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To stay in playoff hunt, Yankees should trade for one of these starters … soon

Every team encounters moments during the season when wins come at a premium, and right now, the Yankees are baseball’s latest victim.

With the hope of a six-game home stand erasing a dreadful West Coast trip, New York managed to remain in the doldrums for another week, losing two of three games to both the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium. In their last 13 games, the Yankees have gone 3-10, and they’ve been outscored by their opponents, 77-55.

However, a losing skid has never been so forgiving. Despite a lingering slump, New York (40-33) embarks on a Midwest trip tied with the Boston Red Sox (41-34) for first place in the American League East standings. So, where it counts the most, the Yankees’ current state isn’t as gloomy as it may appear.

But there are some outside influences that are negatively impacting each game’s result. For one, the injury bug has reared its ugly head in the Yankees’ clubhouse once again. On Sunday, outfielder Aaron Hicks suffered an oblique injury, which will force him on the shelf for roughly a month, and both Matt Holliday and Starlin Castro were unavailble to play with health issues. Along with CC Sabathia’s strained hamstring and Greg Bird’s inflamed ankle, there has been injury added to insult, intrinsically. But considering that the Yankees haven’t struggled to score runs, their main bugaboo has been a dearth of efficient pitching. Sure, the bullpen must own a substantial chunk of responsibility, but New York’s starters have also failed to carry their own weight, and it was highlighted by Michael Pineda’s lackluster outing on Sunday.

So, how can the Yankees mend their inferior staff? Perhaps by inquiring about a potential trade. Here are a few names that should be on general manager Brian Cashman’s radar entering July:

1.) Jason Vargas

The next three or four weeks will determine if the Kansas City Royals are contenders or pretenders in the AL Central, but with five key contributors (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas, Alcides Escobar) bound for free agency this winter, it would make the most sense for Kansas City to yield its stars for some pretty pennies. So far this season, Vargas (11-3 in 15 starts) has been the Royals’ ace, as the 34-year-old’s 2.29 ERA is ranked third-best in baseball. Most importantly, the soft-throwing southpaw is owed just $5 million by season’s end, which makes him rather appealing and affordable.

 2.) Yu Darvish

If the Texas Rangers make Darvish (6-5, 3.12) available, the 30-year-old righty would indisputably be the best pitcher on the trade market. While he hasn’t been his old, dominant self this season, Darvish is still capable of making hitters look foolish at the plate. This past Saturday against the Yankees, Darvish threw seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts while allowing just two hits. Much like Vargas, Darvish’s six-year, $60 million contract expires this year, so he would be another rental for the Yankees (but at a much steeper price). Both Texas and Kansas City are in the same boat as far as contending for a playoff spot, so it’ll be interesting to see how they approach any offers.

3.) Jose Quintana

Before the season began, Quintana’s name was mentioned in numerous trade rumors, dating back as far as last July. At the time, the White Sox’s lefty appeared to be a prime candidate for a contending club, but this year, Quintana has been a shell of his former self. His 4.69 ERA is a career-worst, and he’s struggled to maintain steady numbers. Although he played second-fiddle to former ace Chris Sale for five seasons, Quintana is a borderline No. 1, and with his stuff (as a southpaw), it’s unlikely that his woes will last much longer. If the Yankees are interested, they would have rights to Quintana after the season ($7M owed in 2017, $8.85M in 2018), and his contract includes club options for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. One of the reasons why Quintana has stuck around in the Windy City is due to Chicago’s steep asking prices, but that may change if the 28-year-old consistently remains inconsistent.

4.) Gerrit Cole

The NL Central standings suggest the Pittsburgh Pirates should contend instead of rebuild, but here’s another team in limbo, uncertain on what to do with its top assets. One of those players is righty Gerrit Cole (6-6, 4.11) — a former Yankee draft pick — who’s headlined the Pirates’ rotation for five years. In 2015, he finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting with a 19-8 record and 2.60 ERA, and that summer, he appeared in his first All-Star Game. However, his last two seasons haven’t been as strong. In 2016, he experienced three seperate stints on the disabled list, and was shut down in September with elbow inflammation. So far in 2017, Cole’s been much like Quintana, searching for the success he once had. As for his contract, Cole comes with two extra years of control, as the 27-year-old is arbitration eligible until 2020. With that cost and security, Pittsburgh will likely want a bevy of prospects in return if Cole’s placed on the block.

5.) Other options? Maybe Ervin Santana and Sonny Gray

Like Vargas, Santana is having a career year as a 34-year-old veteran with the overachieving Minnesota Twins. In 15 starts, Santana is 9-4 with a 2.97 ERA — ranked fifth-best in the American League. While it sounds like a no-brainer, Santana comes with a few caveats: He’s owed $13.5 million this season and next, and in 2019, he has an option for an additional $14 million. As for Sonny Gray, the Oakland Athletics have been shopping their 27-year-old righty for quite some time. Gray’s value continues to drop, as he has a combined seven wins, 14 losses and a 5.27 ERA in 32 starts between this year and last. Some reporters have noted that Oakland is looking for two Top-20 prospects in return for Gray, but considering the A’s willingness to part ways with assets, negotiations may go differently. Gray is also arbitration eligible until 2020. 

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