Cliff Lee may be the sexiest name left on the market for the Yankees. Credit: Getty Images
The Yankees received a large serving of bad news over the long Fourth of July weekend when CC Sabathia woke up the day after a rehab start with swelling in his injured right knee.
Sabathia was immediately shut down and he will travel to visit Dr. James Andrews next week to see whether he needs microfracture surgery for the chronic injury. Any basketball fan can tell you just how scary microfracture knee surgery can be. New York-area stars Allan Houston, Amar'e Stoudemire — when he was on the Suns — and Kerry Kittles all had the surgery and lost the explosiveness which made them stars.
No one knows whether Sabathia will need the surgery, or how and when he will return, but the Yankee rotation which was already hurting is even more in dire need of an addition before the July 31 trade deadline.
The team also remains in limbo on Michael Pineda, who had a couple setbacks in his own rehab strained back muscle. General manager Brian Cashman said last week he "hopes" Pineda will be back by August. Considering Pineda's injury history, hope is a good way to put it.
The starting pitching market got off to an early start over the July 4 weekend as well. The Cubs dealt starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics for top prospect Addison Russell. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported the Yankees were in the Samardzija hunt, but came up short compared to Oakland's package.
Samardzija was the second-best starter on the market, behind Tampa Bay's David Price. It seems highly unlikely the Rays would deal the lefty ace within the AL East though. And it's unclear the Yankees would have the prospects to get him anyway with Price not reaching free agency until after next season.
So who are reasonable options for the Yankees ...
1. Cliff Lee
The Yankees seem to always be looking to add Cliff Lee, don't they? Well, they have another opportunity after striking out in the free-agent market prior to the 2011 season. The Phillies are a miserable 13 games under .500 and their over-the-hill roster is showing no signs of a turnaround. Lee is pitching well as usual. He's 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 68 innings. He's only given up nine walks and five homers pitching in a bandbox. He also slots right into the rotation as a lefty to replace Sabathia. But Lee is due $25 million in 2015 and — if he pitches 200 innings next season — another $27.5 million in 2016. That could be bad and it could be good. The Yankees are in the position of being one of the few teams who could afford that price tag. Would that mitigate having to give up positional prospects like Slade Heathcott, Eric Jagielo or Mason Williams?
2. Kyle Kendrick
Lee too expensive? How about the Phillies' cheaper model — Kyle Kendrick? Like Lee, the Philly starter could be unloaded, but he'd be ditched only for prospects. Kendrick is a free agent after the season though, so he won't cost you elite prospects. The 29-year-old is not as bad as his 3-8 record would indicate. He has a 4.12 ERA and has allowed just 114 hits in 109 1/3 innings. He's not a top-of-the-rotation starter, but you could do worse.
3. Jorge de la Rosa
The Rockies have packed it up for the season with a 2-8 record over their last 10 games to fall to 12 games back in the NL West. Jorge de la Rosa was supposed to be the ace of their rotation. Instead, despite his eight wins he has a 4.86 ERA after going sub-3.50 last season. And don't blame it on Coors Field, where de la Rosa actually has an ERA two runs lower than on the road in 2014. He is a left-hander though and a free agent after the season.
4. Colby Lewis
No one expected the Rangers to be 12 games under .500 on July 4. But they are, and with the A's running away with the division, Texas is 16 games back in the AL West already. Colby Lewis is a big reason why they have underachieved. The 34-year-old is coming back from hip surgery and it's not gone as well as hoped. From 2010 to 2012, the righty was 32-29 with a 3.93 ERA and 458 strikeouts in 506 1/3 innings. He's just 5-5 with a 5.71 ERA this season though. But the numbers aren't all bad. His 7.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio is in line with 2011 (7.6) and 2012 (8.0) and his FIP (fielder-independent pitching) is 4.13. In other words, he was good before the injury and the numbers aren't entirely bad. Most importantly, he won't cost you a meaningful prospect as a free agent at the end of the year.
5. Collin McHugh
The former Met has been shockingly good for the Astros this season. The 27-year-old is probably not a part of the Astros' future, and they'll take prospects for anyone anyway. (Don't tell Houston you eventually have to field a competitive team.) McHugh is 4-7 with a 3.22 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings this season. He's given up an absurdly low 54 hits. Nothing in his past indicates he's anything better than a fifth starter on a mediocre team though.
Quick hits ...
James Shields: He was expected to be a trade candidate before the season as a free-agent-to-be. But the Royals are five games over .500 and in the thick of the AL wild-card race. Does Kansas City think they have a chance to re-sign him? Do they think they have a chance to do something in the postseason? If they answer "no" to either question, he could become available.
Ian Kennedy: Really? You're even asking? Despite his 3.87 ERA, sterling strikeout numbers and San Diego being well out of it, there's no way he comes back to New York.
Phil Hughes: Ditto.
A.J. Burnett: Ditto dammit.
Edinson Volquez: The Pirates are still in the hunt (46-41), so even though Volquez is a free agent they'll probably hold onto him. Remember, the Pirates made the postseason last year for the first time in decades. It'll come down to record and whether they want to re-sign him, just like Shields.
Kevin Correia: He's almost 34 and leads the AL in losses, what isn't to love? The Twins starter is available for little to nothing, but there's a reason. He has a 4.95 ERA and nowhere near the upside of Lewis or de la Rosa.
Follow Metro New York Sports Editor Mark Osborne on Twitter@MetroNYSports.