Since the beginning of last season — since the Yankees moved on from them — Lance Lynn leads major league pitchers in Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference), ahead of Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole. Sonny Gray is sixth, ahead of Shane Bieber and Max Scherzer.
Pick your reason why this has occurred: 1) the Yankees do not maximize starters the way they do position players. 2) Succeeding in New York is more difficult for some than others. 3) Pitching is forever fickle.
The Yankees also have had success with deadline pitching acquisitions: J.A. Happ before they signed him to the extension, and relievers Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson are recent examples. If they buy in the next week — before the Aug. 31 4 p.m. trade deadline — pitching is again the focus with Domingo German and Luis Severino out for the season and Britton, Luis Avilan and James Paxton on the injured list. Facing five games in three days this weekend against the Mets should only heighten the need for arms before, during or after.
So let’s dive into where the Yankees might go as a way to also accentuate bigger issues in the strangest trade deadline ever:
Lance Lynn: Executives echo that because of the uncertainty of completing this season, in particular, that trading for a walk-year player is less appealing and will certainly draw a lower price than ever. One AL official said, “The rental market is usually the cleanest market (for the trade deadline) and it just is not as clean this year.”
Thus, if a player has control beyond this season, his value rises, especially if his future dollars are reasonable. Lynn is signed for next year at just $8 million. That also makes him attractive to the the Rangers who would much rather move Mike Minor, except he is a free-agent-to-be, having a poor season and — in the case of the Yankees — has a limited no-trade clause and didn’t seem to have much appetite for New York amid rumors last year.
Mike Clevinger: The most intriguing name in the rumor-sphere. The Indians righty was optioned to the minors along with Zack Plesac for violating team COVID-19 protocols then not being forthright with teammates about it. Clevinger cannot be a free agent until after the 2022 season — 2023 if this current option lasts 20 days, which it would not if he were traded and brought to the majors by the acquiring team by Aug. 31. Over the last four years — since joining the rotation full-time — Clevinger has a 2.97 ERA and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. However, his walk numbers were noticeable in three starts this year, plus would a new clubhouse look at him problematically, as his current one now does?
The Indians traded a polarizing quality starter, Trevor Bauer, at the deadline last year while not giving up on trying to win. The same is in play this year because the promotion of Triston McKenzie (six innings, one run, 10 strikeouts in his debut) made Cleveland’s rotation strength stronger. Its weakness is the outfield, which collectively had a .542 OPS (Texas at .649 was next worst in the AL).
Cleveland would be attracted to Mike Tauchman, but his lefty bat and ability to play center makes him valuable to the Yankees. Would Clint Frazier (once picked fifth overall by the Indians) and/or Miguel Andujar in conjunction with pitching prospect Deivi Garcia provide a starting point for a trade?
As for Francisco Lindor, the Yankees (and so many others) will always be interested. But he is due $25 million-ish next year. With no idea if fan revenue is returning in 2021 and to what extent, it will be difficult for any team to swell its payroll and give up cost-effective options. The Yankees’ recent large furloughs in player development reflected they are feeling the crunch. Never say never, but it is unlikely Lindor moves before the offseason or the Yanks add significant payroll in any deal.
Johnny Cueto: One GM when asked what he thought of this deadline said, “Ask me in four days. I don’t think seasons will ever change more than this one can in four days. Will we even be playing in four days?” The Giants exemplify the nature of this season. Sure sellers last week, they have won six straight and are in playoff position at 14-16 in an NL In which just four teams concluded the weekend over .500. So pretty much every NL team can convince itself to at least try to be one of eight playoff entrants.
Between his 2021 salary and 2022 buyout Cueto is owed $26 million. Aaron Hicks is due $50.5 million from 2021-25. Could the Yankees take on larger short money to get out of Hicks’ longer contract with an eye on having to pay Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres in the near future? Would they throw in some prospect capital to make it more appealing to San Francisco? Cueto would not be afraid of New York or the playoffs and would be part of the 2021 rotation.
Isn’t Nathan Eovaldi the pitching Hicks: Talented, oft-injured, never quite what you hope? Eovaldi is owed $34 million for 2021-22. Hicks makes less annually than Eovaldi and could the Yanks make him more attractive to the retooling Red Sox if they added a prospect or two?
The Giants might be more willing to deal walk-year starter Kevin Gausman and reliever Tony Watson. Keep an eye on the Yanks being more willing to give up prospect inventory if they could obtain a starter and reliever in the same deal. Think the Angels with Dylan Bundy and Ty Buttrey; the Brewers with free-agent-to-be Brett Anderson and David Phelps; and the Orioles with Alex Cobb and Mychal Givens. There are hurdles for each. San Francisco and Milwaukee might just want to go for the playoffs — though selling and buying is possible for both, especially if they can improve their prospect bases. Angels GM Billy Eppler’s job is perilous and will ownership let him make a big deal at the deadline? Cobb is owed $15 million for 2021 and the Orioles probably have to eat about two-thirds of that to make it palatable, especially in this environment.
The Mariners could also do the starter (Marco Gonzales or Taijuan Walker) and reliever (Taylor Williams) double and you wonder if recency bias/small samples really matters in this season since all three just excelled vs. the Dodgers, who arguably have the majors’ best offense.
Jon Gray: The Rockies’ righty falls into the currently struggling talented guy who might need a change of scenery along with the Diamondbacks’ Robbie Ray, the Tigers’ Michael Fulmer and maybe even the Mets’ Steven Matz. The expectation with financial uncertainty is for there to be more non-tenders this coming offseason than ever before and that could impact players such as Gray, Fulmer and Matz, so perhaps better to get something for them now rather than nothing in the offseason.