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New York Yankees: Brett Gardner for Justin Masterson Worth a Look

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COMMENTARY | The New York Yankees have reportedly expressed interest in Cleveland Indians right-hander Justin Masterson, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today via Twitter.

The Yankees would use outfielder Brett Gardner in the deal, but would need a third team involved as the Indians have Michael Bourn locked in at center field.

The Yankees' 2014 rotation currently includes CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova. Having Masterson slotted as the third or fourth starter could bring a sense of calm to what might be a volatile situation. Sabathia is coming off the worst season of his career; Nova just turned in his finest effort, but it is uncertain if he can duplicate it; and Kuroda slumped down the stretch in 2013.

Once the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury, it seemed clear that the team could try to trade Gardner. Gardner certainly makes the offense that much better, providing a good eye and more speed on the bases at the bottom of the order, but his value might be greater as a chip to fill a spot in the Yankees' rotation.

In my opinion, Masterson would be a very nice fit in the Bronx. He is a ground ball machine, producing a 56.4% ground ball rate for balls in play over his career, per FanGraphs. Last season, Masterson compiled a 14-10 record, 3.45 ERA and struck out a career-high 195 batters in 193 innings. Masterson's home run ratio is less than 0.7 per nine innings over his career, which would bode well in the comfy Yankee Stadium confines.

Masterson will turn 29 in March and is in his final arbitration-eligible season. He made $5.6785 million in 2013, according to Cox Baseball Contracts, and will likely receive a very nice raise via arbitration. If the Yankees in fact can trade for Masterson, I wonder if it would come with the notion of extending him versus allowing him to enter the free-agent market after the 2014 season?

Gardner is also in his final season of arbitration and is set to collect a raise from the $2.85 million earned in 2013. It stands to reason that the Yankees may not see long-term value in Gardner with Ellsbury signed for the next seven seasons. This would be the time to make a move to retrieve something of value for Gardner, who does not project to be the type of player to receive a qualifying offer should he become a free agent after the season.

On the other hand, the Yankees could hold on to Gardner, hope his value increases over the course of the first half of the season, and use him in a deadline deal in July as part of a playoff push. Either way, if the Yankees have no intention of signing Gardner long-term, he will remain one of their few bona-fide trade chips.

With a limited pool of players available via free agency or by trade, Masterson's abilities seem like a good fit for the Yankees short- or long-term and if moving Gardner is what it takes, then they should give it some serious thought.

Chris Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work as a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports, Chris created and maintains his own blog site, The Baseball Stance, which provides commentary about all of Major League Baseball. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
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