The non-waiver trade deadline is 6 days away, and the Yankees will try to upgrade their 25-man roster as a team in contention (3.0 games back in the AL East and leader for the second wild card spot) and in need of upgrades (right field, second base, starting rotation, bullpen). They absolutely should try to upgrade the roster for this season. However, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs cautioned teams against overpaying in trades just to get in the Coin Flip Game against the team with the second best record in baseball, the Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees are one of those teams in the group that should proceed with caution at the trade deadline, as they aren’t running away with the division like the Tigers or A’s, and aren’t even close to being assured a playoff spot. Fangraphs‘ playoff odds has them at a 15.8% shot of winning the division, and 9.6% chance of winning the wild card. The Yankees simply are not in a position to trade one of their top prospects for a rental player for this season, or an average player for this season and beyond.
In addition to not mortgaging the future for a chance to play one extra game on the road against a tough team, it is also important to add wins and not focus so much on player skill-sets. Too many times, teams enter trading season hoping to add “right-handed power” or “left-handed bullpen arm”. This limits the market for potential upgrades and causes teams to overpay. Just add runs and wins to the ledger at the lowest possible cost. Targeting handedness is especially important in the age of specialized bullpens. However, this focus is secondary to just adding good talent that helps win baseball games. Runs are runs. It doesn’t matter if they come via power, OBP, or defense. Additionally, not every potentially available player would be a fit for New York due to the position they play. They can’t upgrade left-field or closer, for instance. However, no area should be prioritized among the roster spots that can be upgraded. There are several places that could be upgraded and targeting just one (like the offense) would be a mistake. Exploring all possible options at upgradeable positions, maximizes the opportunity to improve and minimizes the cost. Even moves in the back of the bullpen (Chris Capuano to the starting rotation for Chase Whitley, who goes to the bullpen for Chris Leroux) that barely move the needle are worth making.
The Yankees’ two big moves so far follow exactly this strategy. Brandon McCarthy for Vidal Nuno: high ground ball, low walks (read not “power arm”) starter for homer-prone, replacement-level lefty. Chase Headley and $1 million for Yangervis Solarte and Rafael De Paula: defense-first third baseman (not usual for power position) for 27-year-old career minor leaguer and, according to Keith Law, a future reliever due to command problems and lack of a good second pitch. These are low-cost upgrades that don’t target a specific skill-set. On the flip side, adding Eric Jagielo or Ian Clarkin to a package for Ian Kennedy just wouldn’t be prudent for where the team currently stands and projects to perform. The Yankees best course of action this trade season is adding wins, not necessarily specific player types, while capping the prospect talent they would surrender.