And despite their professed interest in the 29-year-old lefthander, no one in the Yankees front office appears to be crying over his decision to grab the six-year, $140 million contract the Nationals gave him with the sudden influx of money they had with the expiration of the contracts of Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez.
That’s because despite talking up Corbin, who went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA and 246 strikeouts in 200 innings for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, last month, the Yankees now say they didn’t really think he was the best man to finish off a rotation that now features James Paxton along with Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia.
“We viewed him a number-three starter who wanted to be paid like a number one," said a source familiar with the Yankees meeting last week with Corbin and his agent. “But we understood that he wanted Yu Darvish-type money."
According to the source, the Yankees were leery of the effectiveness of Corbin’s stuff – despite his high strikeout, grounder and swing-and-miss rate, he is not a particularly hard thrower – in the AL East.
“If that slider isn’t working, his fastball is going to get crushed in our division," the source said.
Despite reports to the contrary, Yankee sources say no offer was ever made to Corbin during their Saturday meeting, although the Yankees did indicate to Corbin they were mulling an offer of between four and five years at between $17 million and $20 million per season.
Said one of two people with knowledge of what was said at the meeting: “We told him and his agent that if that wasn’t within their price range, they should look elsewhere."
They did, and now so will the Yankees.
So where do they go from here?
Let’s start with the familiar suspects:
The 36-year-old lefty pitched extremely well for the Yankees after being acquired at last year’s trade deadline, going 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts. But he flamed out in his only post-season appearance, allowing two first-inning home runs in Boston’s 5-4 victory in Game 1 of the ALDS. Since Happ was acquired largely because of his career-long effectiveness against the Red Sox, it remains to be seen if the Yankees will give more weight to that one game than the 11 regular season games.
On the upside, Happ, who made $13 million last year, will probably cost less in dollars and years than the younger pitchers out there. On the downside, it means more teams will be competing with the Yankees for his signature. “I would say Happ is probably our first choice," one Yankee source said.
If it was 2016, the Yankees would probably be all in on Keuchel, who was coming off a Cy Young 2015 season (20-8, 2.48 ERA and a league-high 232 IP). But injuries caused him to drop off drastically the next season and he really hasn’t been the same pitcher since. The Yankees used to be baffled by him but beat him twice, badly, in 2018, and Keuchel allowed more hits (211) than any pitcher in baseball last season.
Turning 31 on New Year’s Day, Keuchel – who made $13.2 million last year - and his agent, Scott Boras, are sure to want at least five years at upwards of $15 million a year. And if the Yankees shied away from Corbin and his 91 mile-per-hour heater, they are likely to run from Keuchel, who averages about 89. Also, the Yankees would lose a compensatory draft pick if they sign Keuchel, who turned down the Astros’ $19.7 million qualifying offer.
This would of course be a second Bronx tour of duty for Eovaldi, who looked overpowering in 11 regular-season and three post-season starts for the Red Sox, including Game 3 of the ALDS, when he thoroughly outpitched Severino, allowing one run on five hits over seven innings in the Yankees humiliating 16-1 loss.
Eovaldi’s 100-mph fastball will be hard for the Yankees to resist, but the guy is a terrible injury risk, having undergone two Tommy John surgeries and a torn flexor tendon. Knowing the Yankees aversion to long-term deals for starting pitchers, it’s impossible to see them willing to commit more than three years to Eovaldi, which may not be enough.
A most intriguing late-entry, Kikuchi was posted by the Seibu Lions of the Nippon Professional Baseball League this week, for whom he has gone 73-46 with a 2.81 ERA in eight seasons. Starting Wednesday, MLB teams will have a 30-day window to bid on Kikuchi, and under the newly-adopted posting system, if a deal is struck, the signing team will have to pay a percentage of the contract back to the Lions. With Kikuchi being represented by Boras, that could wind up being a considerable surcharge.
At 27, Kikuchi is the youngest pitcher on the free-agent market, but some major-league scouts project him as no better than a back-of-the-rotation starter in the U.S., and the Yankees already have a couple of those. On the upside, the last pitcher the Yankees gave a long-term deal to also came from Japan – Masahiro Tanaka – and has given them five seasons of mostly very good service.
COREY KLUBER, CARLOS CARRASCO, TREVOR BAUER
The three Cleveland Indians starters are believed to be on the block as the Indians look to shed salary, and the Yankees are known to be interested in all three.
Kluber, a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner, would immediately become the Yankees No. 1 starter, and he would be a relative bargain, being owed just $18 million ($17 million for 2019 and a $1 million buyout for 2020). Or, the Yankees could pick up one of both of the team options for 2020 and 2021, totaling $35.5 million. Kluber will turn 33 next April, so three years would appear to be a safe investment.
Carrasco is a younger and a lot cheaper - $9.75 million for 2019 and a $600K buyout for 2020 - and has gone 35-16 the past two seasons with a low-3.00 ERA and 457 strikeouts in 392 innings. Bauer is the baby of the bunch – he turns 28 in January – but had a breakout 2018 season, 12-6, 2.21 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 175-1/3 innings. He is under team control until 2021, meaning the Indians might be least likely to part with him.
The downsides? They’re all right-handers, which is less desirable in lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium. Also, having dealt Justus Sheffield, their top pitching prospect, for Paxton, the Yankee might find themselves a little short of bargaining chips to pry any of those three loose. Clint Frazier would almost certainly be offered in any package, as might prospects Estevan Florio or Thairo Estrada. Might the Indians demand AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar be included in any deal? Why not? Your move, Brian Cashman.
As for the non-pitching free agents, everything appears to be status quo. Yankee sources continue to insist signing Bryce Harper is unlikely (“I just don’t see a spot for him here," said one of the them), and continue to fan the flames of a possible signing of Manny Machado.
“I only see two players out there for him, us and the Phillies," one of the sources said.
In the old days, of course, there would only be one player for Machado, and Happ and Keuchel and Eovaldi and whoever else the New York Yankees felt like buying.
But those days are long gone.
The Yankees need a starting pitcher and everyone knows it. Getting the right one won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be cheap.