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Kikuchi catches Yanks' eye in starter search

Rotation talks continue, but Cashman cautions N.Y. is 'disciplined about what we're willing to do'
MLB.com @feinsand

LAS VEGAS -- Brian Cashman's focus since the end of the season has been on improving the Yankees' starting rotation. Trading for James Paxton was the first step; could Yusei Kikuchi be the wild card in the Yankees' search for another starter?

The Yankees opted not to go to six years for Patrick Corbin, holding firm to their desire not to go beyond four or five years at an annual salary of $17-20 million for the left-hander.

LAS VEGAS -- Brian Cashman's focus since the end of the season has been on improving the Yankees' starting rotation. Trading for James Paxton was the first step; could Yusei Kikuchi be the wild card in the Yankees' search for another starter?

The Yankees opted not to go to six years for Patrick Corbin, holding firm to their desire not to go beyond four or five years at an annual salary of $17-20 million for the left-hander.

Nathan Eovaldi, too, proved to be too expensive for the Yankees, who weren't willing to give the right-hander a fourth year.

Talks continue with J.A. Happ, whom the Yankees loved during his two-plus months in pinstripes, though a source indicated there are some internal debates within New York's front office on whether it makes sense to give the 36-year-old left-hander the third year he's seeking.

"Happ is aware of our comfort level," Cashman said. "I know what he's trying to accomplish. We'll see if we all match up."

Video: Hoch believes Happ is likely to sign with Yankees

Dallas Keuchel appears to be a non-starter for the Yankees, according to a source, while Charlie Morton could be a fit given that he's expected to sign a two-year deal.

"We've stayed engaged with the marketplace in trade and free agency, and we have our comfort levels," Cashman said when asked about where he stood with regard to adding a pitcher. "It could happen today; we're very active, but disciplined about what we're willing to do."

The most interesting name to surface is Kikuchi, the 27-year-old lefty who was posted by the Seibu Lions in Japan. Kikuchi -- whom Cashman said the Yankees have "scouted extensively" -- doesn't have a track record as an innings-eater (he's only thrown more than 160 innings in a season twice in his eight-year career), but scouts like him as a mid-rotation piece. He's also younger than any other starter on the free-agent market, adding to his appeal.

"He's somebody that's worth talking about; somebody that's worthy of having conversations about potentially landing," Cashman said. "Somebody that would make our or other rotations better here in Major League Baseball."

The Yankees have had success signing players from Japan, the two most notable being Hideki Matsui and Masahiro Tanaka. Kei Igawa was a miss, though that didn't discourage New York from breaking the bank on Tanaka after the 2013 season.

Video: NYY@BOS Gm2: Tanaka K's 4 over 5 frames of 1-run ball

Unlike Tanaka, Kikuchi isn't expected to land a nine-figure deal, making him an intriguing possibility on this year's market. And although he's represented by Scott Boras, there is a strict deadline for the negotiations, which must be concluded by Jan. 2 if Kikuchi is to make the jump to the Majors in 2019.

Should the Yankees miss out -- or decide to pass -- on the remaining free agents on their list (Lance Lynn is another starter with whom they have remained engaged), they could turn back to the trade market to address the final spot in the rotation.

Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer of the Indians remain available, though after unloading prospects in multiple deals last summer and again last month in the Paxton deal, it remains to be seen whether Cashman wants to further drain the farm system he worked so hard to build.

"We depleted ourselves in certain categories this summer, without regret," Cashman said. "I thought every move we made was appropriate, and we were comfortable with the price tags associated with it, because of a lot of those moves, the circumstance of where our system is today versus where it was at this time last year is definitely different. We still have the ability to match up. It's just trying to match those prices."

Video: Duquette on Indians possibly trading Kluber or Bauer

Cleveland would likely ask for a haul of prospects for one of its two pitchers, or it could try to attach either Jason Kipnis or Edwin Encarnacion and their sizeable contracts to a deal much like the Mariners did with Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano. Kluber is owed $13 million in 2019, with club options for '20 ($13.5 million) and '21 ($14 million), while Bauer has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining before becoming a free agent.

"We have price tags that we associate with guys," Cashman said. "We'll be comfortable doing any and all, as long as it matches our valuation of the player. There's an array of choices available, at the higher level on the trade front more so than what free agency presents."

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

New York Yankees