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The Yankees can still be players on the trade market

As they just demonstrated this past the weekend, a weakened farm system will not stop the Yankees from targeting veteran rentals via trade.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It might seem early for trade season to have begun, but the Yankees and Mariners apparently wanted to get the party started. In executing the Edwin Encarnacion trade, the two teams gave us a relatively early and shocking trade, with nary a rumor or buzz alerting us to the impending deal.

On other fronts, though, the rumors have flown fast and hard. With the Giants amidst another lost season, Madison Bumgarner’s name has inevitably wound up in trade conversations. The Yankees have been linked to Matt Boyd, the Tigers’ breakout left-handed starter. The division rival Blue Jays might part with right-handed starter Marcus Stroman. Before long, we’ll see some or all of these names on the move, along with dozens of others as next month’s trade deadline approaches.

With the Yankees’ farm system in something of a depressed state, at least compared to previous years when it profiled as one of the game’s best, you’d be forgiven for feeling as if the team might have a harder time making moves at the deadline than they have the past couple seasons. The system is weaker than it’s been in three or four years, and that means Brian Cashman has less ammo to work with in July.

Yet if the surprising acquisition of Encarnacion taught us anything, it’s that the Yankees still can fetch big-name talent on the trade market with ease. Sure, their lack of elite prospects means they might not have the capital to pursue the priciest trade targets, but the Yankees’ track record, this year and in years passed, indicates that they will have no problem turning their litany of lottery tickets on the farm into quality rentals on the trade market.

Look no further than last summer to see how the Yankees can turn some combination of minor-league talent into immediate major-league production. Consider the Zack Britton deal, which brought the Yankees a half-season of the high-end lefty reliever for pitching prospects Dillon Tate, Cody Carroll, and Josh Rogers. All three projected as fungible, low-probability right-handed arms, and the Yankees turned them into one of the most talented relief southpaws in baseball.

The Yankees also tapped Toronto for J.A. Happ last July, sending out Billy McKinney and Brandon Drury for a few months of the dependable lefty. Again, the Yankees paired a couple of players that projected perhaps as fringe major-leaguers for a rental, one that performed at a high level down the stretch.

We also mustn’t forget the move that brought Andrew McCutchen to the Bronx for one fun month at the end of the season. McCutchen cost Juan De Paula and Abiatal Avelino, a pair of near non-prospects, while McCutchen filled a hole in the Yankees’ outfield with aplomb, albeit for a short time.

And this year, the Yankees continued to mine the market for veterans on expiring deals, as they flipped teenage right-hander Juan Then for Encarnacion. Encarnacion can hit free agency after this season, presuming the team declines to pick up his $20 million option for 2020, making his acquisition yet another pure rental.

The kinds of deals the Yankees have made an obvious habit of consummating are the exact kinds of deals they still can target, even though their farm has taken a step back. Then ranked at the very bottom of MLB Pipeline’s Top-30 list of Yankees prospects, and he brought the Yankees an elite power bat. The Yankees’ have a demonstrated organizational knack for churning out prospects like, or better than, Then, so it follows that they’ll have no problem making similar deals to the one that sent out Then in the future.

Even if the Yankees want to make their finest prospects off-limits in deals for rentals, that still leaves a chunk of prospect capital available. Hard-throwing right-handers like Matt Sauer, Domingo Acevedo, Frank German, and Tanner Myatt rank in the bottom half of MLB Pipeline’s Yankees list. Talented but low-minor outfielders like Ryder Green, Anthony Garcia, and Raimfer Salinas do as well. There’s no reason to believe, based on the past deals the Yankees have pulled off, that they won’t be able to parlay some combination of such talent into a rental in the bigs.

Perhaps that will leave the Yankees on fringes of talks for players under long-term control, such as Boyd. In those cases, the Yankees would likely have to put their best prospects on the table in order get into the conversation. There’s no telling what Detroit might want for someone like Boyd, who is 28, under control for 3.5 seasons, and in possession of a 142 ERA+ this year, but the likes of Estevan Florial, Deivi Garcia, and Jonathan Loaisiga would probably need to be discussed.

Failing that, the Yankees will still be able to get to the table on the less pricey targets. Bumgarner, of course, can walk after 2019, and the Yankees surely will contact the Giants about him. Maybe they’ll discuss San Francisco’s rental relievers, Will Smith and Tony Watson. Perhaps they’ll target pitchers that can’t hit free agency until after 2020, like Stroman, or Alex Colome. Or maybe they’ll continue to throw caution to the wind and just acquire more rental power bats, like Justin Smoak or Nicholas Castellanos, holes in the pitching staff be damned.

Whatever their exact plans are, the Yankees will be involved in trade season. No matter that their farm system can’t reach the heights it did in 2017; the team has already shown that they can still play the role of active buyer, and it’d be a surprise if they didn’t reprise that role in the coming month.