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    Examining the Yankees Off-Season Part 3: Top Free Agent Targets

    The Winter Meetings have begun, and unlike the past few off-seasons, the stove has indeed been hot this year.  Several second-tier free agents are already off the board and the Yankees are making a big push to shore up their roster for the 2020 season.

    The biggest fishes are still out there and the Yankees are not sitting out like they did last year in the Harper and Machado sweepstakes. Unlike the last offseason, this year the top free agents are in an area of need for the big club, and the gloves are off.  It has been reported that Cashman has permission to offer a large, record-breaking contract to one of either Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg.

    Cole and Strasburg are not the only free agents left on the market, there are a few out there that make some sense for the Yankees.  We take a look at each of the options available and how they fit with the Yankees.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) reacts to an out against the Tampa Bay Rays during the seventh inning of Game 5 of a baseball American League Division Series in Houston, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

    Shoring Up Starting Rotation

    Gerrit Cole

    Per Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Cashman and new pitching coach Matt Blake were on hand for an in-person meeting along with Assistant GM Michael Fishman and Yankee legend Andy Pettitte that took place in Southern California on Tuesday. Even though James Paxton made huge strides in the second half and Luis Severino is healthy, the Yankees lack a true ‘ace’ to anchor their pitching staff. Early reports indicate that the Yankees are “all in” on Cole, as they should be.  ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that he is indeed the Bronx Bombers’ top free-agent target this offseason and that Hal Steinbrenner has authorized Cashman to offer a record-breaking deal that would likely make Cole the highest-paid pitcher in baseball.

    Cole would be a tremendous fit in the big apple and would slot as the Yankees #1 starter. One of the biggest weaknesses of the Yankees this past season was the failure to obtain regular depth into games by their starting pitchers. By signing a player like this California native, it would give the Yankees one of the few true ‘aces’ in all of Major League Baseball, one that has thrown 200 innings in each of the last three seasons.  In 2019, Cole averaged 6 1/3 innings per start during the regular season and over seven innings per start during the post-season.

    While the Yankees have been hesitant to go over the various Luxury Tax thresholds and suffer the severe penalties the past few offseasons they know that a talent like Cole is hard to find.  This is the third time they have attempted to get Cole.  The first time was when he was selected by the Yankees with the 28th overall draft pick of the 2008 draft and the second when the Pirates put him on the trade block in 2018.  Adding Cole not only shores up the starting rotation, and makes the Yankees the favorites to win the American League East Division again in 2020 but also allows the Yankees to take it slow with prized prospect Deivi Garcia.

    Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg throws during the first inning of Game 6 of the baseball World Series against the Houston Astros Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Stephen Strasburg

    Following their meeting with Cole, Cashman and company made another stop before heading back to the east coast for a charity event, It was to meet face-to-face with World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg. The fellow Scott Boras client will be in high demand following his best professional season to date with the Nationals. Strasburg has had his fair share of injury concerns, however, he is unquestionably the next best free-agent prize to be had next to Cole. The fellow California native would also be a lock to sit atop the Yankees starting rotation and slot in as the 2020 Opening Day starter.

    However, most believe that Strasburg will most likely return to Washington, D.C. to finish his career with the team that drafted and developed him.  As previously state, there are some injury concerns with him and it is unlikely that he would obtain the same type of record-breaking contract that Cole would command.  But, like Cole, Strasburg would require the Yankees to give up a draft pick and additional penalties.  All indications have been that Strasburg will sign before Cole, which means the decision whether or not to sign him will have to come soon.

    Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel throws during the first inning in Game 4 of a baseball National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

    Dallas Keuchel

    Keuchel spurned the Yankees for an extra $1 million back in June and decided to sign a one-year deal that was pro-rated to about $13 million as he joined the Atlanta Braves following an extended first look at free agency. After turning down a one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Houston Astros, the southpaw’s market was unquestionably soured by the draft pick compensation attached to his name. This time around he should be able to find his new home in time for Spring Training and possibly a respectable multi-year contract.

    While Kecuhel isn’t an #1 or even a #2 starter at this point in his career, he would serve as a stable and consistent back-end of the rotation option for manager Aaron Boone.  Keuchel would definitely be cheaper than Cole or Strasburg as he does not come with any draft pick compensation attached but will likely be more expensive than the current back of the rotation options.

    San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

    Madison Bumgarner

    The most decorated pitcher in San Fransisco Giants’ history has finally hit the market. The workhorse left-handed starter has seen his fair share of injuries over the past three seasons, coupled with a decline in performance, however, he is still projected to receive a deal that would net him around $100 million over four seasons similar to the deal that Zack Wheeler receive from the Phillies.

    With the aforementioned negative factors and draft pick compensation attached to him, his market is not going to be as it once projected. The bottom line is Bumgarner will eat innings and has proven no stage is too big for him. Both incredibly valuable traits in a starter (especially in today’s reliever-heavy age) that will have teams calling after the market takes shape and the larger names are off the free-agent board.

    Re-enforcing the Bullpen

    Dellin Betances

    Betances missed almost all of 2019 with a host of injuries but is expected to recover in time for Spring Training 2020. After Drew Pomeranz secured a four-year deal, don’t expect Betances to settle for anything less.

    Betances is a high-leverage reliever, that is and has proven to be incredibly dominant. The four-time American League All-Star could command “closer money” with a salary between $10-15 million.  The Yankees are not the only team interested in the reliever as the Phillies have shown interest in him.  But it is not yet known how the injury-riddled 2019 campaign that limited to just 2/3 of an inning will impact his asking price.

    Betances deserves to be rewarded for his excellent work with the Yankees and bringing him back to bridge the gap to closer Aroldis Chapman. Despite a really strong campaign from Zack Britton, Betances would figure to regain his eighth-inning duties for Boone should he re-sign with the club.

    The only question is would the Yankees pay him enough to keep him considering the potential record-breaking deal they are expected to offer Gerrit Cole and that they proved in 2019 that Betances would be a luxury to have in the bullpen and not a necessity.

     

    Oakland Athletics’ Blake Treinen works against the Texas Rangers during a baseball game in Arlington, Texas, Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

    Blake Treinen

    Treinen was non-tenured by the Oakland Athletics late last Monday evening ahead of the MLB deadline. The Yankees have been connected to the hard-throwing righty this offseason, most notably by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, when they were looking to trade him.

    Coming off an otherworldly 2018 campaign, the former All-Star regressed drastically after racking up 38 saves and pitching to a 0.78 ERA. While there is plenty of upside and good baseball left in his arm, he should be viewed as a fallback plan to Betances.  Treinen would definitely be a cheaper option as he was expected to receive around $7.8 million in arbitration.

    Treinen has not been on the injured list since August 2014 and has throw 400 innings in the big leagues between the Nationals and Athletics.

    Daniel Hudson

    Should Betances and Treinen sign elsewhere, Daniel Hudson should be given a close, and long look. He will command a much less financial commitment than other relievers, but due to his tremendous resurgence in down the stretch and in the postseason with the World Champion Washington Nationals, it is surely possible for him to get a multi-year commitment north of $5 million per season.

    Hudson would fit just like Adam Ottavino did this season. Even though he is a capable high-leverage, back-end reliever should he join the Yankees bullpen he would come in around the fifth or sixth inning to escape a jam or eat an inning to bridge the gap to the more elite Yankee bullpen auxiliary.

    New York Yankees’ Brett Gardner argues with home plate umpire Mark Carlson during the second inning in Game 6 of baseball’s American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

    What about the position players?

    Brett Gardner

    Following CC Sabathia’s retirement, Brett Gardner is by far the longest active New York Yankee. He plays with heart, hustle, and grit. Since day one he has endeared himself to Yankee fans and teammates alike. His veteran leadership and defense would sure be hard to replace should the Cashman decide to go in a different direction.

    With Aaron Hicks out due to Tommy John surgery until after the All-Star break. Following Hicks’ return, Gardner would be a great option in left-field or off-the-bench. Things will be interesting for Gardner because he could possibly receive a higher offer from another team with more of a chance to be an everyday player.

    It is no secret that Gardner would like to return to the organization that drafted him in the third round in 2005 which could make it easier for the Yankees to retain his services.  We know from several reports that the Yankees have been talking with his agent to negotiate a new contract.  Last season he made $9.5 million after the Yankees paid a $2 million buyout and he signed a one-year $7.5 million deal.  After the season he had in 2019, it is likely that Gardner could command a contract in the $10-12 million range.  It is likely that the slow movement on a contract for Gardner is due to the Yankees going “all in” on trying to secure a deal with Gerrit Cole.

    Washington Nationals’ Anthony Rendon can’t catch a ball hit by St. Louis Cardinals’ Paul DeJong during the fifth inning of Game 3 of the baseball National League Championship Series Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

    Anthony Rendon

    Rendon is this far down this list because the Yankees need for pitching and no strong need for a third baseman at this point. ‘The Bombers’ lived up to their name by leading the league in runs and finishing second in homers. Rendon plays elite defense and provides consistent high-level production at the plate as well.

    While it is unlikely for Rendon to be a priority for New York, he can’t be ignored.  Rendon hit .290/.369/.490 over seven seasons with the Nationals and really came into his own the last few seasons. This past season he hit .319/.412/.598 while helping Washington to a World Series championship.

    As good as Gio Urshela was last season, he is not the Yankees long-term solution at the hot corner. With Miguel Andujar coming off an injury and has struggled defensively according to metrics, Rendon would be a huge upgrade at third for the Yankees but it would come with a steep price. Rendon already turned down a seven-year deal from the Nationals worth approximately $210-215 million.

    Rendon is one of the top three free agents this off-season and easily the top position player available.  Having already received and turned down a large offer from the Nationals as well as a qualifying offer it is highly unlikely the Yankees would entertain the idea of adding him as their holes are elsewhere on the roster.

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