John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
It's obvious that Gerrit Cole should be far and away the Yankees' top priority this offseason. But what if he really is determined to play in California, as so many people seem to think?
Or what if Hal Steinbrenner isn't ready to break the budget for an ace? Where would Brian Cashman turn, then, for top-notch starting pitching -- the Yankees' only real need this winter?
They will be looking for someone who can dominate a postseason start, not a regular season innings-eater, so that narrows the field considerably.
With that in mind, here are three free agents who fit the bill to varying degrees, and two trade targets the Yankees might consider if they're willing to give up Deivi Garcia, their top pitching prospect.
At age 20, Garcia has eye-popping stuff that accounted for 165 strikeouts in 111 innings over three levels of the minors last year, allowing him to reach Triple-A by July. But because he's only 5-foot-9 and 163 pounds, there could be some concern about whether he'll be able to handle a starting pitcher's workload as his innings increase, which is why some scouts predict he'll be converted to a reliever at some point.
If the Yankees do have such concerns, perhaps they'll explore such trade possibilities...
There's no doubt he's going to opt-out of the final four years of his contract with the Nationals, after a great season and a so-far spectacular postseason. But many baseball people think he's unlikely to leave Washington, D.C., largely because he's grown comfortable there over the years and much prefers fitting in to being in the spotlight as a newly-signed ace somewhere.
Though injuries have been an issue in his career, Strasburg led the NL with 209 innings pitched this season, and he's proven he can dominate in the postseason, pitching to a 1.34 ERA over 47 innings. This October, he has a 1.93 ERA going into his Game 6 start on Tuesday night.
The trade-deadline debate about how much his stuff has diminished no doubt will carry over into free agency. Cashman was thought to be wary of the Giants' lefty in July for that reason, but there never came a moment of truth where we would have found out for sure. The Giants essentially took Bumgarner off the market when they got hot and played themselves into short-lived Wild Card contention.
So the question remains: How much is it worth to find out if Bumgarner can be the same type of October monster that made him a legend in San Francisco? It won't cost prospects now -- only money.
But how much? Teams worried that his fastball has lost a few miles per hour and his slider isn't quite as crisp surely would limit any new deal to three years, but that depends on how many teams pursue him.
There's some thought around the sport that Wheeler could make a Cole-like leap toward greatness, especially if he lands with an organization that can make tweaks with the help of analytics, high-speed cameras, and whatever other high-tech tools the Astros apparently have in Houston.
The Yankees seem to see that potential, having made their interest for him known at the trade deadline. But how much would they be willing to pay to find out if Wheeler could overcome his inconsistency as a Met, and turn into something of a late-bloomer as a truly dominant starter?
Ok, what if the Yankees deem the prices too high for any of the aforementioned free agents? Would they try to trade for a high-ceiling starter like they did a year ago for James Paxton?
They have a dispensable asset in Clint Frazier, who may again be blocked next year by all the outfielders in the Bronx. Would the Yankees be willing to package Garcia with Frazier to entice the Reds into trading Castillo, the team's ace with the Pedro Martinez-like changeup?
"It all depends how highly they value Frazier and Garcia," one exec told me. "Frazier has proven he can hit big-league pitching so it probably would be more about Garcia, whether his strikeout stuff will translate at the highest level and whether they would be worried about durability."
Castillo, who will be 27 in December, went 15-6 with a 3.40 ERA, racking up 226 strikeouts in 190 innings, and scouts think he only needs a little more consistency to be a Cy Young Award-caliber starter. He also has four more seasons before he can become a free agent.
This one might be more of a longshot, as Mize, the first overall pick in the 2018 draft out of Auburn, is considered perhaps the top right-handed pitching prospect in baseball. However, the Tigers are in the midst of a major rebuild, so maybe they could be sold on a package of quality prospects, say, Garcia, Frazier, Estevan Florial, and another pitching prospect.
At age 22, Mize dominated high Class-A and pitched very well in Double-A. He's so polished, commanding his fastball, slider, and changeup, that scouts believe he's ready for the big leagues. However, he will probably will be brought along slowly because the Tigers are at least another year away from trying to win.
He's being hyped in Detroit as the next big thing, so the Tigers would have to love Garcia, in particular, to consider the idea. But there's no harm in the Yankees asking.