While the free agent market for starting pitching seems thin, the New York Yankees could have their eyes set on an underrated asset. 

While most presume the New York Yankees to deal a veteran for a starting pitcher with upside, there is an arm on the flawed free agent market that may strengthen their rotation.

After all, New York’s unit may be more flawed than the market itself, as it really contains just three reliable arms.

Behind Masahiro Tanaka (third best ERA in AL), CC Sabathia (best season since 2012) and Michael Pineda (AL Leader in K/9), Joe Girardi’s staff has three unproven kids under 25-years old competing for two spots.

In 2016, one of those kids served up an 8.50 ERA as a starter (Luis Severino), one allowed 11 home runs in nine starts (Luis Cessa) and one had his season cut short due to an elbow injury (Chad Green).

One could also argue that Pineda — who is one of six players in MLB history to strikeout more than 200 but to maintain an ERA over 4.80 — is unproven as well, but New York needs to, and probably will, contemplate adding an arm into the crowded mix.

There are many arms they can target via trade. ESNY has mentioned Gio Gonzalez and Hector Santiago while other guys like Gerrit ColeJose Quintana and more could be brought to the Bronx for the right price.

On the other side, this year’s free agent market may be the worst of its kind in terms of starting pitchers, as the delicate Rich Hill and Bartolo Colon make up two of the best options anyone has (in terms of ERA), but there is one guy slipping under the radar as a pleasant target.

Brian Cashman, who intends to upgrade the starting rotation this offseason, should have his eyes focussed on the 2011 American League Rookie of The Year award winner, Jeremy Hellickson.

The 29-year old has taken a fall off since his best season in 2012 (34-37, 4.48 ERA since) but showed flashes of his former self after he was dealt from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Philadelphia Phillies last November.

While tossing a career-high 189 innings and striking out a career-high 154 batters, Hellickson went 12-10 with an ERA of 3.71 — the fifth-highest among NL righties with at least 32 starts.

In the righty’s last four games, he went 2-1 while surrendering just six earned runs in 23 innings (2.35) and tossed a complete game shutout against the Miami Marlins on September 12.

Additionally, in four career games at Yankee Stadium, opponents maintain a .221/.310/.364 slash line against him while striking out in 15 of 77 at bats (19%).

What became key for Hellickson was the ability of his change up. According to Brooks Baseball, his change generated a 28.12% whiff rate thanks to its slightly below average velocity of 81 miles an hour (in comparison, Andrew Miller’s nasty slider generated a 24.90 whiff percentage this season).

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He uses his knuckle curve to compliment his change and held batters to a .104 isolated power against while producing 60.32 groundballs per BIP, also according to Brooks Baseball.

Hellickson’s mixture of those two pitches, despite a sup-bar fastball that sits at a mere 90.91 m.p.h., earned him a Hard % (how well each baseball was hit) of 25.9% — fourth-best among qualified National League starters.

Now, he does turn 30 on April 8 but thanks to his stellar arsenal, he’s set to have another solid season. Will that season be in the Bronx?

With the market being so acute with talent, he’ll likely receive a pretty solid paycheck for whichever team decides to pitch an offer his way.

Spotrac.com estimates his market value to wheel in four-year, $47.7 million which would give the Yankees a cap hit of $11.9 million for 2017 if that estimation is accurate. Plus, after the arbitration process, assuming that those eligible receive their projected earnings, would put the Yankees’ payroll at approximately $180.5 million before free agency.

Therefore, if Cashman were to add Hellickson and a top free agent reliever like Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, he would likely transcend beyond the $189 million luxury tax.

No, it hasn’t been an issue before, but these are the “rebuilding” Yankees with the future in mind. Perhaps 2017 is the year in which they make it a priority to settle under the threshold for the better of the future.

Then again, Cashman is in the final year of his contract and is still expected to send a winning product on the field. A major key to that is structuring a formidable rotation.

At this moment, he does not possess one and Jeremy Hellickson could answer the call without the need to trade away any highly regarded prospects.



Christian Kouroupakis covers the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball for ESNY. Interact with him and view his daily work by “liking” his facebook page and follow him on Twitter. All statistics are courtesy of Baseball Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Don’t hesitate to shoot him an email with any questions, criticisms, or concerns.


 

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