MLB.com Columnist

Mark Feinsand

Ace in cards? Yanks, Nats, Dodgers eye prize

Gray, Verlander available, while Darvish could be at right price

Ace in cards? Yanks, Nats, Dodgers eye prize

The starting-pitching market is turning into a game of three-card monte, and everybody is trying to find the ace.

According to a source, the Yankees, Nationals and Dodgers are all increasing their efforts to land a top-notch starter, but at the moment, only two are available for certain -- Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander -- while a third (Yu Darvish) might be the most desirable for this year's stretch run if he's made available.

Multiple sources indicated Tuesday that the Yankees were making progress toward a deal with Oakland, which could send not only Gray -- who was slated to start for the A's on Tuesday in Toronto -- but also first baseman Yonder Alonso to New York.

MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported Tuesday that the A's are focused on adding a young center fielder, with Yankees No. 5 prospect and Futures Game participant Estevan Florial ranking high on their list. A source said the Yanks are not opposed to dealing Florial, who is just 19 years old and ranks as the third-best outfielder in the system behind Clint Frazier and Dustin Fowler. (The Yankees also have another rookie outfielder you may have heard of: Aaron Judge.)

Morosi also reported the Braves are pursuing Gray, too, and the A's are looking for a package that includes outfielder Ronald Acuna, MLB.com's No. 8 overall prospect, in return. 

The A's have been heavily scouting the Yankees' system of late, fueling speculation that New York is the leading candidate to land Gray and Alonso.

Infielder/outfielder Jorge Mateo, the Yankees' No. 8 prospect, could also be included in a deal with Oakland, though a source with knowledge of the Yanks' thinking said that top prospects Gleyber Torres, Frazier, Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield are close to untouchable in general manager Brian Cashman's eyes.

So while Gray could be on his way to the Bronx, it remains to be seen whether Darvish will be headed anywhere at all.

The Rangers are on the fence about whether to trade Darvish, who will be a free agent at the end of the season. A source said that although GM Jon Daniels has told teams that he would move the right-hander for the right return, there's a concern about the message that trading their ace would send. The Rangers entered Tuesday only 3 1/2 games out of an American League Wild Card spot, though five teams stood between Texas and Kansas City, which is in the second AL Wild Card position.

Then there's the prospect of Darvish rejecting a qualifying offer and signing elsewhere, which would give Texas only a compensation pick before the third round -- likely somewhere in the 70s -- thanks to the new qualifying-offer rules set by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. (Under the new rules, only teams that receive revenue sharing can get a first-round compensation pick, and that's only if the player signs a deal worth more than $50 million elsewhere. The Rangers are not on the list of 16 clubs that will receive revenue sharing that was reported by Morosi, so a pick right before the third round is the best they can do as compensation.)

Should the Rangers opt to deal Darvish now, they would surely get a bigger return than that pick, though a source said that won't be a major factor in Daniels' final decision.

A source said the Rangers have their eye on Dodgers outfield prospect Alex Verdugo, the club's No. 2 prospect and No. 28 overall on MLB Pipeline's midseason Top 100 list, and have done their due diligence on the 21-year-old.

If the Dodgers can't pry Darvish away from Texas, they could turn their attention to Verlander, who is signed for two more years and $56 million beyond 2017. Verlander's numbers aren't great this season (5-7, 4.50 ERA), but scouts have liked what they've seen of late -- over his past four starts, the right-hander has pitched to a 2.77 ERA while striking out 28 batters in 26 innings -- and Detroit might be willing to give salary relief in exchange for a better prospect package.

As for the Nationals, how aggressive they get for a top starter will depend on the status of Stephen Strasburg, who left his last start early with a right forearm issue and could still be headed for a disabled-list stint. Nats manager Dusty Baker said Tuesday that the club is optimistic that Strasburg will make his next start, but his lengthy injury history could make the club consider adding a pitcher. Washington's lead in the National League East is healthy enough to survive without Strasburg, but it willl need him back by the postseason if it doesn't acquire another elite arm.

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter for MLB.com, has covered the Yankees and MLB since 2001 for the New York Daily News and MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.