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Which players do the Yankees most need to perform in the second half?

The Yankees don’t appear in a position to contend down the stretch, but improvements could certainly help.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The All-Star break has concluded and the second half of the season has begun. Not long ago, this was a fun time of year to support the Yankees. With another pennant chase approaching, the team typically would be looking forward to the trade deadline, salivating at the chance to add valuable pieces and increase their championship odds. Not so this year, with the Yankees hovering around .500, and frequently being linked to reports of (hopefully) selling.

After watching the Padres score an elite prospect from the Red Sox in exchange for Drew Pomeranz, it appears this trade deadline will be a seller’s market, and an excellent time for the Yankees to strengthen their future outlook. However, even if the Yankees sell, it seems unlikely they will enter a full-on firesale. Rather, there will likely still be a number of players on the team in the second half that can have a long-term impact on the Yankees. Here’s the rundown on those players, highlighting those whose second half performance is most important to the Yankees’ future chances, starting with:

The up-the-middle duo

Perhaps the most vital long-term pieces already on New York’s major league roster are Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. Castro’s performance thus far has paled in comparison to that of his double play partner, but both of their performances down the stretch will be of utmost importance.

Gregorius seemed to put it together later in the first half. His .298/.328/.468 slash line and quality shortstop defense have made him one of the Yankees’ best players. Castro, conversely, has regressed. He has an 81 wRC+ on the season, and a pitiful 67 wRC+ since the beginning of May.

Despite their disparate fortunes so far, the Yankees need both to perform in the second half. Gregorius is just 26, and has three years of team control remaining beyond 2016. Castro is also only 26, and is under contract through 2019, with a team option in 2020. Both have the youth, the talent, and the contract status to be a part of the next great Yankees’ team. Seeing Gregorius continue his surge, and Castro bounce back from his struggles would be a boon to a team that is probably looking toward 2017, 2018, and beyond.

The potential ace

Luis Severino began the season with hefty expectations for a 22-year-old. He entered the Yankees’ rotation in a pinch in 2015 and was impressive, maintaining a 2.89 ERA over his first 62.1 MLB innings. His 2016 has been frustrating, mired by ineffectiveness (7.46 ERA in seven starts), injury (a triceps strain), and a demotion to Triple-A.

Even with no promotion imminent, Severino’s performance from here is still significant. He has performed well since his demotion to the minors, and even if the Yankees are downplaying his chances of soon returning to the majors, it seems likely Severino will, at some point, get a shot at big league starts. At just 22 and with over five years of team control remaining, Severino is one of the Yankees’ most integral long-term pieces. If he can show some of the form he displayed in 2015, it would be a major boost for the team in the future (if not in 2016).

The (possibly) tradeable veterans

The most aggressive trade rumors have posited that the Yankees are open to moving veterans on long-term contracts, like Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and others. Even so, it seems unlikely the Yankees will make deadline trades of players who are owed tens of millions of dollars. However, if the Yankees wanted to speed up the rebuilding process this offseason, trading some of their more expensive veterans in the midst of a barren free agent landscape might be salient.

Some of the Yankees’ veterans would represent value on their current contracts. Brett Gardner had his name floated in trade rumors last offseason due to his affordable ($13 million per year through 2018) contract terms, and is still a quality left fielder. Andrew Miller is a sensational reliever making relative peanuts, at $9 million through 2018. If the Yankees elect to keep both at the deadline, they need both to continue to produce, whether for the purposes of keeping them to compete down the line, or trading them for value.

Then, there are the expensive veterans that nonetheless could bring some sort of return. McCann is owed $17.5 million through 2018, and Ellsbury is owed an average of $22 million through 2020. If the Yankees wanted to move either, they probably would have to include plenty of money (more in Ellsbury’s case) to make potential deals more alluring to suitors. However, both are still productive players. FanGraphs projects McCann and Ellsbury to each finish the season with 2.5 WAR. If those two can hold their value through the second half, and if the Yankees are willing to eat some salary, both could be fairly attractive options during an offseason which lacks quality free agents.

Even beyond these players, there are still Yankees who could boost their stock and help the organization in the future. Young role players like Aaron Hicks and Austin Romine, and even top prospects like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, could improve New York’s outlook with strong second halves. But it appears the most important second half performers the Yankees possess are their young shortstop/second base duo, their veteran assets, and their potential ace. Strong second half runs from them could be a great help to the Yankees’ future hopes.