It’s no secret the Yankees’ top priority this offseason is to upgrade their starting rotation. General manager Brian Cashman reaffirmed this following the team’s postmortem press conference at Yankee Stadium three weeks ago.
While this winter’s crop of free agent starters has sufficient depth compared to prior years — reliable veterans like Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, J.A. Happ, and Charlie Morton headline the market — there is no bona fide, clear-cut ace available. So, with that observation in mind, what is the Yankees’ best of course of action? Which pitching option is well-equipped to complement Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka atop New York’s rotation in 2019?
As it turns out, the most intriguing name floating around doesn’t even appear on free agent lists. Why? Because he’s still under contract.
According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Cleveland Indians, who were bounced from this fall’s ALDS by the Houston Astros in three games, are reportedly willing to listen to trade offers for reigning Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber, among other veterans. Although Cleveland has won three consecutive AL Central titles, the belief is the club, facing market constraints, wants to shed payroll ahead of next season.
There’s no sure guess as to what the Indians would demand in return for someone like Kluber, but if the 32-year-old right-hander becomes a legitimate trade target, he would patently represent a major upgrade over all pitchers on the open market.
In 33 starts this season, Kluber went 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA — fifth-best among qualifying AL starters — and he also led the league in innings (215) and finished third in strikeouts (222).
If those numbers aren’t enticing enough, in four of his last five seasons, Kluber has posted an ERA of 3.14 or less and won at least 18 games. Plus, he’s proven to be a durable three-time All-Star, as he’s averaged 32 starts per year since winning his first Cy Young award in 2014.
As for the dollars and cents, Kluber is cost-controlled. According to Spotrac.com, Kluber is slated to make $15.2 million in 2019, and the final two years of his contract (2020-21) include club options at $15.5 million and $16 million, respectively, with a pair of $1 million buyouts. In essence, Kluber’s average annual value (AAV) over the next three seasons could be lower or nearly equal to what Corbin ($17M projected) and Keuchel ($21M projected) receive this winter.
So, even though the Indians’ asking price is currently unknown, figure it’ll be steep.
This past January, Cashman and the Yankees balked at the notion of yielding top-flight prospects for Pirates’ starter Gerrit Cole, who wound up resembling an ace following a trade to the defending champion Astros. At the time, a realistic package featured three of New York’s Top-5 prospects: infielder Miguel Andujar, outfielder Clint Frazier, and right-hander Chance Adams.
In order to get Kluber, would the Yankees be open to parting ways with top-pitching prospect Justus Sheffield and top-hitting prospect Estevan Florial? If not, what about the 24-year-old Frazier, who was drafted fifth overall by the Indians in the 2013 draft? Could a package also include Sonny Gray, who is arbitration eligible and expected to be dealt sometime before spring training? All things considered, the Yankees have been perturbed by high trade price tags, but this is market value for an established and relatively cheap ace.
“We’re excited about adding to our rotation, it’s going to be a focus point for us,’’ Cashman told WFAN Radio on October 17 . “There’s going to be a lot of competition regardless of the available players out there, but we need to continue to reinforce the rotation… We’re going to kick the tires on every opportunity and then kind of see where and what we should do after that.”
Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings are still five weeks away (Dec. 10-14 in Las Vegas), but the stove could begin to heat up next week (Nov. 6-8) when general managers from each franchise gather in Carlsbad, California.