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February 23, 2024

Yankees trade block: 4 players most likely to be shopped this offseason

Yankees trade block: 4 players most likely to be shopped this offseason

“I don’t even know what that means.”

“No one knows what it means. But it’s provocative.”

“No, it’s not —”

“It gets the people goin’!”

— “Blades of Glory,” 2007

The last time New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner spoke with reporters on Nov. 7 during the GM meetings, he said there would be “some big changes” this offseason.

“There’s going to be changes some people might not consider significant, but (Aaron) Judge and I may because we’re doing this every day,” he added.

While we’re still not sure what that means, it is early in the offseason. The Yankees don’t seem to have made any big changes, and it’s unclear whether any are coming. But the roster seems headed for upgrades after the team missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2016. With a free-agent market considered thin by many, the Yankees could look toward trades for help.

Here are four players who seem most likely to be shopped.

Clarke Schmidt, RHP Schmidt proved that he could be a capable big-league starting pitcher over the course of a full season in 2023. Over 33 games (32 starts), he posted a 4.64 ERA, netting a career-high in innings (159) while striking out 8.4 batters per nine innings and walking 2.6 over the same span. It was an up-and-down season, however, for the 27-year-old righty. He had a 6.30 ERA over his first nine starts, a 3.12 ERA over his next 14 starts (15 games) and a 5.73 ERA over his last nine starts, though that final span also included an eight-run meltdown.

The 2017 first-round pick earned Super Two status, meaning he’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason. MLB Trade Rumors figures he’ll make $2.6 million in 2023. That’s a light sum for a full-time rotation member. Couple that with the fact that Schmidt won’t be a free agent until after the 2027 season and it makes the Georgia native an attractive Yankees trade chip.

Michael King, RHP The last thing the Yankees (or their fans) want is to trade King, who has been so valuable to them in so many ways in recent years, and blossomed in the starting rotation at the end of last season. But to get, you have to give, and the 28-year-old right-hander will go into next season with lots of hype and a relatively low cost.

Coming back from a brutal injury in 2022 (he broke his elbow on the mound), King was strong once again out of the bullpen, posting a 3.08 ERA in 40 appearances. But his move to starter was one of the few bright spots of the second half of the Yankees’ season. Over his last eight games — all starts — he had a 1.88 ERA, earning him a spot in next season’s rotation. The move was huge for the Yankees, who had dealt with so much disappointment from their starters. And with MLB Trade Rumors projecting a $2.6 million salary for King via his second year of arbitration, the Yankees would surely prefer to hang onto him.

But for the same reasons the Yankees love him, other clubs surely would, too. As a starter, King leaned heavily on his mid-90s two-seam and four-seam combination, and on the slider Corey Kluber taught him. Currently, he slides in as the Yankees’ No. 4 starter, behind Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes. But could the Yankees use him to secure another piece?

Michael King, Wicked 95mph Back Door Two Seamer. 🤢

18 inches of run. pic.twitter.com/EdNR8gaUn4

— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 29, 2023

Kyle Higashioka, C The Yankees have six catchers on their 40-man roster. Someone’s got to go. It could be Higashioka, who saw his playing time cut when top catching prospect Austin Wells was promoted to the majors on Sept. 1. Over the final month of the season, Wells received 18 starts compared to Higashioka’s seven and five for Ben Rortvedt, who became Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher as the ace won his first career Cy Young Award. In fact, there seemed such a strong sense that Higashioka, whom the Yankees drafted in 2008, could be gone this offseason that reporters asked him to reflect on his time with the organization before the second-to-last game of the season, in case it was his last in pinstripes. (The joke was on them. Higashioka started at DH the next day in Game No. 162.)

While nothing has been made official, it’s not crazy to think the Yankees will go into next season with Jose Trevino — their starter before his season-ending wrist surgery last year — and Wells as their catcher combination. With MLB Trade Rumors projecting a $2.3 million salary for Higashioka for his last season in arbitration, the Yankees might deem that too rich for a backup. (Higashioka made $1.5 million last season.) And the Yankees stacked catchers onto their roster because they know how thin of a position it is throughout the game. There’s surely a team out there that would want Higashioka.

But also don’t be shocked if that team ends up being the Yankees. Higashioka finished tied for sixth among catchers last season in Baseball Prospectus’ Defensive Runs Prevented with 11.7. The Yankees may want to see if Trevino’s wrist is fully healed in spring training before moving on from Higashioka, their longest-tenured player.

Everson Pereira, OF At the GM meetings in November, Cashman said that the Yankees were looking to add two outfielders. With Aaron Judge locked into right field (duh), the team needs a center fielder and a left fielder. Cashman said it would be preferable that at least one of them was a lefty hitter. Pereira, still just 22 years old, likely wasn’t going to be given the Yankees’ starting job in left field even if he raked in his debut last season. But in 27 starts (28 games), Pereira didn’t do himself many favors, hitting just .151 with no homers and 40 strikeouts in 103 plate appearances.

Last season, the Yankees went into Opening Day without a sure option in left field, watching a combination of Oswaldo Cabrera and Aaron Hicks stumble. They likely won’t repeat that mistake. If the Yankees are going to bring in a full-time left fielder (Juan Soto? Bueller?), moving Pereira could make a lot of sense. Ranked as the No. 51 overall prospect in the game by The Athletic’s Keith Law in his midseason update this year, Pereira has loads of talent. “He’s an above-average defender in center field who can run and shows electric bat speed that produces pull power already. … He’s added some strength even since last year and can drive the ball the other way, although his home runs are nearly all to the pull side,” Law wrote.

If Pereira remains with the Yankees, he’ll likely wind up back at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he played just 35 games last season but performed well (.937 OPS). But there’s a good chance he’d be blocked at the major-league level. Of course, having a top prospect as a fallback option in case of injury isn’t the worst scenario. But it’s a status that puts a player of Pereira’s caliber on the trading block.

(Top photo of Clarke Schmidt: Adam Hunger / Getty Images)

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