3 free agent starting pitchers Yankees should pursue in 2020 MLB offseason, and 3 to avoid

Scott Thompson
·5 min read
Trevor Bauer/James Paxton/Taijuan Walker
Trevor Bauer/James Paxton/Taijuan Walker

Following a brutal ALDS loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees now head into their offseason with GM Brian Cashman looking to plug some big holes heading into 2021.

It was a season unlike any other the league has even seen, but the Yanks still didn’t reach their goal of winning a World Series title. They have had the star power to do so these last few years, but it just hasn’t worked out for the Bombers.

So, as Cashman and the rest of the front office devise a plan to attack an offseason that will also be much different due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, starting pitching will definitely be at the top of the priority list.

Aside from Gerrit Cole, who proved to be the ace the team desperately needed, there wasn’t much helping out behind him in the rotation in 2020. 

Before the 2020season even began, Luis Severino was lost for the year after needing to undergo Tommy John surgery. Then, James Paxton was lost for the rest of 2020 due to a forearm ailment. Domingo German was serving the rest of his MLB suspension for violating the league’s domestic abuse policy, and did not appear in a single game.

That left things to Masahiro Tanaka, Jordan Montgomery, an occasional J.A. Happ (the Yankees were limiting his innings due to his 2021 vesting option), and a plethora of rookie debuts like Clarke Schmidt, Michael King and Deivi Garcia, among others. It just wasn’t the formula you wanted to see come October.

A few of the Yankees’ pitchers, like Paxton and Tanaka, will be heading for free agency themselves this winter. There are also some options out there who could intrigue the Yankees. With that in mind, here are three arms the Yankees should target on the market, and three they should stay away from entirely...

GO FOR IT

Trevor Bauer

The hurler is often criticized for his forthright opinions that can be found on his Twitter account or in post-game interviews. But for as much noise he makes on Twitter, he keeps opposing teams awfully silent when he takes the mound.

The man can seriously pitch.

A Cole-Bauer, one-two punch would be an extremely scary thing for any team that the Yankees face, and Cashman certainly realizes that. Bauer is likely to win the National League Cy Young Award after posting a 1.73 ERA – the best among any starter in MLB this shortened season – with 100 strikeouts to 17 walks.

Bauer is notorious for wanting one-year contracts (though he is open to a longer-term deal), as he believes his market value will increase as his production does each year. He signed one with the Cincinnati Reds at $17.5 million this past season, and that number will definitely be rising now. Spotrac has his market value set at $21.7 million for next season, though he could garner more.

Masahiro Tanaka

A big internal question is who, if anyone from their current rotation, the Yankees want back in pinstripes next season between Tanaka, Paxton, and Happ. Tanaka is the frontrunner here after spending his entire MLB career with them thus far.

The main argument behind that is Tanaka’s success in the postseason. However, that vintage postseason Tanaka didn’t show up in his two starts this year. The rain delay in Cleveland during the Wild Card Round could be an excuse. But Tanaka simply dropped the ball when facing the Rays in Game 3 of the ALDS. And that didn’t help his free agency case if he wanted to return to the Bronx.

But Tanaka is a solid mid-rotation starter who still produced a 3.56 ERA over his 10 regular season starts in 2020. Something Cashman could keep in mind: Tanaka still has that partially torn UCL in his throwing elbow. It has been managed for years, but he is on the other side of 30 now.

If the Yankees are content with the medicals, though, Tanaka’s experience is worth returning to the rotation.

Taijuan Walker

The 28-year-old had tons of trade talk around him before the Seattle Mariners finally dealt him to the Toronto Blue Jays at the deadline this year, but the Yankees were among those teams looking to add him.

And the deal was certainly worth it for Toronto, with Walker posting a 1.37 ERA in six starts (26.1 innings) for them. But he hits free agency, and the Yankees could very well swoop in.

Walker’s career numbers are solid – 3.84 ERA over 108 games with 8.2 strikeouts-per-nine – and, like Tanaka, he is good for the middle of the rotation.

STEER CLEAR

James Paxton

It’ll be a tough decision to make for Cashman, but he should ultimately stay away from the lefty he traded for last year.

Paxton now has injuries to worry about, and his latest is a scary one because it is close to the throwing elbow. Also, he did not look good after his return from back surgery, owning a 6.64 ERA this past season. He struggled with command of his pitches and wasn’t going deep into games. He will turn 32 in November.

Marcus Stroman

Cashman already tipped his hand on this topic when it was rumored the Yanks wanted Stroman at the 2019 trade deadline, but he ultimately ended up across town with the Mets. This is what he said when asked why he didn’t strike a deal for the crafty right-hander:

“We were interested in Stroman, but we didn’t think he would be a difference-maker. We felt he would be in our bullpen in the postseason,” he said.

With that, who knows if Stroman would even consider the Yankees now?

Chris Archer/Julio Teheran

Why two players here? Well, Archer has an $11 million option for next season with only a $250,000 buyout if the Pirates wish to use it. If they do, he could be a target for many teams. The Yankees shouldn’t be one of them. Archer has struggled with a 4.31 ERA in 2018 and 5.19 mark in 2019.

As for Teheran, he should find some suitors because of his age and years of experience in the league. But his numbers with the Angels were alarming – a 10.05 ERA over 10 starts with 35 runs and 12 homers allowed.