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Sources: Yankees continue to push for Gerrit Cole, whom Pittsburgh expects to deal soon

Jeff Passan
MLB columnist

The New York Yankees are working on a trade to acquire starting pitcher Gerrit Cole and are hopeful they can put together a package to satisfy the Pittsburgh Pirates without including top prospect Gleyber Torres, sources told Yahoo Sports on Thursday.

The Pirates are highly motivated to deal Cole, sources said, and the Yankees have emerged as the likeliest destination. While the inclusion of Torres, a shortstop prospect, is seen by some as unlikely, one source said even if the Yankees stand firm on not including him, “there’s enough to work with that a deal seems likely.”

Should the Yankees not finalize a deal for Cole, one source expects another team to step up and Cole to be moved within the week. It would represent the first step in the rebuilding of the Pirates, who also could move franchise outfielder Andrew McCutchen during the winter, according to sources.

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, in Washington. (AP)

Cole, 27, is coming off the worst season of his career but fits the Yankees’ desire for a cost-controlled starting pitcher to add rotation depth while keeping them under the luxury-tax threshold. Cole is expected to make around $8 million in arbitration this season and will not hit free agency until after the 2019 season. The Yankees’ current luxury-tax payroll stands around $181 million, according to calculations by Baseball Prospectus, and they would remain under the $197 million threshold even after potentially adding Cole.

He would join a rotation that’s already five pitchers strong, with Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery and CC Sabathia, whom the Yankees re-signed this week for $10 million. The return of Sabathia and additions of Giancarlo Stanton and Cole via trades would further fortify a team that came within one game of reaching the World Series.

Cole almost has been a Yankee once before. New York selected him with the 28th pick of the 2008 MLB draft out of high school. He turned down a significant bonus, went to UCLA for three years and was taken by the Pirates with the first overall pick in 2011. Most of Cole’s issues last season came via home run, as he allowed 31, nearly three times as many as he had any previous season. His strikeout and walk rates (8.7 and 2.4 per nine innings, respectively) remained strong enough that teams interested in acquiring him believe his high-90s fastball and slider-curveball-changeup mix is plenty sufficient for his return to excellence.

The Yankees’ reticence to part with Torres is understandable. He is the likeliest candidate to take over their second-base job full-time after Starlin Castro went to Miami in the Stanton deal. With outfielders Clint Frazier and Estevan Florial, plus pitchers Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield, the Yankees have a number of elite prospects to offer Pittsburgh, and one source deemed a deal for Cole “a matter of when rather than if.”