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The Yankees call to arms

It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for the New York Yankees. There haven’t been a lot of moves outside of the free agent signings of OF/DH Matt Holliday and closer Aroldis Chapman, and the trade that sent catcher Brian McCann to Houston. While the lineup and bullpen have gotten a boost, the arms in the starting rotation have not been improved. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia remain from the 2016 staff. In other words, there’s only one consistent starter (Tanaka) going into next season.

That leaves Adam Warren, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell and Luis Severino for the final two spots. (The Yankees reportedly want to keep Warren in the pen, a role that was a good fit for him two years ago.) Justus Sheffield, acquired in the Andrew Miller trade, would arrive no earlier than the second half of next year. Had former first round pick James Kaprielian not suffered a flexor tendon injury that cost him the 2016 season, he would have had a shot in the Bronx last year. After an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League, the Yankees could turn to Kaprielian in June or July of the coming season.

The free agent market doesn’t have much to offer and the biggest trade chip on the market, Chris Sale, has already landed in Boston. So what pitchers might be available and who could the Yankees realistically deal for?

Arms for the Poor

With changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and some additional room on the payroll, the Yankees would ordinarily be able to add a number two or three starter. The problem is the lack of talent to choose from in the free agent pool and the trade market.

First, let’s take a quick look at the better known remaining free agent starters. Their age at the start of next season is in parentheses:

Brett Anderson (29): The left-hander was once a top prospect in the Oakland A’s system, but injuries have derailed his career. He underwent Tommy John surgery in mid-2011 and returned in August 2012. Anderson made six starts before a strained oblique ended his season. A stress fracture in his foot and a pair of back surgeries followed. He’s a high risk/low reward option at this point and would be no better than a #4 or #5 starter. He would be no better than what the Yankees currently have to choose from.

Doug Fister (33): At one time, Fister was a standout with the Detroit Tigers and the Washington Nationals. He finished the 2014 season in DC with a 16-6 won-loss record and a 2.41 ERA. Signs of wear and tear might have been beginning to show. His 5.4 K/9 IP was the lowest of a four-year stretch and he experienced a 1.5 K/9 IP drop-off from the prior season. A strained flexor tendon sidelined him for much of 2015 and led to a one-year free agent deal with Houston last year.

Fister started the season badly but turned things around. One stretch saw the Astros win 10 straight games that Fister started. (He took the win in seven of them.) An awful September raised his ERA a full point (from 3.60 to 4.64) and skewed his season stats. He’s a #5 starter but could be useful if the Yankees want a veteran presence.

Psst…you looking for some arms?

With only underwhelming free agents available, a trade is a more likely possibility. The following pitchers are rumored to be on the move this offseason.

Jose Quintana (28): The Chicago White Sox are seemingly holding a fire-sale – they have already dealt Sale and there have been trade rumors surrounding Quintana and first baseman Jose Abreu. Pending-free-agent third baseman Todd Frazier will certainly have his named tossed about in the coming months.  Derek Holland‘s one-year free agent deal with the White Sox will likely impact Quintana’s future.

Quintana was a one-time prospect in both the Mets and Yankees organizations. In 2011, he opted for free agency and signed with the White Sox, where he has blossomed. The left-hander made 32 starts in the last three seasons and in his five seasons in Chicago, he has started 151 games. He made the All-Star team for the first time this past season and finished 10th in the AL Cy Young Award voting.

Quintana’s been a model of consistency in his four full years as a starter. He has averaged 203 innings pitched, 175 strikeouts, a 3.35 ERA, and a 1.224 WHIP. His lifetime record of 46-46 is due to the White Sox’ poor offense, shoddy defense, and an inconsistent bullpen.

One of the roadblocks to the White Sox moving Quintana is his very manageable contract. He’ll earn $7MM, $8.85 MM, $10.5MM ($1MM buyout) and $11.5MM ($1MM buyout) over the next four seasons. It’s the reason the White Sox, to date, have asked for a load of top prospects in return. (Houston recently turned down a rumored deal that had the White Sox asking for a trio of the Astros top prospects (Joe Musgrove, Kyle Tucker and Francis Martes). Unless the White Sox soften their stance, the Yankees won’t get Quintana back in the fold.

Danny Duffy (28): One year removed from their World Series victory, the Kansas City Royals have been looking to shake things up a bit. They are reportedly taking calls on Duffy, a left-handed starter that has come into his own. After showing signs of improvement the last few years, Duffy had an outstanding 2016 campaign. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to trade Duffy now since he doesn’t reach free agency until the next offseason.

A more likely scenario would have the Royals dealing him at the 2017 trade deadline. However, Duffy will be getting a sizable increase, via arbitration, from last year’s $4.225MM salary. This past season, Duffy set career highs in appearances and starts (42, 26), wins (12), winning % (.800), innings (179.2), strikeouts (188) and K/9 IP (9.4).

He also had a career-best 2.1 BB/9 IP. The Yankees can always use a solid left-hander for Yankee Stadium and Duffy fits the bill.

Teammate Yordano Ventura may be the biggest factor in a “trade Duffy NOW” scenario. The 25-year old right-hander will earn $3.45MM (2017), $6.45MM (2018), and $9.95MM (2019) over the next three seasons. He then has options for fourth and fifth years at $12MM per, with a $1MM buyout. Trade rumors have followed Ventura during the current hot stove season as well. If Ventura stays, the Royals are much more likely to deal Duffy before he lands himself a big payday too.

Sonny Gray (27): The Oakland A’s selected the right-hander with the 18th overall pick in 2011 MLB Amateur Draft. Two years later he had an impressive debut followed by two solid seasons. Last year, however, he landed on the DL twice with a strained muscle in his upper back and a strained forearm. It made for a rocky season, with more ups than downs.

As with any young pitcher, the numbers of innings Gray’s pitched must be considered a factor in his health issues. From 2013-2015, Gray threw 182.1, 219 and 208 innings. A strained forearm is sometimes a precursor to a problem with the Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL). And, those three letters together – UCL – sometimes leads to Tommy John surgery. Gray’s future prospects for definitely not set in stone. That being said, the Yankees should see if a deal with Oakland is possible.

Gray won’t come cheaply, though. The Atlanta Braves reportedly were interested in Gray but were turned off by the A’s high asking price. The A’s are reportedly looking for a center fielder and the Yankees could put a package together that includes Brett Gardner and an upper tier outfield prospect. An additional prospect and money to defray Gardner’s contract would certainly be the minimum to acquire Gray.

You can keep your arms to yourself

According to rumors, the Detroit Tigers are fielding calls for Justin Verlander.  It looked like Verlander’s days as a top-notch pitcher were over, but then he bounced back and nearly won the 2016 AL Cy Young Award. There’s one big strike against any deal for Verlander – he’s guaranteed $84MM over the next three seasons. Forget it.

The Yankees should also skip free agent retreads Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel, Jake Peavy, etc. (Rumors have linked the Yankees and Hammel.) They’re no better than the pitchers the Yankees currently have.

It’s quite clear that the pickings are slim this offseason. Just as the Yankees picked up Holliday on a one-year deal, they will need to consider doing the same with a pitcher. A possibly would be someone like Colby Lewis.

For now, the Yankees will have to bide their time and save their money for the incredible free agent class of 2018-2019. That’s when stars Clayton Kershaw, Manny Machado, Bryce Harper will be among the possible free agents.