Exploring Yankees 2024 pitching options via trade winds and free agency

Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt is readying to pitch vs. the Rangers in Arlington on April 28, 2023.
Michael Bennington
Tuesday December 26, 2023

Table of Contents

The Yankees came up empty-handed in their pursuit of the top free agent. It is time to pivot to other options now.

But after losing a significant part of their pitching following this month’s trade with the Padres for All-Star outfielder Juan Soto, they need to act fast and decisively. Currently, the Yankees boast reigning AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole as their top pitcher, supported by right-hander Clarke Schmidt, along with two former All-Star lefties, Nestor Cortes and Carlos Rodon, both of whom are recovering from injury-plagued seasons.

Despite the setback with Yamamoto opting for the Dodgers, the Yankees still have several appealing options to fortify their rotation. Remaining notable free agents include two left-handed pitchers, NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell and Shota Imanaga, another accomplished Japanese star. Additionally, there are intriguing trade possibilities, such as the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes and the White Sox’s Dylan Cease, both right-handed aces currently on the market.

Here are nine potential choices for the Yankees’ pitching rotation, accompanied by assessments from the MLB scout:

Corbin Burnes: A potential trade for Yankees

corbin burnes of brewers
  • Age: 29 (turns 30 on October 22, 2024).
  • 2023 season: With the Brewers, recorded a 10-8 record, a 3.39 ERA, made 32 starts, pitched 193.2 innings, allowed 141 hits, 77 runs, 73 earned runs, 22 home runs, issued 66 walks, and struck out 200 batters.
  • Status: Set to become a free agent after the 2024 season. According to MLB Trade Rumors, a projected salary of $15.1 million for the 2024 season with the Brewers.
  • The best: Earned NL All-Star honors in 2021, 2022, and 2023. Clinched the NL Cy Young Award in 2021. Led the NL with an impressive 2.43 ERA in 2021 and achieved the highest strikeout tally in the league with 243 in 2022. Exhibits a postseason record of 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA over eight appearances, including two as a starter. Overall, a top-tier pitcher with a powerful cutter averaging at 94-95 mph, complemented by a solid curve and slider.
  • The bad: Difficulty for the Yankees in securing him as the Brewers may not be willing to lose him.

Dylan Cease: Another option for Yankees

  • Age: 27 (turns 28 on December 28, 2023).
  • Status: Due to hit free agency after the 2025 season. As per MLB Trade Rumors, a projected salary of $8.8 million for the 2024 season.
  • 2023 season: With the White Sox, registered a 7-9 record, a 4.58 ERA, made 33 starts, pitched 177 innings, conceded 172 hits, allowed 98 runs, 90 earned runs, 19 home runs, issued 79 walks, and struck out 214 batters.
  • The good: Secured the second position in the 2022 AL Cy Young vote, delivering a strong performance with a 14-8 record and a 2.20 ERA in 32 starts, accompanied by 227 strikeouts in 184 innings. Notably, displayed consistency by limiting opponents to two or fewer earned runs in 18 of his 33 starts last season, although he faced challenges in his four worst outings, yielding a total of 28 earned runs across 15 innings. Has a powerful pitching repertoire featuring a strong curveball, slider, and changeup and been effective when consistently pitching in the lower zone and generating strikeouts throughout 2022.
  • The bad: Not a good 2023 though he is expected to bounce back. The Yankees may struggle to acquire him due to his two years of contract control and high asking price. Also, the White Sox may not settle for low-tier minor leaguers in exchange for Cease and are likely to ask for big names.

Mike Clevinger: Yankees may like to test free agency

  • Age: 33 (turns 34 on December 21, 2024).
  • Status: Free agent. MLB Trade Rumors ranks at No. 30, while USA Today places at No. 17. Anticipates a 2-year contract worth $26 million.
  • 2023 season: With the White Sox, achieved a 9-9 record, a 3.77 ERA, made 24 starts, pitched 131.1 innings, allowed 121 hits, yielded 56 runs, 55 earned runs, 16 home runs, issued 40 walks, and struck out 110 batters.
  • The good: Enjoyed a successful three-year stint with Cleveland from 2017-2019, boasting a record of 38-18 with a 2.96 ERA in 80 appearances, including 74 starts. Traded from Cleveland to the Padres on August 31, 2020. Secured a one-year, $12 million deal with the White Sox on December 4, 2022, featuring a mutual option for 2024 valued at $12 million or a $4 million buyout, with the decision to exercise the buyout made on November 4. Clevinger’s performance at the conclusion of the previous season, highlighted that he regained his peak form during his tenure with the White Sox, reminiscent of his successful period in Cleveland. A good arsenal with fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup and deceptive style.
  • The bad: Missed the entire 2021 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery performed in November 2020.

Lucas Giolito: If Yankees are ready to splash big

  • Age: 29 (turns 30 on July 14, 2024).
  • Status: Free agent. Ranked at No. 18 by MLB.com, No. 17 by MLB Trade Rumors, and No. 29 by USA Today. Ranked at No. 18 by MLB.com, No. 17 by MLB Trade Rumors, and No. 29 by USA Today.
  • 2023 Statistics: Spanning tenures with the White Sox, Angels, and Guardians, compiled an 8-15 record with a 4.88 ERA in 33 starts. Pitched 184.1 innings, conceded 169 hits, allowed 110 runs, 110 earned runs, 41 home runs, issued 73 walks, and struck out 204 batters.
  • The good: Started the previous season with a 6-6 record and a 3.79 ERA in 21 starts for the White Sox, but faced challenges with a 1-9 record and a 6.96 ERA in 12 starts split between the Angels and Guardians. Garnered AL All-Star honors in 2019, achieving a 14-9 record with a 3.41 ERA in 29 starts, accompanied by 228 strikeouts in 176.2 innings.
  • The bad: Not resilient in handling the pressures in the game. His changeup isn’t effective, as he struggles, especially because his fastball lacks the velocity needed to overpower hitters, clocking in at 90-to-92 mph last year.

Shota Imanaga: Yankees’ Japanese backup

Japanese ace Shota Imanaga is a potential target for the Yankees if a deal for Yamamoto fails.
  • Age: 30 (turns 31 on September 1, 2024).
  • Status: Free agent. Ranked at No. 15 by MLB.com and No. 10 by MLB Trade Rumors. Envisions a 5-year contract valued at $85 million.
  • 2023 season: Played for Yokohama Bay Stars, achieving a 7-4 record with a 2.80 ERA in 22 starts. Threw 148 innings, allowed 132 hits, conceded 46 runs, 46 earned runs, 17 home runs, issued 24 walks, and struck out 174 batters.
  • The good: His fastball typically averages in the low 90s and is utilized 60% of the time, complemented by a slider and changeup. Notably started the gold-medal game in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, allowing one run over two innings in Japan’s 3-2 victory over the USA. Boasts a career record of 74-55 and a 2.96 ERA over eight Japanese Central League seasons with Yokohama.
  • The bad: Posted by his Japanese Central League club on November 28, Imanaga has a 45-day window, expiring on January 11, to sign with an MLB club. More suited to be an innings eater, likely serving as a fourth or fifth starter rather than a top-tier pitcher with exceptional stuff.

Michael Lorenzen: If Yankees are risk takers

sam Greene
  • Age: 31 (turns 32 on January 4, 2024).
  • Status: Free agent. Ranked at No. 34 by MLB Trade Rumors and No. 33 by USA Today. Foresees a 2-year contract valued at $22 million.
  • 2023 season: Split time between the Tigers and Phillies, accumulating a 9-9 record with a 4.18 ERA in 29 games, 25 of which were starts. Pitched 153 innings, allowed 138 hits, conceded 76 runs, 71 earned runs, 20 home runs, issued 47 walks, and struck out 111 batters.
  • The good: Traded from the Tigers to the Phillies on August 1, he made a memorable Philadelphia home debut by pitching a no-hitter in a 7-0 victory over the Nationals on August 9. Started the season with the Tigers, posting a 5-7 record with a 3.58 ERA in 18 starts, and later with the Phillies, achieved a 4-2 record with a 5.51 ERA in 11 outings, including seven starts. Contributed 2.2 scoreless innings of relief over two postseason appearances in October. He has the versatility to serve either as a starter or a reliever and has a strong arm and quality pitching repertoire.
  • The bad: He suffers from occasional issues where Lorenzen tends to target the strike zone consistently, which becomes problematic when he struggles, throwing straight fastballs over the plate and becoming susceptible to hits.

Jordan Montgomery: Yankees’ top choice

  • Current Status: Free agent.
  • Age: 30 (turns 31 on December 27, 2023).
  • Status: Free agent. Ranked at No. 8 by MLB.com, No. 6 by MLB Trade Rumors, and No. 9 by USA Today. Envisages a 6-year contract valued at $150 million.
  • 2023 season: Split time between the Cardinals and Rangers, achieving a 10-11 record with a 3.20 ERA in 32 starts. Pitched 188.2 innings, allowed 177 hits, conceded 75 runs, 67 earned runs, 18 home runs, issued 48 walks, and struck out 166 batters.
  • The good: In 2023, set new career highs for wins, innings, and strikeouts, accompanied by a career-low ERA. Played a crucial role in the Rangers’ successful World Series championship run, posting a 3-1 record with a 2.90 ERA in six postseason appearances, including five starts. Traded by the Yankees to the Cardinals for center fielder Harrison Bader on August 2, 2022, and subsequently dealt by St. Louis to the Rangers on July 30, 2023, alongside RHP Chris Stratton, in exchange for reliever John King and two minor leaguers. Impressively, has limited opponents to two or fewer earned runs in 28 of 43 starts since departing the Yankees, and three or fewer in 34 of 43 starts.
  • The bad: Jordan Montgomery was traded by the Yankees, who then openly branded him a non-playoff asset. Montgomery may consider demanding a higher salary due to past circumstances.

Blake Snell: Yankees should go for him

  • Age: 31 (turns 32 on December 4, 2024).
  • Status: Free agent. Ranked at No. 3 by MLB.com, No. 4 by MLB Trade Rumors, and No. 3 by USA Today. Predicts a 7-year contract valued at $200 million.
  • 2023 season: Played for the Padres, securing a 14-9 record with a remarkable 2.25 ERA in 32 starts. Pitched 180 innings, allowed 115 hits, conceded 47 runs, 45 earned runs, 15 home runs, issued 99 walks, and struck out 234 batters.
  • The good: In 2023, became the 22nd pitcher to win at least two Cy Young Awards. Previously, clinched the AL Cy Young in 2018 with the Rays, boasting a 21-5 record and a 1.89 ERA in 31 starts. Accumulated a 3.20 ERA over eight seasons with the Rays (2016-20) and the Padres (2021-23). Led the NL in ERA and walks in the 2023 season. Demonstrated consistent performance with seven innings pitched on three occasions, six innings in 17 starts, five innings in nine starts, and fewer than five innings in three starts.
  • The bad: High competition to win over him. Snell doesn’t typically provide lengthy outings of seven or eight innings, a feat Cole often accomplishes. Despite winning the Cy Young Award, Snell pitched only 180 innings during that season.

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