Should the Yankees trade fan-favorite pitcher?

mlb: houston astros at new york yankees, nestor cortes
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees have some difficult decisions to make this off-season, especially if they want to make a blockbuster trade for Juan Soto. The San Diego Padres are looking for a starting-level pitching, and the Yankees have a few players they could leverage in a potential deal.

Potential Trade Pieces: Schmidt and Cortes

Right off the bat, Clarke Schmidt emerges as an MLB-ready talent who could support the Padres in 2024, but some may float the idea of moving fan favorite Nestor Cortes, who is coming off an injury-riddled 2023 season.

Cortes still has plenty of value, and while he’s not at his peak stock price following the 2022 season, he is primed for a bounceback and is a solid lefty pitcher who features good stuff. His best season came two years ago when he pitched 158.1 innings, recording a 2.44 ERA and an 82.8 left-on-base percentage that resulted in an All-Star appearance.

Financial Implications for the Padres

This past season, Cortes pitched just 63.1 innings, earning a 4.97 ERA, 69.1% left-on-base rate, and 26.3% ground ball rate. His quality certainly took a hit due to shoulder issues that resurfaced. The 28-year-old still has two more years of control before he becomes a free agent in 2026. His estimated salary in arbitration sits at just $4.6 million, a great number for a team like the Padres who are looking to shed salary and add cheap pitching.

The expectation is that San Diego will have to offload somewhere in the range of $50 million, so getting rid of Soto and his estimated $30 million deal in arbitration and pairing him with Jake Cronenworth, who signed a seven-year, $80 million deal, would allow them to get back into a better financial spot while adding pitching to their team. Of course, losing Soto would be devastating, but they still have Fernando Tatís Jr., Xander Bogaerts, and Manny Machado to lead the way.

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The Yankees’ Stance on Cortes

Most agree that if the only thing standing in the way of landing Soto was trading Cortes, the Yankee should easily pull the trigger and not look back. Despite being a fan favorite and adding a bit of zest to an otherwise disciplined Yankee team, Cortes has one great season under his belt, and hoping he can replicate that is a significant risk.

The front office may be better off committing to Schmidt and hoping one of their young pitching prospects can make the jump. Drew Thorpe is flying through the minor-league system, Clayton Beeter is nearly ready, Chase Hampton is considered a quality arm, and even Richard Fitts has the stuff to be a contributor down the road.

The likelihood of Cortes becoming a staple in the rotation long-term is certainly in question, but the Yankees may be able to convince the Padres that he is prime for a big bounce-back campaign.