The 2017 season has truly been a roller coaster of emotions. The Yankees had an awful start to the season, followed by two months of great baseball with near 500 foot home runs, and now they are sitting atop the American League East, yet they just came off of a seven-game losing streak. With the non-waiver trade deadline a mere 37 days away, I figured it was a good time to reflect on the season, look at what we know, what we don’t know, and predict which direction Brian Cashman decides to steer the ship come July 31st.
What we know
We know that the Yankees have the second best run differential in the AL behind only the Houston Astros. They have done so with little to no help from their first basemen, which is typically a position known for offensive output. Yankees first basemen have combined for slash line of .202/.297.379 with 11 home runs. To put that in perspective, Chase Headley is currently having a better season than Yankee first basemen, in terms of OPS.
We also know that the starting rotation has a lot of question marks. Masahiro Tanaka has underperformed, CC Sabathia was having a solid season but is now on the shelf, and Michael Pineda has been brilliant at home but very inconsistent away from the Bronx (6.25 road ERA.) Luis Severino has pitched like an ace and Jordan Montgomery has been a pleasant surprise, but neither has amassed 140 innings at any level of professional baseball.
Lastly, we know that the Yankees have run into some struggles recently largely due to the bullpen not being able to hold a lead. What was once considered an obvious strength has now turned into something that really makes you scratch your head. The bullpen has a collective 3.31 ERA, yet this is largely inflated due to the members of the Scranton express, all of whom own ERA’s above 5.40 (besides Ben Heller and Domingo German). Tyler Clippard has looked completely lost in the month of June (10.80 ERA) and super-utility pitcher Adam Warren is currently on the disabled list nursing a right shoulder injury. On the bright side, Dellin Betances has only allowed three earned runs all season with two of them coming on Thursday, and Aroldis Chapman is back from the disabled list.
What we don’t know
The 2017 season has largely been a successful one for the Yankees. At times however, it has been incredibly frustrating due to the reasons mentioned above. These successes and falters must both be taken with a grain of salt. Can Luis Severino keep this up over the course of a full season? Will CC Sabathia be as effective once he comes off the DL? Has Tanaka completely lost the ability to pitch like an ace? Will Greg Bird produce when he finally gets healthy? Will he ever get healthy?
All of these questions and more should have clearer answers come July 31st. The Yankees will be tasked with tough series on the road in Houston, Boston, and Minnesota. They also play a four-game series in Seattle following the series in Minnesota (without an off day) that I just can’t seem to make sense of.
Only time will tell which Yankees are over-performing, stuck in a rough patch, or flat out can’t cut it.
How it could pan out
This will ultimately depend on the Yankee’s status within the division come July 31st. Let’s look at a few scenarios.
The Yankees are teetering atop the division:
This is where we stand right now. In this scenario, I could see Cashman going out to acquire a mid-to-top of the rotation starter. The Yankees farm system has never been deeper and it shouldn’t come as a surprises to anyone if they decide to use that depth to acquire someone like Gerrit Cole, Johnny Cueto, or Jose Quintana. They could also address the bullpen if it continues to be a problem and explore options such as Brad Hand, Pat Neshek, or Bud Norris for a much cheaper cost. As far as upgrades at first base, a Tyler Austin call-up seems more likely than trading for a rental.
The Yankees run away with the division:
Obviously the most ideal scenario. If the Yankees catch fire again and find themselves with a sizable gap between them and second place, expect them to explore cheaper pitching options like Jason Vargas and Jeremy Hellickson, or look for them to upgrade from within. Chance Adams has looked phenomenal at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (5-2, 2.12 ERA) and Chad Green has looked exceptional out of the bullpen, however he may end up being too valuable in that role.
The Yankees fall out of first place into limbo:
If this trend of losing proves not to be a trend, we could find ourselves looking at a situation very similar to last year. At this point I think it’s safe to say the Yankees won’t fall into last place, but it is very possible that they find themselves four to six games out of first at some point. If this is the case (fingers crossed it won’t be) do not be surprised if the Yankees sell high on established players like Brett Gardner, Matt Holliday, or Michael Pineda. Also, as unpopular as it would be, they very well could trade Aaron Hicks. Hicks’ value has never been higher and he is a clear candidate for regression. With multiple prospects knocking on the door, this could be the Yankees’ solution to clearing a path for players such as Dustin Fowler, Clint Frazier, and Tyler Wade while staying competitive at the same time and adding even more depth to the farm system.
If the Yankees are playing winning baseball at the trade deadline, they most likely won’t sell any of their established players. If they are not playing winning baseball, they could sell high on a few guys to further load up on prospects and free up 40-man roster spots. The odds that they sell some high-profile prospects for an ace aren’t very high but they’re high enough that you should pay attention. Let’s just hope they get back to winning so this doesn’t have to be so complicated. Let us know what moves you think they should make in the comments.