Trade season is heating up. For the second consecutive day, a major swap was consummated. A day after the Dodgers officially acquired Manny Machado from the Orioles, Cleveland sent top prospect Francisco Mejia to the Padres in exchange for a pair of relievers, Brad Hand and Adam Cimber.
The Yankees had expressed some interest in Hand, who is under cheap team control through 2020. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported today that the Padres actually asked for third baseman Miguel Andujar in exchange for Hand and were rebuffed. Andujar, who has posted a 114 OPS+ in the majors this year, seems like an aggressive request by San Diego, but a justified one based on the haul they eventually managed in Mejia.
Mejia is a catching prospect, and one of the game’s best. ESPN’s Keith Law just posted his updated midseason Top 50 list, and Mejia clocked in at fifth overall. He hit .455 in June after a shaky start to the season, and has a strong arm that could keep him behind the plate according to scouts. The Padres must be thrilled to add Mejia to an already strong farm system.
Cleveland felt comfortable dealing Mejia because they already have a pair of strong defensive backstops, Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes, and because their bullpen is their primary weakness. Both Hand and Cimber can help address that concern, now and in the future. Hand has a 2.66 ERA and 3.07 in 213.1 innings since 2016, while Cimber, a 27-year-old rookie with a funky delivery, has a 3.17 ERA and 2.33 FIP in 48.1 innings this year.
San Diego’s rebuild just added another key piece, while Cleveland dealt from strength to patch a hole in advance of the postseason. That’s the upshot for the teams involved. The trade also has major implications for the rest of the league, however, the Yankees included.
This deal takes another player the Yankees reportedly had interest in off the table. While starting pitching is the Yankees’ main concern, with a weak starter market, they seemingly have been exploring every avenue for improvement. That included possibly adding a star position player like Machado, or doubling down and adding another reliever to their great bullpen, such as Hand.
Hand is gone, so that’s one fewer avenue for the Yankees to pursue, but the price Cleveland paid for Hand is also telling. That the Padres were able to procure an elite prospect for a pair of relievers with control suggests that the price for long-term bullpen upgrades could be prohibitive for the Yankees.
It’s not that the Yankees can’t meet that price, but that it would be shocking if Brian Cashman decided the Yankees’ best prospects, like Justus Sheffield or Estevan Florial, or a starting position player like Andujar, were worth moving to add at a position of depth. If this is the price for relievers under team control, the Yankees would seem unlikely to dip into that particular market.
That would mean pitchers approaching free agency fit best as the Yankees’ primary targets. On the relief side, that includes Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, and the like. For starting pitchers, there’s the oft-mentioned J.A. Happ, Cole Hamels, and Tyson Ross, among others.
The Hand trade also has implications for the postseason race. The American League playoff picture is highly stratified: four teams are basically locks, while the Mariners and Athletics are battling for the second wild card. That Cleveland has moved with weeks to go before the deadline suggests that even teams that are nearly guaranteed a spot in the playoffs will still be looking to add.
The Yankees should expect the AL’s other big fish to try to upgrade before the deadline even though they are already sitting pretty. It would be no surprise if the Red Sox and Astros made improvements between now and the end of July, or even August, when the waiver trade deadline comes.
The pressure on the Yankees only increases. They are in a hole in the AL East, one they are surely desperate to climb out of. The teams around them, or even in front of them, are also adding. That only makes upgrades seem that much more vital.
The July 31st non-waiver trade deadline is drawing closer, and a few big names have already been scooped up. That doesn’t at all mean that the Yankees should be desperate; Cashman is still armed with a deep farm system and is surely weighing every option at his disposal. The pressure is just gradually increasing as other contenders improve and take pieces off the board. The Yankees have plenty of time, but the landscape is slowly shifting, and the stakes are rising.