Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Brian Cashman has made it known that the Yankees will be pursuing Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg this offseason. But landing either of them could be an uphill climb.
There is no mandate for the Yanks to get under the $208 million luxury tax threshold, so they should conceivably be able to outbid any team for Cole or Strasburg. But will that matter? Cole is rumored to prefer a team on the West Coast and the Nationals are expected to aggressively move on trying to retain Strasburg.
Perhaps money conquers all and the Yankees get their man. But if they don't -- and they still want to add a pitcher with ace-level upside -- they'll need to have fallback options. Here they are, ranked...
1.) Zack Wheeler
The Yankees were connected to Wheeler before the trade deadline in July, with SNY's Andy Martino reporting that the Yanks had "significant interest" in Wheeler.
The Mets opted to hold on to Wheeler and extended a qualifying offer to him -- with Wheeler rejecting it. Because he's attached to a qualifying offer, any team that signs Wheeler will be surrendering a pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. But after Cole and Strasburg, Wheeler is arguably the best option on the free agent market.
Wheeler was strong in 2018 and 2019 after returning from nearly two years on the shelf due to injury, compiling a 3.65 ERA (3.37 FIP) and 1.19 WHIP with 374 strikeouts in 377.2 IP over 60 starts.
The 29-year-old Wheeler provided tremendous length in 2019, pitching 7.0 innings or more in 15 of his starts. He also has true ace-level stuff, featuring a fastball that averaged 96.7 mph in 2019 to go along with a slider, curve, and changeup.
He will be in high demand, and could potentially receive a deal worth roughly $100 million for five seasons.
2.) Madison Bumgarner
This is not the Bumgarner who was one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2010 to 2016, but he's still an above average pitcher who is only 30 years old and has a history of postseason dominance on his resume.
Bumgarner pitched well in 2019, with a 3.90 ERA (and identical 3.90 FIP) and 1.13 WHIP with 203 strikeouts in 207.2 IP (34 starts). The 8.80 K/9 rate he had in 2019 was his best since 2016.
For Bumgarner, it has always been much more about just pure "stuff." He doesn't compare to Wheeler in that area, nor does he compare to Cole or Strasburg. But the "stuff" he has always used to succeed is still pretty much there.
The Yanks had interest in Bumgarner around the trade deadline, but that interest was only tepid, according to Martino.
3.) Hyun-Jin Ryu
Ryu was the Cy Young frontrunner in the National League until August, when he went into a bit of a tailspin and saw his ERA rise from an other-worldly 1.45 to the still tremendous 2.32 he finished the season with.
The 32-year-old Ryu is the oldest of the upper-echelon group of Cole, Strasburg, Wheeler, and Bumgarner, but his pinpoint control (he led the league with 1.2 BB/9 in 2019) and ability to keep the ball in the park (he's allowed just 26 homers in 265 IP over the last two seasons) are checkmarks in his favor.
There should be some concern about Ryu's durability, which is one of the reasons why he's ranked below Wheeler and Bumgarner. However, he tossed just over 182 innings in 2019 and is built up enough to be able to handle a regular workload in 2020 and beyond.