Yankees: Looking at 3 early trade targets ahead of the deadline

Yusei Kikuchi, Yankees, Blue Jays
Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are currently 21-13, and while many people are worried about this team and their roster construction, it shouldn’t be overlooked that they’re in a good spot to make the postseason. Their start to the season has been strong and they’re playing at a 100-win pace through the first few weeks of the 2024 campaign. As the Bronx Bombers continue to get through their schedule, much will be made about what they do this year on the trade front, as every contender eyes potential upgrades across the league.

Looking at teams with a below 30% chance to make the postseason according to FanGraphs, here are three players who could make sense for the Bronx Bombers.

A Rare In-Division Trade For Surging Southpaw

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Between Kendrick Lamar dropping nukes on Drake and the Blue Jays losing in blowout fashion to the Nationals, things aren’t necessarily going well in the 6ix. Toronto has just a 28.4% chance to make the postseason, and while things are early, it’s been a disastrous start. Yusei Kikuchi has been a bright spot for them, as the hard-throwing lefty has shoved against the Yankees twice on the season.

His 2.72 ERA and 2.30 FIP are extremely impressive, as he’s limiting damage contact against right-handed batters with an increased reliance on his curveball. Kikuchi may not carry the ace-level status that other names do, but he’s starting to find his place as one of the better starters in the American League. He’s getting a bit more vertical carry on his four-seamer and as a result has seen an uptick in Stuff+, with a balanced mix of secondaries that play off of it very well.

Kikuchi is fifth in the league in fWAR (1.4) among starting pitchers and has some excellent underlying metrics to go with the strong results. He’s striking out 26.5% of batters to just a 5.6% walk rate, and by keeping the ball on the ground 47.7% of the time, the quality of contact allowed has severely improved. For most of his career, Yusei Kikuchi has always struggled to limit damage but so far he’s avoiding barrels and keeping the ball in the park as well.

After right-handed batters torched him last season, Kikuchi has shifted to a fastball-curveball mix against righties, and that’s limited them to a mere .360 xwOBACON against. With his lower slot release and excellent extension, his stuff is just overwhelming for opposing hitters. If he can continue attacking the top of the zone with the fastball, it’ll help his breaking pitches and changeups continue to excel.

On the last year of a three-year contract signed after the 2021 season, Yusei Kikuchi could net the Toronto Blue Jays a strong return, and this wouldn’t be the first time the two sides agreed to a deal. Ross Atkins and Brian Cashman worked out a trade for J.A. Happ back in 2018 when the Yankees were looking for rotation help, and the two sides also discussed a potential trade for Marcus Stroman at the deadline in 2019.

Since June 1st of 2023 when Yusei Kikuchi began throwing his curveball, he has the fourth-best fWAR (4.3), seventh-best K-BB% (21.6%), and fifth-lowest HR/9 (0.83) in the game. Everything suggests that Kikuchi is one of the better pitchers in baseball, and if the Yankees could slot him into a rotation headed by Gerrit Cole, they could be deadly.

Yankees Could Eye Mets’ Veteran Reliever

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at New York Mets
Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Diekman has been one of the better left-handed relievers in baseball for a while now, pitching for nine different MLB teams throughout his 13-year career. The left-hander lowered his release height and began dominating hitters with the Tampa Bay Rays last season, pitching to a 2.18 ERA in 50 appearances. With the Mets, Diekman has gotten even better, striking out 38.1% of batters faced with a 134 Stuff+ through his first few weeks with his new ballclub.

The Mets are currently 16-17, and while I don’t think they’re bad enough to trade Pete Alonso or completely strip things down, trading a reliever getting up there in age seems plausible. FanGraphs has them at a 28.6% chance to make the postseason, and this would be a cheap deal for the Yankees as Jake Diekman is 37 years old and they would be trading for the remainder of the year and a potential 2025 option if he pitches in 58 or more games this year.

Looking at what Jake Diekman brings to the table, the Yankees would be adding a high-leverage option from the left-handed side who can help this bullpen a ton.

There are a lot of groundballs, walks, and strikeouts in this profile, making Diekman a perfect reliever for this bullpen. It does feel like they lack a lot of strikeouts from their relievers, and hopefully adding someone like Diekman who has a swing-and-miss element to his game could take this group to another level. The Yankees do have a lot of arms returning from injury this year, but injuries can always arise that force you to add more depth.

It’s not as if the Mets are going to lose sleep over trading a reliever they just signed to the Yankees either, so there’s not a concern that there would be a Jay Bruce situation again. Clay Holmes is this team’s closer and relievers are stepping up on the roster from Luke Weaver to even Ron Marinaccio, resulting in the best bullpen ERA in the game. Jake Diekman would be a nice final addition to an elite bullpen, and it would get even more difficult to mount a comeback against the Bronx Bombers in October.

Pennant Winners Turned Sellers This Summer?

Syndication: Arizona Republic
Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Christian Walker is one of the longest-tenured players currently on the Arizona Diamondbacks, and while Anthony Rizzo has woken up, that doesn’t mean a bat wouldn’t help at first base. The Yankees could have their DH spot opened up by the lack of production from Giancarlo Stanton, who has just a 108 wRC+ on the season. Without any defensive or baserunning value to speak of, there could be some difficult conversations surrounding his future with the team in the coming months.

We naturally assume that Jasson Dominguez will fill the DH role eventually, but there are a bunch of issues with banking on a rookie coming back from TJS to save your season. The Yankees would be better off adding a third baseman, but there aren’t many options on the market that necessarily inspire you. Perhaps teammate Eugenio Suarez could fit the Yankees better, but he hasn’t hit well to start the season and I’ll revisit that topic if he does.

Arizona qualifies for this “seller” list as they have the lowest playoff odds on this list. They’re 14-20 nursing some serious injuries to both Merrill Kelly and Eduardo Rodriguez, and Corbin Carroll looks nothing like the star he was last season. As for Christian Walker, he brings some much-needed right-handed power that can do damage, currently having seven HRs with a 144 wRC+ on the season.

The Yankees need more power, despite what most people on social media would say, and Christian Walker would provide a perfect compliment to the Juan Soto-Aaron Judge duo. While there needs to be better play from their captain, I have faith that he’ll come around (eventually), and having that trio of power bats could set the Yankees apart from other lineups in the league. If you were to align their offense, this is exactly how I’d envision things looking:

  1. Anthony Volpe SS
  2. Juan Soto RF
  3. Aaron Judge CF
  4. Christian Walker 1B
  5. Anthony Rizzo DH
  6. Alex Verdugo LF
  7. Gleyber Torres 2B
  8. Austin Wells C
  9. DJ LeMahieu/Jon Berti/Oswaldo Cabrera 3B

Again, I’d prefer to add someone who can mash at third base, but the established stars are scuffling and the top performers are either on great teams or are still unproved commodities. This infield alignment is a lot better defensively, as Anthony Rizzo does not look like himself at first base right now, and the offense is improved with a dominant right-handed bat. Walker is a free agent at the end of the season, and the Yankees can then decide on their future at first base in the offseason.

In terms of what Christian Walker would cost; I just imagine that Ben Rice headlining a trade here would make sense, I haven’t named players for other deals but that’s a slamdunk fit. He’s a power-hitting first baseman who could immediately replace him, but outside of that there’s some pitching depth the Yankees have that they could entice the Diamondbacks with.

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