It's deja vu all over again, as the Yankees are fielding a middling team that is having trouble scoring runs as the trade deadline approaches.And just like in 2013, there are questions as to whether the Yankees should be buyers at the trade deadline or sellers. Sitting at 3.5 games out of first place with a ghastly run differential, I'm sure there are lots of folks who think the team should just trade off anything of value, but unless the team is sitting at ten games out of a playoff spot come July 31st, they're not going to. Personally, I think that's the right move. Baseball Prospectus has their playoff odds at 27.5% and Fangraphs has them sitting at 22.2%, odds not in their favor but certainly good enough that scrapping the season would be a very drastic decision.
There's really no reason to think the Yankees will change their direction when approaching this year's squad, which seems to be just as flawed as last year's with a decent (if outside) shot of making the playoffs. Teams that sell off their valuable pieces before the deadline usually fall into two categories: they're well out the race and/or storing assets via trades are their primary avenue for improving in the future. A team like the Yankees that can easily rebuild via free agency in a sport with no real salary cap just doesn't feel the same impetus to get back cheap, young players as smaller market teams do. I know it annoys many that the Yankees can and will do things that way, but it's not likely to soon change. Also, most of their tradable assets are either locked into long deals and would be part of the rebuilding process or are just not that good. None of the Yankees' players with soon expiring deals are getting a finished product like the Cubs got in Addison Russell. Their biggest expiring chip would probably be David Robertson, and they stand to have an opportunity to get a compensatory pick from him even if they choose only to hang on to him for the rest of the season.
A lot of the reason for why the Yankees won't and shouldn't sell doesn't actually come from the Yankees. The teams ahead of them, the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, are two flawed teams that have had their own fair share of inconsistencies and streaky play. While I wouldn't pick the Yankees to leapfrog the other two, with a couple more tweaks to the roster I would give the Yankees odds that are good enough that make quitting on the season seems very illogical. I'm sure the fans of those teams are plenty confident themselves, as nothing thus far this season has altered the perception that the AL East would be a messy, hotly-contested division this year. Of course, there's also always the final Wild Card spot, of which the Yankees also sit 3.5 games out of.
I do think the Brandon McCarthy deal is a sign that the Yankees are going to be very careful with their younger assets come the trading deadline. Brian Cashman and the Yankees braintrust sees the same team we see: a middling team with a chance to make the playoffs, but not the sort of squad you push all your chips to the center for like the Oakland A's just did. You just try to punch your ticket into the postseason and let the randomness of a short series of games propel you to a positive playoff run. In the end, since for the exercise they're being classified as one of the other, the Yankees should and will be buyers instead of sellers. Just don't be surprised if they make moves more akin to patching up the holes in the boat rather than buying a brand new engine.
Now if they're ten games out in three weeks, get back to me on these thoughts.