The past month or so has been pretty eye-opening for me. The first half of this season had put the proverbial wool over my eyes in terms of what this year was supposed to mean for the New York Yankees. I had gone into April expecting growing pains, development, and to see and learn about some new faces- not to see the Yanks leading the AL East, and being at the top of many power ranking lists in the second week of June. I got excited, I started scouring the rosters of below-.500 teams, looking for potential fits to plug holes that the Yankees might have been able to fill via trade. Then, the rest of June happened and reality set in. I was reminded that this is not a team built for short term success, and shipping out young, talented, controllable prospects for veteran band aids is the wrong course for the Yankees at this point. Instead of buying at the deadline and hoping to compete with the help of a veteran rental or two, the team should continue its stated mission of getting younger, and building for a sustainable future. There are many reasons why this seems like the best tact for Brian Cashman and the front office to take, but I'll focus on two specific reasons that I see as the biggest indicators of why selling at the 2017 trade deadline would be the best move for the Yankees: first, the Yankees' current roster construction isn't built to take on short term assets at the expense of cheap, long term assets; and second, the holes that the Yankees need to fill are positions where available talent is either too expensive, not sufficient to give the team enough of a boost to truly compete for a shot at World Series in 2017, or a combination of both.
If you look at the Yankees 25-man roster right now, particularly at the starting pitching rotation, there aren't a ton of positions locked up for the long term. After 2017, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will be Free Agents, and the struggling Masahiro Tanaka has the ability to opt out of his contract. That leaves the team with only two starting pitchers who are de facto guaranteed roster spots. If the Yankees were to package prospects for a veteran rental, pitching prospects like Chance Adams or Justus Sheffield, who could both be impact MLB pitchers in the near future are likely to be part of such a package. Shipping off these type of controlled assets potentially leaves the Yankees without long term answers in the starting rotation. On the position player end, only Matt Holliday, the currently injured DH will be leaving the team after 2017. Most position players currently under contract, however, aren't necessarily viable long term solutions for the Yankees. Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley in particular are the two best examples of this. Both are aging, relatively ineffective players at premium positions who are blocking talented prospects from MLB playing time. Headley, and Ellsbury are the kind of players that the Yankees should be looking to unload to make way for the young, promising talent the team has cultivated as of late. Instead of trying to build around players like Headley and Ellsbury for other veterans, the Yankees would be better suited in trading those players for payroll flexibility and organizational depth like they did with Brian McCann, another expensive aging veteran blocking a younger player, last winter.
When even considering trading away prospects from their highly-regarded farm system, who would the Yankees trade them for? The team's most pressing short term needs are at first base, the bullpen, and in the starting rotation. In the first base department, the Yankees have been linked by various sources to Yonder Alonso of the Oakland A's, and Lucas Duda of the New York Mets. Alonso is having somewhat of a renaissance year, posting a .934 OPS, however, at 30 years old, its difficult to see his performance as more that an aberration when you consider that his career OPS is a much more pedestrian .744. You also have to consider that half way through the season, Alonso has amassed only 1.4 bWAR thus far in 2017. Combine that with the potential regression towards the mean Alonso is likely to experience as the season progresses, and the numbers suggest that he isn't likely to make much of an impact.
Unlike Alonso, the Mets' Lucas Duda is having a season that is more in line with his career averages. Duda is slashing .238/.351/.524 with 14 HR and 30 RBI. Duda actually has some potential to preform better than his numbers so far- he is a lefty who could take advantage of the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee stadium and might benefit from some more lineup protection in the Bronx than he is used to in Queens. However, despite his strong power numbers, Duda is somewhat of a unidimensional player and offers little more than the occasional extra-base hit. More than halfway through the season he has only accumulated 1.0 bWAR, suggesting that his impact is limited. The icing on the cake is that a deal between the Mets and the Yankees seems like a long shot without the Yankees paying a premium.
The rumored price tags on available starting pitchers should be enough to deter the Yankees from making a deal to acquire an impact starter at the deadline. CBS Sports and our own Pinstripe Alley reported that the White Sox won't negotiate a deal to send Jose Quintana to the Yankees unless Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier are on the table. When you consider that Quintana's ERA is currently sitting at 4.49, this seems ludicrous. The Oakland A's Sonny Gray is the other "front of the line" starting pitcher who's name has been floated in trade rumors. Despite his past two seasons of injury and ineffectiveness (5.69 ERA in 117 IP in 2016, 4.00 ERA in 78 IP in 2017), the price tag to acquire Gray is likely to be exorbitant as well.
With rotation pieces likely being out of reach, the Yankees could decide to attempt to upgrade their suddenly shaky bullpen. The Padres' Brad Hand is a name the Yankees have been linked to in trade rumors. Hand has been very effective in 2016 and 2017, with ERAs of 2.92 and 2.30 in those years respectively. Surely, it seems very likely that Hand would help solidify the back end of the Yankees bullpen but we also have to remember that it was two impact relievers that the Yankees sold last year to garner the lion's share of their heralded prospect return. We shouldn't underestimate what it might cost in terms of talent to acquire someone like Hand. We should also remember that a stout backend of the bullpen as a primary strength of the team hasn't in itself been enough in the past two years for the Yankees to seriously contend for a title shot. Thus, the cost vs. benefit of upgrading the bullpen via midseason trade seems insufficient to argue for a "buy" move this year.
The Yankees have spent so much time and effort building for the future that trading away that effort for an underwhelming band aid in 2017 doesn't make any sense. Any substantial prospect the team trades this July is a potential hole in the roster going forward, and the way the team has collapsed over the past month does not suggest that any realistically available player on the trade market is worth the Yankees mortgaging their future for.