For much of the offseason, the New York Yankees laid low and continued their pursuit of infielder DJ LeMahieu. LeMahieu re-signing with the Yankees always felt like the most likely outcome, though it took longer than I think most people expected. .
The Yankees didn't wait long to make their next move. Just a few hours later, reports SNY's Andy Martino. Martino says the Yankees did not make the best offer, but Kluber wanted to play in New York, so a deal got done.. Kluber threw for scouts last week and he received multiple offers north of $10 million,
Not long after the Yankees closed the deal with Kluber, unsubstantiated rumors circulated saying New York was pursuing Reds right-hander Luis Castillo, and Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar were going to headline the trade package. Those rumors were quickly shot down. Reds president of baseball operations Nick Krall called them a fabrication.
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"(The rumors) are completely false," Krall told reporters over the weekend. "We intend to have (Castillo) as a member of our rotation for 2021."
The word "intend" leaves a little wiggle room -- I'm sure there was a point where the Rays could say they "intended" to have Blake Snell in the rotation this season -- though a Castillo trade is unlikely. The Yankees have indeed checked in, the same way many other teams checked in. Castillo is young, excellent, affordable, and under control long-term. Every team would love to have him.
The Yankees plan to get under the $210 million luxury-tax threshold this coming season and the Kluber and LeMahieu deals and according to ESPN's Buster Olney, the Yankees want to add more pitching depth and figure out a way to re-sign Brett Gardner. Someone (Adam Ottavino?) may be on the way out to clear money.. It's not much,
New York's rotation behind Gerrit Cole remains shaky, with Kluber (one inning in 2020) joining Domingo German (served domestic violence suspension in 2020), youngsters Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt (both will have workload restrictions in 2021), and lefty Jordan Montgomery. Luis Severino is due back from Tommy John surgery at midseason. It's no surprise they want more pitching.
Now that the Castillo rumor has been shot down, here are five pitchers the Yankees could pursue on the trade market to bolster their rotation prior to spring training. The pitchers are listed alphabetically.
Chris Bassitt Oakland Athletics SP
It has been an extremely quiet offseason for the Athletics, who have made two Rule 5 Draft picks and done nothing else. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal recently reported payroll is coming down and "(free) agents, at the moment, appear out of the question." Yikes! Oakland's payroll is down into the $70 million range after sitting over $90 million last year (before proration). The A's could be in a situation where they may need to trade one high-priced player for multiple cheaper players to address their needs.
"High-priced" is a relative term, of course, and Chris Bassitt's $4.9 million salary is a drop in the bucket to the Yankees and a big expenditure for the A's. Bassitt has pitched at an ace level his last 120 innings or so, and he's a bit unconventional in that he has a deep arsenal but isn't a hard-thrower, nor does he pile up strikeouts and ground balls. Chances are Bassitt's trade value will never be higher than it is right now, and Oakland is not afraid to trade players at the peak of their value, even when they're among the team's best players. Bassitt would hardly be the club's first payroll casualty.
Steven Brault Pittsburgh Pirates SP
Ke'Bryan Hayes is presumably off-limits and Joe Musgrove , meaning Steven Brault may be the Pirates' most valuable trade chip. The 28-year-old southpaw has experience starting and relieving, and he paired league average strikeout and ground ball rates en route to a 3.38 ERA in 2020. Brault does not boast big velocity or spin rates, but he is an elite contact manager. His 85.8-mph average exit velocity allowed last year was among the best in baseball.
The Pirates signed Brault to a $2.05 million deal for 2021 last week, and he will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2022 and 2023 as well, so he'd be a multi-year add. He fits neatly into New York's available payroll space, and while he may not check all the analytical boxes teams emphasize, Brault's ability to limit hard contact is a skill he's demonstrated throughout his career, and it is valuable. Not the sexiest name, I know, but a quality pitcher who perhaps offers some untapped potential.
Jon Gray Colorado Rockies SP
Rockies ownership sent a letter to season ticket holders early in the offseason that all but confirmed payroll will be coming down next season. Not surprisingly, Colorado has done next to nothing this winter, only making a minor trade with the Reds (Jeff Hoffman for Robert Stephenson) and non-tendering David Dahl and Tony Wolters. Been a quiet winter for the Rockies. No wonder Nolan Arenado is upset with the organization. They're not trying to get better.
Jon Gray had a disaster 2020 season, throwing 39 innings with a 6.69 ERA and a meager 12.6 percent strikeout rate. Shoulder inflammation ended his season in early September and it's probably not a coincidence Gray showed reduced velocity in those 39 innings. Despite his poor year and despite the cost cutting, the Rockies tendered Gray a contract last month, and he will earn $6 million in 2021 before hitting free agency next offseason.
The Yankees have some history with Gray -- they drafted him out of junior college in the 10th round in 2011 -- and he fits their type as a high-velocity, high-spin, high-strikeout pitcher. Or at least he fits their type when healthy. It would take some maneuvering but the Yankees can make the money work, and buying low on a talented pitcher (Gray had a 3.84 ERA in 150 innings in 2019) is something that appeals to all teams. Gray won't add certainty to their rotation, but he would give them another option with upside.
Kyle Hendricks Chicago Cubs SP
The Cubs are slashing payroll this offseason and doing it shamelessly. They non-tendered Kyle Schwarber and salary dumped Yu Darvish on the Padres. Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras are still on the roster, but trade rumors persist. Kyle Hendricks is very good and very affordable, and he's locked up through 2023 with a club option for 2024, so he would seem to be a player Chicago will keep. That said, given the Cubs offseason to date, why wouldn't you call and see whether he's available if you're the Yankees?
Hendricks is owed $14 million each of the next three years and his luxury tax number is a tad lower at $13.875 million, so the Yankees would have to get creative to make it work financially. Hendricks is worth it. He's excellent and durable, and he's different stylistically from New York's current rotation options. The Yankees love power arms who miss bats, but not everyone needs the organizational stamp. Hendricks lulling hitters to sleep with his dead fish changeup would be quite the change of pace from Cole's and Kluber's power arsenals.
Pablo Lopez Miami Marlins SP
It is impressive the Marlins have traded away multiple starting pitchers in recent years (Zac Gallen in 2019 and Caleb Smith in 2020) and yet still have a strong rotation and good depth. Pablo Lopez currently slots into the rotation alongside Sandy Alcantara, Elieser Hernandez, Trevor Rogers, and Sixto Sanchez, and they also have Daniel Castano, Braxton Garrett, Nick Neidert, Jordan Yamamoto, and others for depth. There's no shortage of pitching in Miami. That's for sure.
Lopez, 24, broke out in 2020 after showing promise but struggling with inconsistency in his first two years as a big leaguer. He fits New York's payroll as a pre-arbitration player who will make something close to the league minimum in 2021. The Yankees could drop him right into their rotation and not worry about the money. A four-pitch pitcher who gets strikeouts and ground balls, and excels at limiting hard contact, is always worth a phone call. Lopez is a sneaky-good trade target.
Why would the Marlins trade Lopez? Well, the same reason any team trades any player. They believe they have depth at that position and use it to address weaknesses elsewhere. The Marlins could use an outfielder (Frazier?) or perhaps a third baseman (Andujar?) if they move Brian Anderson back to the outfield. I would hesitate to part with pitching depth because it's impossible to have too much of it. The Yankees would be smart to a call and see whether Lopez is available.