5 Players the Yankees Are Targeting Ahead of 2020 MLB Trade Deadline

Bob KlapischFeatured Columnist IAugust 28, 2020

5 Players the Yankees Are Targeting Ahead of 2020 MLB Trade Deadline

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    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    The New York Yankees are no exception. Like every other general manager this week, Brian Cashman has been feverishly reaching out to rival executives, hunting for that 11th-hour magic that turns good teams into postseason terminators.

    In fact, his team's current five-game losing streak and ever-growing injury list have turned Cashman into a texting maniac.

    What was once considered a free ride to the World Series has taken an unforeseen detour. Not only are the Bombers 2.5 games behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East, but they're also just two games ahead of the suddenly legit Toronto Blue Jays, who acquired right-hander Taijuan Walker from the Seattle Mariners on Thursday.

    Walker was one of Cashman's targets, but there are others. No. 1 on his wish list is Cleveland's Mike Clevinger, who would be a fine replacement for James Paxton (who's hurt) or J.A. Happ (a 37-year-old who's regressed into mediocrity).

    But unlike past years, when Cashman has had implicit approval to add to the Yankees' payroll, money is an issue in 2020. Sources say playing in an empty Yankee Stadium in the Bronx will cost the Steinbrenner family north of $100 million this year. With those losses looming, one industry insider said, "I'm not 100 percent convinced Cash will get the OK to take on a big contract this time around."

    It would be up to Cashman to make his case to owner Hal Steinbrenner, who figured he wouldn't need to spend another penny after doling out $324 million to Gerrit Cole in a nine-year deal. Cashman may or may not be successful, but here are some of the candidates he's currently eyeing.

Mike Clevinger, Cleveland Indians

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Mike Clevinger is being openly shopped after breaking Indians' COVID-19 protocols earlier this month. The right-hander was sent home to quarantine, and even though he's since returned to the rotation—he threw six strong innings against the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday night—it's questionable whether the team will ever trust him again.

    Put it this way: Despite Clevinger's considerable talent, the Indians is listening.

    Yes, the Yankees are well aware of Clevinger's immaturity and impulsivity, which were evident in his decision to leave the team hotel in Chicago. He further angered teammates by flying with them after the breach and failing to alert anyone to the possible danger. He continued to deceive them afterward.

    Nevertheless, the Yankees think he would benefit in a new environment that stresses compliance and responsibility.

    "We as a group are very focused on the protocols," said one team official who noted Clevinger's other appealing factors: his modest $4.1 million salary in 2020 and the fact he won't be a free agent until 2023.

    So what would it take? The Yankees have a flat response to any query: Don't ask for Clint Frazier. They're not looking to move him, not with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton both nursing injuries. But Miguel Andujar would be an easier sell, as would Mike Tauchman or Gio Urshela.

Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    One of the stumbling blocks to any deal this year is the generous playoff seeding. With 16 teams guaranteed to be playing in October, the number of sellers has been drastically reduced. In simpler terms, almost everyone has a shot, and no one is in a rush to give away their lottery ticket.

    Case in point is the San Francisco Giants, who were open to inquiries about Kevin Gausman—at least until a seven-game winning streak forced president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi to rethink his pennant-race strategy.

    Gausman, who started Thursday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, could very well stick with the Giants now that they've latched onto the National League's eighth and final playoff spot.

    In case Zaidi changes his mind, though, the Yankees would be among those at the front of the line. They like Gausman's age (29) and strikeout ratio (42 in 31 innings). Give that he's only signed through the end of the 2020 season, he would be a rental and wouldn't cost much.

    He could be gone in two months, but their talent evaluators believe Gausman would be a marked upgrade over Happ in the No. 5 spot.

Lance Lynn, Texas Rangers

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Yankees know and (sort of) love Lance Lynn's body of work in the Bronx from the 2018 season, when he was 3-2 with a 4.14 ERA in 11 games down the stretch.

    Lynn had his moments of greatness and a few flops, but he threw hard, challenged just about everyone and exhibited a veteran's calm in the middle of the pennant race. He won't be the staff ace, but his 4-0 record and 1.59 ERA indicate he could help once again.

    Remember, the Yankees are merely looking for help at the back of the rotation, and Lynn has proved he's not afraid to pitch in the Bronx. Those are both motivating factors for Cashman.

    Lynn is throwing well for the Rangers this year, who are probably beyond the reach of even the last playoff spot. It's the perfect setting for the Yankees to swoop in with a mid-level player in return—Tauchman immediately comes to mind.

    Lynn is 33 and signed through 2021. His salary? A modest $11.3 million, a figure with which Hal Steinbrenner could probably live.

    Of course, there are other suitors—notably the Oakland A's, who are also looking for starting pitching. But the Yankees could box them out with an upgraded offer of, say, Andujar, who's struggled to find at-bats as the club has increased Frazier's footprint.

Zach Plesac, Cleveland Indians

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    A deal for Zach Plesac would be more of a longshot for the Yankees, requiring a swing and miss on bigger catches like Clevinger or Gausman. But Cashman has nevertheless checked on his availability, discovering that he, too, is available and (still) in the doghouse.

    He, like Clevinger, was punished for stepping out of the team's bubble during the road trip to Chicago. But unlike Clevinger, who was given a reprieve from Cleveland's alternate site to pitch Wednesday night, Plesac is still apart from the club, waiting for his punishment to end. 

    The Yankees would have an easier time prying Plesac loose considering he's four years younger than Clevinger with less mileage on his arm. He also has a shorter track record with less than two years of service time.

    New York has its own set of almost-ready-for-prime-time prospects, including Mike King and Clarke Schmidt, so it's anyone's guess whether Plesac's upside would be more attractive. But Cleveland is mad at Plesac, it needs offense, and the Yankees have plenty of outfielders. There's a match if both teams want it. 

    One more thing: Cashman and Cleveland general manager Mike Chernoff have a history with each other. The two connected on a megadeal in 2016 that sent Andrew Miller to Cleveland for a number of up-and-comers, including Frazier and Justus Sheffield, who Cashman later used to acquire Paxton from the Seattle Mariners.

Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati Reds

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    No one doubts Trevor Bauer has the talent and moxie to be a difference-maker in the Bronx. In many ways, he's exactly what the Yankees need over the last 30 games of the regular season, especially now that the Bombers have discovered they're in a bona fide race. Chances are Bauer would thrive in this setting.

    But—and this is a major disqualifier—he's one of the game's most polarizing figures. He's raw and unfiltered and usually mad at someone, whether it's Rob Manfred, Scott Boras or (all of) the Houston Astros.

    One other important asterisk: Bauer and Gerrit Cole hate each other. The feud has festered ever since their college days at UCLA and only intensified during Houston's cheating scandal.

    Personality issues aside, Bauer's availability is compromised by how much the Cincinnati Reds would ask for in return. Even though the right-hander will be a free agent after this year, it would take at least Clint Frazier to get trade talks past the line of scrimmage.

    That would be enough of a deterrent for Cashman to pass even if he'd love to have some of Bauer's quality 2020 starts—two shutouts and a 1.65 ERA in his first five outings—in pinstripes.