Less than Zero: Yankees’ moves have failed to make a difference


New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, his hands tied by a $189 million payroll budget mandate for 2014, couldn’t and wouldn’t make a splash at or before the July 31st trade deadline. Just about one month later the Yankees’ lead in the American League East has been reduced to three games in the loss column prior to today’s games.

When the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki they entered play that night with a six-game lead and left the field up by seven in the American League East. While no one was expecting Ichiro to be the savior (they didn’t need one at the time) they hoped he would provide a different dimension to the homer-happy hitters from the Bronx. Let’s see if he’s provided a boost to the club.

Ichiro is hitting .286/.309/.429 in 125 plate appearances as a Yankee. He has 6 doubles, 1 triple, 3 homers, scored 9 runs, driven in 14 and stolen 4 bases. According to FanGraphs.com, his batting value is -0.5, base running checks in at -1.2 and fielding at -2.0. This, in addition to replacement value and positional value adds up to a -0.1 WAR which basically says that Ichiro is providing less value to the Yankees than a replacement-level player would. While the Yankees didn’t seem to give up much for Suzuki; D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar were the Yankees prospects dealt, they could have called up a minor leaguer and gotten similar results.

The Yankees lone deadline deal netted Casey McGehee for Chad Qualls. The trade was looked at as a positive since they were close to designating Qualls for assignment anyway, so to get anything out of him was viewed as a good move. McGehee figured to help from the right side of the plate while manning at third base with Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list as a complement to Eric Chavez from the left side. McGehee was not exactly pounding the ball in Pittsburgh and became expendable after their deal for Gaby Sanchez. McGehee, not surprisingly, has failed to live up to his 23 homer, 104 RBI season with the Brewers in 2010. He is no better than a replacement level player himself. In actuality he has been worth less than that (-0.4 WAR) in a small 47 plate appearance sample. His line, .186/.234/.326 with four extra base hits (one homer) is so awful it got the Yankees looking for another right-handed bat.

McGehee was recently sent down to Single-A Charleston for a few days until rosters expand on September 1 in order to provide space for Steve Pearce who was acquired in a waiver deal on Monday. The book on Pearce is that he’s a righty bat with some pop against lefties. It’s too early to tell what, if any, impact Pearce will have and I won’t insult your intelligence by trying to summarize it in his six plate appearances in two games since being inserted into the lineup. I will say this; Pearce has been with four different organizations since being signed by the Minnesota Twins in the offseason, including the Yankees earlier in the season, so this is a dart thrown into the sea at best.

Speaking of darts, the Yankees signed Derek Lowe off a Cleveland scrap heap and since a gritty performance in his very first outing (four scoreless innings) he’s shown why the Indians dispatched of him. He’s allowed nine hits and four runs (three earned) in five innings. These are not mop up assignments either. He came into yesterday’s game with the Yanks down by one run and allowed the only two hitters he faced to reach base. Both runners scored when proclaimed, “move without a move” reliever Joba Chamberlain abruptly allowed a double to Yunel Escobar when he entered later in the inning with the bases juiced and one out.

Chamberlain, while not a trade or waiver deal, can be looked at as a deadline move because that’s how the Yankees drew it up and presented it at the time. He was quickly lifted from the minor leagues on July 31 after only 7.1 innings thrown. He hadn’t pitched at the Major League level since June 5, 2011 after Tommy John surgery AND ankle surgery, yet there he was up with the big club after ‘dominating’ players at the low levels of the minors. It has backfired and to this day, I have no idea why he was brought up so soon. Much like the Ichiro deal, there was no pressing matter to be resolved by the move. Now he’s been relegated to duties without pressure, though he was put in one yesterday after eight days without throwing a pitch in a game, and predictably he was wildly ineffective. Joba’s numbers since his return are mind-numbing; 7.1 IP, 8.59 ERA (7.74 FIP), 2.73 WHIP and another negative WAR (-0.4). Simply stated, he has no business being on a MLB mound right now. This “move without making a move” hopefully does not portend to the next two of those the Yankees intend to make.

First, Rodriguez is now fielding grounders and taking BP. He could be sent out for a rehab assignment soon with either Double-A Trenton or Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, who will both be in their respective postseasons providing some time for A-Rod to get back to game strength. Even if he is back by the end of next week, how long will it take A-Rod to get up to full speed and find comfort at the plate?

Next is Andy Pettitte. Remember when the estimates had him back in early September when he suffered his broken ankle? He had a setback early on which is now looking very costly. Time is running out on his ability to pitch in any minor league games and Yankees manager Joe Girardi mentioned the possibility of Pettitte logging innings in short outings at the big league level in order to work himself into consideration for the postseason rotation. Girardi also admitted that was not an ideal solution with the division race at a full boil. Pettitte’s next step at this point is to throw off a mound.

Reaching the postseason once seemed like an inevitable occurrence, but now looks somewhat daunting. Any moves the Yankees have made with an eye toward the stretch run have more or less been worthless. Again, none of the moves were seen to be ‘game-changing’, but the team didn’t pull the trigger without a thought they would help win some games. Now the Yankees have two more ‘moves’ for which they are holding their breath. Both have potentially great upside, but also come with multiple question marks; age, ability to reach 100% and now with only a three-game lead staring the team in the face, having enough time to make a difference. Maybe a minor league player will have a hot streak to ride, but the Yankees can’t assume there is anything of the sort on the horizon.

The Yankees decided to stay away from a splashy move because of a payroll obligation two seasons into the future. What’s worse, the Boston Red Sox proved a team can shed payroll at massive clips if needed (during the waiver period no less), something the Yankees didn’t have the vision to see by going for it now. It could prove to be a huge mistake for 2012, as the middling moves they did make have provided nothing but empty results. Hopefully the next two pan out or the Yankees could be looking toward 2013 for World Championship number 28.