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The Yankees’ trade deadline was driven by pragmatism

The Yankees didn’t have a flashy deadline, but they made meaningful improvements nonetheless.

New York Yankees Introduce Aaron Boone As Manager Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Yankees entered trade season with seemingly boundless opportunities. The market had an elite position player talent in Manny Machado. With the Mets imploding, there were whispers that perhaps Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard could be had. Chris Archer’s name persisted in trade rumors, as it always has, to go along with a litany of interesting rental options.

In the end, though, the Yankees didn’t do anything explosive. They bowed out of the Machado sweepstakes quietly. The Mets, ever confounding, decided to hardly sell at all, taking several of the most interesting starting pitching options off the table. The Rays finally moved Archer after years of speculation, but the price the Pirates paid proved rather high.

Instead, GM Brian Cashman played the game sensibly. The Yankees didn’t force anything, like trading for the best player available, Machado, even though he didn’t fit on the current roster. They didn’t throw up their hands when the Mets refused to listen on their aces. They pivoted smartly, made moves on the margins, moves that, while mostly unexciting, left the team in a better position without sacrificing much of substance.

In a more perfect world (from the perspective of a Yankee fan, at least), the trade market would have suited the Yankees’ needs better. The Yankees, more than anything, could have used a rental ace. They had a glaring hole in the starting rotation, and typically, the market features at least one premier starter. This year was strange, in that the starting rental options were underwhelming. Cole Hamels, Tyson Ross, Nathan Eovaldi, the names were simply uninspiring.

J.A. Happ was the primary fall-back option once it became clear a player like deGrom wasn’t attainable. He has quietly established himself as one the AL’s most dependable mid-rotation starters, and probably improves the Yankees’ baseline by about a win or more the rest of the way.

The logic behind the deal for Zach Britton was similar. Without any obvious way to build a super rotation, Cashman set his sights on the next best thing: a super bullpen. Trading for pitching down the stretch has two-fold benefits: for one, adding a pitcher replaces the innings that would have come from the roster’s worst pitchers, in this case, erstwhile Yankee relievers like Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos.

Secondly, pitching can be leveraged in the playoffs in a way that position players can’t be. Manager Aaron Boone can’t ensure that Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are at the plate for every important at-bat in a playoff series. With the addition of Britton, however, he can make sure that every high leverage inning is tackled by someone with a closer’s pedigree. Cashman has made it clear he believes you really can build the whole plane out of lights-out relievers.

The Yankees, of course, made their initial moves well before the deadline, and were relatively quiet as deadline day approached. Their final moves, trimming the 40-man roster in exchange for international money, adding Lance Lynn for rotation depth (read: Sonny Gray disaster insurance), seemed a little odd at the time but already appear to have been reasonable. Lynn will take Gray’s spot in the rotation, and the international money immediately helped bring in quality prospects.

The whole process smacked of pragmatism, and reminded of a recent deadline approach the Yankees used back in 2014. The Yankees weren’t nearly as good in 2014, but were still in a wild-card race. Cashman, recognizing the state of the team, made a series of not flashy but effective moves to improve the roster on the margins, filling in the team with rentals like Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley, to go along with utility man Martin Prado.

This deadline matched up well with that 2014 deadline, as opposed to more recent deadlines, such as last year, when the team decided to buy big on players with team control, or 2016, when they famously sold. This trade season didn’t feature any blockbusters for the Yankees like the Gray deal, or the Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller trades, mostly because it simply couldn’t. Cashman worked within that framework and still emerged with a team that should win more games and is better equipped for October.

It’s okay to feel underwhelmed by it all. After making huge moves at each of the past two deadlines, after adding Stanton last winter, making a few decent rental pickups is something of a letdown. The Yankees’ strategy can be both smart and a little disappointing.

Regardless, the team should win a few more games in the final months than they would have previously, and they didn’t sacrifice anything close to their best prospects to do so. The team is both in a position to fight for the World Series this year, and their powder is still dry to keep adding in the future. There’s nothing sexy about an eminently reasonable deadline, but it will do for now.