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The Yankees shouldn’t sell at the trade deadline

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The Bombers just don’t have much of value to sell.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year again. The rumor mill starts to churn and folks all around baseball start dividing the 30 MLB clubs into “buyers” and “sellers”. The popular prognosticating has reached Pinstripe Alley, where every day more and more people are declaring themselves #TeamBuy or #TeamSell.

The latter movement in particular has gained momentum after the Yankees were able to restock the farm system with the Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman deals last year. Many people feel that the same course of action should be undertaken this season. There’s just one problem with Team Sell: there’s nothing to put up for sale.

The trade market, like any other market, works on the principle of supply and demand. Last season, selling proved so profitable for the Yankees because the asset they had in high supply - elite relief pitching - was the one in high demand in the market. This year, the Yankees have no supply of assets that the market demands.

For example, Jacoby Ellsbury is signed through 2020, with a club option in 2021. It is by far the worst contract on the roster. With a $21 million AAV and rapidly declining offensive skills, we all know what an albatross this deal has become.

Of course, the other 29 MLB front offices know that too, which eliminates any possibility of Ellsbury being dealt without the Yankees either retaining a huge amount of money, or dumping salary and including a significant prospect as incentive.

Ellsbury can probably be a two-win player going forward, at least while his defense holds up. At $8-9 million value per win, this means the Yankees would probably have to retain around $60 million as a starting point in trade negotiations. Add that to his full no-trade clause, and Ellsbury becomes nearly impossible to move.

Third base for the Yankees is, at best, complicated. Miguel Andujar has impressed with the bat in his time in the minors, but needs serious defensive work to be a full time third baseman. Gleyber Torres, of course, is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Even Todd Frazier, a rental player, was brought in to bolster the lineup. That leaves us with Chase Headley.

Despite what some people say, Headley is a perfectly serviceable MLB regular. He doesn’t do anything particularly well, but he maintains a roughly league average bat and slightly above-average defense for his career. There’s just not much demand in the trade market for league average.

A fair set of average players become free agents every year and cost the team that signs them just money. When a team can fill out a roster with a league-average player in free agency, it would be silly for them to accept a contract AND give up any prospect of value. The demand simply doesn’t exist.

Brett Gardner is a lot like Headley, a player who ranges from average to slightly above, but never becomes valuable enough to justify a trade splash. The two players were basically identical last season in terms of wRC+ and fWAR, and while Gardner’s been somewhat more valuable this season, he falls into a weird gap of players just not valuable enough to justify a trade.

One of the overlooked trades from last season was the Carlos Beltran deal. Beltran was the Yankees’ best hitter in the first half of 2016, and was sent to the Texas Rangers for an underwhelming package, especially when compared to the haul Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller fetched. Beltran was as valuable as Gardner is this season, but a better hitter by about 21%. With the premium placed on offense for an aging corner outfielder, a Beltran trade could be executed, but the return was lighter than we hoped.

Who else is there to sell? No team is touching Chapman’s contract, the Yankees aren’t trading Dellin Betances, and everyone else is too big a part of a possible playoff team to deal away. Selling just doesn’t work based on the market, and doesn’t work because the Yankees are still a possible playoff team.

The Yankees were well out of contention last season, but find themselves a favorite to make the playoffs in 2017. That’s whether you want to use BaseRuns, Pythagorean, playoff odds, or just straight-up comparing them to inferior teams like the Royals. It’s tough to sell in a season where you have a real chance at a playoff spot, because next year isn’t guaranteed.

There’s no guarantee Aaron Judge posts a 200 wRC+ ever again. Jordan Montgomery may not continue his excellent performance through to next season. There’s no proof that teams like Toronto and Baltimore will continue to struggle in 2018. The cards are turning up in the Yankees’ favor this season, and it doesn’t make sense to not take advantage of it.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not advocating for the Yankees to dump a Chris Sale type of package on some sort of “all-in” move. I’m conservatively in favor of buying, but the truth is the Yankees have two paths open: buy, or stand pat. Selling just doesn’t work in 2017.