It’s a month into the season and the Yankees clearly have strengths and weaknesses on their team. They have a solid bullpen that has been carrying them, complete with an up and coming closer in David Robertson and four excellent setup men (Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances and Matt Thornton). They have a dominant number one starter in Masahiro Tanaka. They have had both expensive free agents like Jacoby Ellsbury and scrap heap players like Yangervis Solarate step up and contribute in a big way. But as good as their strengths are, their weaknesses are just as big and glaring. They have a miserable offense with a terrible habit of failing with runners in scoring position. The shortstop is going to be 40 next month and is producing at a replacement level thus far. Catcher Brian McCann has been in a season long slump. They lost their number three starter, Ivan Nova, for the season and another starter, Michael Pineda, to a suspension followed by a DL stint. Both CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda seem to be showing their age and have been inconsistent.
Looking forward two months will bring us upon the July trade deadline. A lot can, and will, happen between now and then, but I think we can make some assumptions and forecast some of the inevitable options that will be on General Manager Brian Cashman’s mind. First off, I think the Yankees will be in the race for the American League East crown and the wild card the entire year. That coupled with the fact we are talking about the Yankees means that they will be buyers and not sellers come July. They will most likely be trying to buy another starter and probably another bat to spark the offense. A modest shopping list to be sure but for once, the Yankees might actually not have to overpay. Indeed, they need to be careful not to.
Some of the biggest trade pieces for the Yankees at the deadline would have seemed like fantasy during spring training but nonetheless here we are. In the bullpen, the Yankees have extra right-handed set up men. They really don’t need all three of Kelley, Betances, and Warren. Betances would probably be the biggest chip of the three because he has the most upside. However, he is also the most unproven and given his history, the most likely to be unable to sustain his success. Trading him now would be striking while the iron was hot. A good analogy would be trading Joba Chamberlain after the 2007 season. His trade value would never be higher than it was that off-season after the Yankees season ended in bug-infested Cleveland. We have the benefit of hindsight as to how the Joba Rules and the next five years would go, but we do know that if he was traded at that moment he would have brought in quite a haul. The same may hold true for Betances.
Another area of strength from which the Yankees could deal would be catcher and middle infielder. The same theory of selling high on Betances also holds true for Solarte. The Yankees might have simply caught lightning in a bottle rather than a future superstar who simply couldn’t crack the majors in six years in the minors. Perhaps a team saw something in Dean Anna. The Yankees are loaded at catcher with J.R. Murphy, Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez and Pete O’Brien all candidates for the right trade.
Of course, that is the kicker. Who is the right target for the Yankees? In my mind. the biggest hole lies in the rotation. I am not a believer in Vidal Nuno or David Phelps long term, and I am very concerned about Kuroda and Sabathia being able to provide quality innings throughout the season. The Yankees need a durable innings-eater who will keep them in games. I would love for the Yankees to work out a deal with the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija or the Phillies for Cliff Lee or even the Tigers thinking they can’t sign him, trading Max Scherzer. But in reality I don’t see it happening. I could see however a second-tier pitcher becoming available and for the right price the Yankees being interested. Perhaps Edwin Jackson comes over from the Cubs for Murphy and Betances? Maybe the Braves trade Aaron Harang or Alex Wood? Bronson Arroyo from the Diamondbacks? Everything remains wide open, but it’s clear early on, that the Yankees should have more chips at the trading table than would have been expected just a month ago.