Should MLB standings or last 200 games determine Yankees' fate at trade deadline?

New York Mets v New York Yankees
New York Mets v New York Yankees / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages

The list of teams who've patched holes at the trade deadline, threaded the needle perfectly, snuck into the postseason, and gone on extended, energizing runs is actually ... quite long. The 2021 Braves road a pitch-perfect deadline to a title, upsetting the Astros and winning a victory for aggrieved underdogs everywhere. The 2022 Phillies nearly navigated the same path, even without a masterful deadline to stand on.

The 2021 Red Sox. The 2022 Padres. The 2019 Nationals. The 2017 Yankees! It's not only possible for someone unexpected at the bottom of the bracket to make a well-crafted run this year -- it's plausible, and more likely than not.

With prime Aaron Judge now back from his injury, prime Gerrit Cole leading the rotation, and prime Carlos Rodón looking to rediscover his form, the 2023 Yankees owe it to their fans (and players under contract) not to close up shop entirely. But how far should they go in a quest to build an underdog story? Not, uh, very far at all.

As embarrassing as this is to say out loud, cutting costs for this particular Yankees team is 100% worth it. Creeping past the final luxury tax threshold for a longshot like this is malpractice. Even if you don't care about Hal Steinbrenner's bottom line whatsoever (we don't!), that is not something that should be happening. It's Brian Cashman's fault we've even reached this inflection point. Nobody needs compounding penalties and disaster for the chance to fortify a likely also-ran -- and, plus, remember 2016? Sometimes, you sell too-expensive middling pieces and get better.Domingo Germán, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Wandy Peralta and Harrison Bader should be renting, not buying in NYC.

As for the purchases that should replace them? Cashman just has to hit on the right mid-tier acquisitions (which we know is asking a lot). The Yankees are in this race. They're also 103-97 in their past 200 games, as Chris Kirschner pointed out in The Athletic on Friday afternoon.

MLB Standings: Yankees are distinctly average, no matter how close they are to a Wild Card

Could Cashman uncover this year's Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall? Could a better GM?

The '21 Braves will always be the gold standard for hitting on 9, 16 and 18 and getting blackjack. But they did prove that it's always possible -- and, considering how "Murphy's Law" 2022's deadline was for Cashman, isn't he owed a little karmic break? Isn't this fan base owed a summer where Jon Berti, Randal Grichuk and Michael Lorenzen prove to be the missing pieces we've been begging for since 2009?

If only they'd secured the real Duvall this offseason when he was available for only coins. Instead, they let the Red Sox grab him. Boston is considering offloading Duvall this week, too, to clear a path for Jarren Duran in their own hybrid model. He's not coming here. Shame.

The Yankees need to thread several different needles at this confusing trade deadline, and despite a chorus of fans begging for an implosion, Cashman owes this roster a handful of flyers and an opportunity down the stretch.

He doesn't owe them Juan Soto, Josh Hader or a fleet of incoming All-Stars, though. They've been average for 200 games. That's a 2024 offseason problem, and it must be addressed powerfully when the time comes.