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Scouting the MLB starting pitching trade market

Major League Baseball's July 31 trade deadline is just two weeks away, and the Yankees are in first place. They have command of the American League East with a healthy six-game lead over the second-place Rays; however, no mid-July lead is safe.

Expect to see the rumor machine connecting New York with all manner of potential upgrades in the coming weeks. It's no secret, furthermore, the Yankees want to add starting pitching.

While they can probably make do with their existing pitchers, this is an opportunity to look ahead and prepare for a potential ALCS against Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and the Astros. A blockbuster acquisition would certainly improve the team's chances in a short series.

Here's a look into the upper-end of the starting pitcher trade market, organized by multi-year assets, rentals and possible surprise targets.

Multi-year assets

Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks

Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians

Lance Lynn, Texas Rangers

Mike Minor, Texas Rangers

Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

Matt Boyd, Detroit Tigers

Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays

Several of these potential deadline sellers -- namely the Diamondbacks, Indians and Rangers -- are still contending. Greinke, 35, is signed through 2021. He's having another typically excellent season, posting a 2.95 ERA with 8.02 K/9 and 1.13 BB/9.

Arizona currently has an 18 percent chance to win a Wild Card slot, according to FanGraphs. A losing streak could quickly crush those odds just as a winning streak could push them to buy at the deadline.

If things go wrong, the Diamondbacks may wish to escape at least part of the roughly $83 million still owed to Greinke. His financial cost would theoretically lower the prospect bounty required to acquire him. However, his contract includes a $2 million assignment bonus if traded, and the Yankees are on his limited no-trade list.

In short, there are several impediments to Greinke becoming a Yankee beyond the usual challenge of finding an agreeable swap.

Bauer, 28, is under club control through 2020. He's taken a small step backwards after his breakout 2018 campaign. To date, he has a 3.65 ERA with 10.43 K/9 and 3.52 BB/9. He has proven to be somewhat homer-prone (1.30 HR/9) this season.

The Indians still have more than a 50-percent chance to reach the postseason, making them unlikely sellers. Even so, as a club that carefully manages their balance sheet, they might still consider dealing from their rotation depth.

The Rangers are also in the thick of the playoff hunt, although FanGraphs doesn't think much of their chances to reach the postseason. With even the tiniest nudge down the standings, we could see Lynn and Minor aggressively marketed. Both pitchers may be pitching above their heads.

Minor, 31, has a shiny 2.73 ERA, although advanced metrics believe he should have closer to a 4.00 ERA. He's signed through 2020 on an affordable contract. Lynn is an old friend who helped the Yankees down the stretch last season. He has delivered career bests in velocity (93.9 mph), strikeout rate (9.84 K/9) and walk rate (2.04 BB/8). He's signed through 2021.

Syndergaard, 26, is perhaps the top prize of the market. Although his 4.55 ERA isn't on par with some of the other premium arms, he's fully capable of carrying a team through the playoffs. He is club controlled through 2021.

While the Mets are very much out of the playoff race, they're expected to retool for another shot in 2020. As such, there isn't a pressing need for them to deal Syndergaard. They'll need to be blown away.

Boyd plausibly could stick around through the Tigers rebuild, although it would be a shame for them to miss this opportunity to convert him into younger, blue-chip prospects. The 28-year-old has a 3.95 ERA with 12.00 K/9 and 1.89 BB/9. His breakout is one of the biggest stories of 2019.

Boyd is club controlled through 2022. The left-hander's trade value is at its apex. This is exactly the sort of multi-year asset the Yankees are expected to target.

The Yankees reportedly asked about a package including Stroman and closer Ken Giles. With Giles since experiencing some elbow soreness, it's unclear if there is still mutual interest in a swap.

Stroman is a gutsy pitcher who is at his best when inducing soft, ground-ball contact. He has a 3.25 ERA with 7.16 K/9 and 2.77 BB/9. While by no means an ace, he would help to add some consistency to a playoff rotation. 

Rentals

Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

Zack Wheeler, New York Mets

The Giants are anticipated to be one of the busiest deadline sellers. In addition to Bumgarner, they're shopping four veteran relievers and a couple veteran hitters. Jeff Samardzija could also be on the block after some recent success. In any event, Bumgarner will be heavily pursued.

While it's been half a decade since his dominant performance in the 2014 World Series, everybody remembers how he singlehandedly carried the Giants to victory. The soon-to-be 30-year-old may have a career-worst 3.86 ERA, but he's also continuously improved throughout the season. He is in top form with 9.33 K/9, 1.93 BB/9 and a 91.7 mph fastball -- his best average velocity since 2015.

Wheeler is currently on the injured list with a minor shoulder injury. He's expected to return in time to put on a brief audition before the trade deadline. He's experienced mixed results this season including an ugly outing at Yankee Stadium.

On one hand, Wheeler has posted career-bests in velocity (96.8 mph), strikeout rate (9.83 K/9), and walk rate (2.57 BB/9). His 4.69 ERA is fueled by what appears to be bad luck. With the bases empty, opponents are hitting .221/.260/.335. When runners are on base, they turn into All Stars -- .309/.369/.503.

While virtually every pitcher is worse with runners on, it's rarely to this extent. His career numbers suggest this is an unfortunate fluke.

Surprise Targets

Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

Caleb Smith, Miami Marlins

Sonny Gray, Cincinnati Reds

Are these guys available? Unlikely. However, pitchers are especially prone to debilitating injuries. Any non-contender could decide to cash in for fear of missing an opportunity to sell high.

The Mets likely aren't listening on deGrom, who is having another strong season. He's signed to an affordable contract through at least 2022 with a player opt-out prior to 2023, and a club option for 2024. Every competitive team will check in on him.

Smith, a former Yankee prospect, is perhaps the most likely of this trio to hit the block. At nearly 28 years old, he's not especially young considering his brief track record of success. He's controlled through the end of 2023.

Smith's breakout 2019 campaign includes a 3.46 ERA with 10.85 K/9 and 3.00 BB/9, but he may not be an ideal fit in New York. He's a fly-ball pitcher with a painful case of homer-itis (1.73 HR/9), and that's with pitcher-friendly Marlins Stadium as his home park. We all know how Yankee Stadium preys upon fly ball pitchers.

It seems unlikely the Yankees would pursue a reunion with Gray, who they traded away over the offseason. An adjustment to his pitch usage helped him to rebound from an ugly 2018 campaign. He currently has a 3.42 ERA with 10.36 K/9 and 3.33 BB/9. His home venue, Great American Ballpark, plays similarly to Yankee Stadium. Upon acquiring him, the Reds inked Gray to a team-friendly contract through 2022 with a club option for 2023.

While baseball fans may not yet know exactly who will be on the move prior to this year's deadline, it's a safe bet that the Yankees will be in the thick of things looking to reinforce their starting rotation. Which pitcher will they target?