12.5 million buyout just to leave the team if he doesn't reach that plateau. The Yankees have the financial ability to take on a contract like that, but if he gets hurt again, this year or next, it would be a huge bust. There's actually a lot of risk here.
Cahill and Lee might not make much sense to the Yankees at this point, but Hamels might be the best option out there this year, even if it costs them a lot.
Solid one-year options also exist; ones that the Yankees likely won't be interested in signing to extensions, but pitchers who could upgrade the rotation for a few months and then move on.
Scott Kazmir | 31 | LHP | Athletics - The Athletics still have Scott Kazmir, the one trade piece they actually didn't move this offseason. Considering Billy Beane's propensity to move pieces around in order to uncover some kind of value, it's probable that Kazmir and his $13 million contract will be on the block this year and the Yankees could eat most of that money to make a deal happen. Would it be great? No, but would it be better than Chris Capuano? Yes.
Ian Kennedy | 30 | RHP | Padres - The Padres have improved their team ten-fold, but that doesn't mean it will mean success in 2015. If things fall apart, Ian Kennedy could become a popular trade target since he is only making around $10 million this year and has been known to eat up a lot of innings. A trade for Kennedy would not be the first time the Yankees brought back one of their prospects years after they finally established themselves somewhere else.
Kyle Lohse | 36 | RHP | Brewers - One final target is Kyle Lohse, who is due $11 million this year and has actually been very valuable over the life of his contract in Milwaukee. He'd be the perfect mid-rotation veteran to bring in and stabilize a pitching staff that could become dinged up by injuries at some point this year. He's too old to think of as an extension candidate, but he shouldn't cost too much to pry away from the Brewers.
It remains to be seen how effective any of these guys would be in the AL East over a long period of time, but it might not matter too much since they'll only be here for about two months.
And finally we arrive at the salary dumps, the guys that teams would like to get rid of and probably won't get much in return for.
Mark Buehrle | 36 | LHP | Blue Jays - The Blue Jays have a few arms that no one will really be very interested in. Sure, Toronto is expected to compete in the weakened AL East, but how many times have we said that over the years and how many times have they played mediocre baseball? Buehrle might have rebounded from his disappointing 2013 season, but he's still owed $20 million on the last year of his deal and very few teams are going to be running to take that contract on. His durability might make it worth it for the Yankees, who have a multitude of injury concerns this year, but if things go wrong it might already be too late to make such a deal worth it.
R.A. Dickey | 40 | RHP | Blue Jays - Since winning the CY Young with the Mets, Dickey has been largely a disappointment, despite reaching 200 innings for the fourth year in a row now. As far as a league-average 40-year-old is concerned, $12 million seems like a lot, but it wouldn't be too bad for a playoff team looking for some innings from the back of the rotation. He has a $12 million option for 2016, but he can also easily be bought out for $1 million or even traded if someone finds him interesting, so it might be worth the Yankees' time.
Tim Hudson | 39 | RHP | Giants - The Yankees would do $12 million for a 39-year-old pitcher, but Tim Hudson hasn't exactly been good over the last two years. They can probably find league-average somewhere else and for cheaper, and it's unlikely that the defending champions will be looking to sell off anyone, unless the curse of the odd years is real. Then it could make sense to pick him up and hope he recaptures some late-career magic before he retires.
Yovani Gallardo | 29 | RHP | Rangers - Yovani Gallardo was once really good, but now he's just alright, which is why the Brewers shipped him off this offseason. The Rangers actually need him to hold down their injury-depleted rotation, so it's unlikely he will even be available in July, but at $14 million, Texas could be tempted in return for salary relief. Gallardo can still eat plenty of innings if they lose someone, so he's worth keeping an eye on as the season goes along.
None of these pitchers should be very hard to acquire, though they probably won't be the guys to save the season if everything is falling apart.
Maybe the Yankees don't make a midseason trade for another starter. Maybe Chris Capuano, Bryan Mitchell, and Scott Baker are somehow enough. Maybe Luis Severino arrives on the scene sooner than expected. At the very least, Brian Cashman will be looking in on these pitchers and exploring all possibilities come July.