The Yankees have been devastated by injuries all year. The news that ace Masahiro Tanaka has a partial tear of his UCL and will be out a minimum of six weeks is just the latest. He will join three other starters on the DL. Ivan Nova is out for the year after season ending Tommy John surgery. Michael Pineda has been out for months with a suspension and then a lat injury. CC Sabathia‘s season is likely done, and possibly his career, after a knee injury. David Robertson, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Brendan Ryan, and Shawn Kelley have all spent time on the DL already this season.
The Yankees now have a patchwork rotation of Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Phelps, Shane Greene and Chase Whitley going into the second half of the season. They have a lineup that struggles to score runs and hits few long balls. They do have a dynamic young bullpen led by All Star rookie Dellin Betances and closer David Robertson, but that pen has been used and abused in the first half. However, they are only 4 games out of the division and 2.5 games back in the wild card. It would be highly possible for the Yankees to continue to overachieve and make the playoffs, even without 4/5 of their rotation.
The team that the Yankees can put on the field right now is not very good. But they aren’t out of the race and don’t figure to fall out before the July 31 trade deadline. That puts GM Brian Cashman in very perilous position. On one hand, he has a chance to upgrade the team for 2014 to make a run at a division title or wild card. On the other, he could try trade some of the spare parts and upgrade the farm system and cut his losses on the 2014 season. The decisions Cashman makes over the next few weeks will have massive reverberations in the Yankee universe for this year and beyond.
Hindsight may be 20/20, but imagine if last season Cashman had not traded for Alfonso Soriano in an attempt to make a push for the playoffs but instead opted to trade some of players in return for prospects. Trading Robinson Cano would have been ludicrous but how about a trade of Curtis Granderson once he returned from his injury? Surely he could have gotten a few prospects for a former two time 40 home run player. Perhaps there would have been some other veterans that could have been moved as well such as Vernon Wells, Ichiro, Mark Reynolds, or Lyle Overbay. None of those moves occurred and the Yankees missed the playoffs anyway.
This season, even if the Yankees remain in buy mode to make a run at the playoffs in Derek Jeter‘s last season, Cashman needs to keep an eye on the future. He cannot afford to mortgage the entirety of the Yankees farm system for a run with this team. I’ve stated before that I don’t see a realistic move that would turn this team into a legit World Series contender, and that was before Tanaka went down. That leaves the tightrope walk that Cashman has been tasked with, improving for 2014 while simultaneously building for the future as well.
Oakland GM Billy Beane is a fascinating GM for his ability to be a buyer and a seller at the deadline most years. This year’s being the obvious exception as his A’s have the best record in the league and have gone all in with last week’s acquisition of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Brian Cashman has to channel his inner Beane. He has to not be afraid to make multiple moves that make the team better this season and still build for the future. He cannot fear sending mixed messages. It is ok to be both a buyer and a seller at the deadline.
The Yankees need to avoid costly veterans who will only be around for a few months before leaving via free agency. They also need to look into unloading a costly veteran or two of their own. Any big name they acquire needs to be signed for at least the 2015 season and not be in his mid-thirties. That means don’t engage in the yearly trade rumors for Cliff Lee. Don’t be tempted by the AJ Burnett or Bartolo Colon or Josh Willingham. Focus on players that can help now and later, like David Price, Cole Hamels, Troy Tulowitzki or Wade Miley. It is not an easy thing to do, especially when missing the playoffs for the second straight season might mean getting fired, but history will judge Cashman on what happens over the next few weeks. Hopefully, he is up to the challenge.