Would Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander Be Best Yankees Fit?

Ian Casselberry@iancassMLB Lead WriterJanuary 31, 2013

Justin Verlander becomes a free agent after 2014.
Justin Verlander becomes a free agent after 2014.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Assuming that the New York Yankees will automatically get the best players because they'll spend the most money or trade prospects with no regard for the future is so 2009.

Before that season, the Yanks flexed their considerable financial muscles and acted as most everyone who follows baseball expected them to. After not making the playoffs in 2008, the Yankees rolled out the cash and signed CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira as free agents. 

Since then, however, the money is being handled much more carefully in the Bronx. That's been especially true this winter as general manager Brian Cashman is following the mandate from principal owner Hal Steinbrenner: Get the Yankees' payroll under the $189 million luxury tax threshold for 2014. 

If the Yankees avoid the luxury tax (which would be 50 percent on every dollar spent over $189 million, since the team has exceeded the limit for three consecutive years), they would essentially be hitting the reset button.

As a result, the luxury tax would only be 17.5 percent for the Yankees following the 2014 season. The handcuffs would be off and Cashman could once again live up to his last name and start flashing cash at any of the top free agents in MLB.

Among the players that could be available in the 2015 free-agent class are three of the best pitchers in baseball. Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez headline what could be the most talented collection of players to ever hit the open market.

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In his quiet moments, Cashman could very well be rubbing his hands together with anticipation at the thought of being able to add one of those elite starters to the Yankees' starting rotation. With CC Sabathia signed through at least 2016, the Yanks' pitching staff could be topped by two dominant aces. 

That's the sort of future former Reds and Nationals GM Jim Bowden envisions for the Yankees in his latest column for ESPN.com

Bowden unquestionably likes to stir it up in his columns. He wants to get people talking (and linking back to him) by tossing bold, sometimes outlandish, ideas out there for consumption.

Some of those ideas are enough to make you wonder how he ever became a major league general manager. Or they might serve to explain why he's no longer running an MLB front office and throwing stuff at the wall for ESPN.com instead. 

But Bowden isn't just trying to provoke a reaction this time—or "trolling," as we often call it these days.

The Yankees have been extremely frustrating to follow for fans and everyone else who follows or covers baseball. Where have they been this offseason while superstars like Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke were waiting to be signed? What about players such as Anibal Sanchez, B.J. Upton or Michael Bourn?

Cashman re-signed Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera to keep the pitching staff competitive. But the Yankees have mostly rummaged through the bargain bin to patch up holes on the roster.

Kevin Youkilis was signed to be the third baseman. Ichiro Suzuki—no longer the player he once was—will patrol right field. Chris Stewart or Francisco Cervelli will be the starting catcher. According to several reports, including ESPN New York, the Yanks are considering signing what's left of Travis Hafner to be their designated hitter.

The Yankees will almost surely go hard after these pitchers after the 2014 season with the luxury tax no longer acting like an anvil tied to their ankles. The only question is whether or not Verlander, Kershaw or Hernandez is available. 

Unless Verlander actually wants to play somewhere else—and obviously, we're talking about New York for the purposes of this article—the Detroit Tigers are not likely to let him become a free agent. Even if owner Mike Ilitch has to pay him $30 million a season for, say, five to six years.

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has kept quiet about discussing a contract extension for Verlander. The 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner has said that he'd like to finish his career with Detroit. But he did tell reporters that his representatives and the Tigers haven't engaged in any contract talks as of yet. 

A similar circumstance applies to Kershaw. The Los Angeles Dodgers are the new big spenders in baseball, exceeding the Yankees in payroll for this upcoming season. If Kershaw decides to leave for another team, it won't be because the Dodgers didn't offer enough money.

However, the Dodgers have set the bar high for re-signing Kershaw. Inking Greinke to a six-year, $147 million deal this winter—an average of $24.5 million per season—would seem to point toward Kershaw getting $30 million (or something close to it) after the 2014 season. 

Additionally, both Verlander and Kershaw play for teams that expect to contend for division titles and World Series championships for years to come. (Perhaps that doesn't even need to be said with each club's willingness to pay top dollar to its best players.)

That leaves Hernandez, who has suffered through losing seasons in six of his eight years with the Seattle Mariners.

General manager Jack Zduriencik has tried desperately to add an impact hitter to his roster (nearly giving away the Mariners' future to the Arizona Diamondbacks in an attempt to get Justin Upton). He was able to add Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse, which should provide more pop to the lineup. 

But it could still be several years before Seattle contends in the AL West with the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics.

Though Hernandez will still be only 28 years old once the 2014 season ends, he surely wants to be on a winning team—one that has a real shot at winning a World Series. 

Consequently, Hernandez seems mostly likely to leave his current team, regardless of how badly Seattle might want to re-sign him and make him a Mariner for life. No team will be waiting with arms more wide open to embrace Hernandez than the Yankees. 

Hernandez would step right in as the Yankees' ace. Though Sabathia would obviously have tenure, and could be the "No. 1 starter" because of that, he'll be 35 years old by the time Hernandez would join the Yankees and possibly nearing the end of his career. 

Fans—especially Mariners fans—might sneer at the idea of Hernandez joining the Yankees, along with the Yankees returning to the days of outspending the competition and buying its way to World Series contention. 

Yet, even when the Yankees open the vault after 2014, the baseball landscape has changed. Massive TV contracts have altered MLB's competitive balance. The Dodgers are the big dog now, and the Angels are right behind them. The Rangers have plenty to spend as well.

It's no longer a guarantee that the Yankees can push the biggest pile of cash to the middle of the table. 

However, the Yankees have the name value and tradition. They are a global brand. Everyone knows it's World Series or bust in the Bronx. If the Yanks want a player, they almost always get him.

Hernandez will be the latest example of that and perhaps be the player that represents a new era of prominence for baseball's most famous—and infamous—team. 

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