As the trade deadline approaches, most of our attention has been focused on outside the Yankees organization — which players are available on the trade market, what sorts of packages will they require, what trades are most likely to happen. This is understandable, as a trade deadline acquisition can be the difference between a parade down the Canyon of Heroes or a winter full of sadness and miser.
The Yankees, with a lineup of savages and a not-spectacular-but-quietly-solid pitching staff, already have a team that rivals the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers among the league’s best all-around. But not all members of their core are equal. Which players form the team’s center, and would set the team back the furthest if they caught the injury bug?
Aroldis Chapman/Zack Britton/Tommy Kahnle/Adam Ottavino
The top of the Yankees bullpen has been nothing short of phenomenal this season, and arguably all four of these guys deserved a trip to Cleveland at the beginning of the month. After them, however, the bullpen has been filled with a series of question marks like David Hale and Luis Cessa. These question marks have performed quite admirably, mind you, but they are simply not on the level of these four. Should any of them go down, Hale and Cessa will see more high leverage innings, opening up the possibility of them getting exposed and blowing games.
Chad Green’s resurgence — he’s given up only 2 runs since May — and the possible return of Dellin Betances in the next month or so mitigate this concern somewhat. The Yankees still need to hold their breath that their vaunted bullpen remains intact over the final two months of the season.
Perhaps it is a bit derivative to say that the player that both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference cite as the most valuable Yankee by WAR (3.8, 4.4 respectively) is among the most indispensable. Good players are by definition indispensable. But when you look at the Yankees roster construction a bit, you realize that LeMahieu brings two things to the table that nobody else does: consistency and flexibility.
It has become almost a running joke on the YES broadcasts that “The Machine” has been, in all circumstances, the model of consistency. His OPS against righties is .883, against lefties, .998; at home, .993, and on the road, .886; against power pitchers, .852, and against finesse pitchers, .929. No matter what splits you take, LeMahieu has been productive — and in a lineup that relies on streaky hitters such as Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, and (when healthy) Giancarlo Stanton, his consistency helps raise the lineup’s floor.
Additionally, LeMahieu’s ability to play anywhere in the infield has allowed manager Aaron Boone to continue giving regular at-bats to the hot-hitting Gio Urshela and allowed Gleyber Torres, Didi Gregorius, Luke Voit, and Edwin Encarnacion regular rest. While many fans seem to bemoan all these days off, keeping players fresh and healthy when you can pays off dividends in October, as players will have less wear and tear on their bodies.
Don’t look now, but the Yankees actually have a decent amount of outfield depth, even with Giancarlo Stanton,
Jacoby Ellsbury , and Cameron Maybin on the IL. Mike Tauchman has quietly posted a 117 OPS+ in 147 plate appearances while providing above-average defense at all three outfield positions. Although his defense needs more work than the MTA to be serviceable, Clint Frazier’s bat definitely belongs in the Bronx. The team has more than withstood the injuries to Stanton, and would likely be able to weather injuries to either Brett Gardner or Aaron Hicks, especially once Maybin completes his rehab assignment.
Aaron Judge, however, does not fit the category of “replaceable,” even though the team has spent half the season so far with him on the shelf. In 44 games this season, he has hit 11 home runs and posted a .301/.435/.542 slash, good for a 158 OPS+, all while playing solid defense in right and throwing out four runners on the basepaths. The heart and soul of the Yankees does it all on the field, and if he had played the entire season, would be on track for a 10-win year.
Perhaps Frazier could make up for his offense in short bursts, and Tauchman would certainly provide above-average defense in right. Neither could replicate the “other” half of Judge’s game with any consistency, and it is his talent at bat and in the field that makes him as valuable as he is.
It is undeniably true that the two-time All-Star has been in a funk since injuring his thumb in the London Series, and despite the team’s claims to the contrary, these two things may be related. The why, however, does not matter. The Yankees need the Kraken to be at full speed down the stretch — especially now that he has suffered another groin injury.
The difference in value added between Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine is greater than any difference in value between any starter and his replacement on the Yankees roster. This is in part due to Brian Cashman’s roster design motto of “redundancy, redundancy, and redundancy.” He likes to stockpile, for example, four starting outfielders for three starting spots, and five starting infielders for four starting spots. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the catcher position, this is impossible, as there are simply not enough catchers to go around to have two starting catchers.
Gary Sanchez is also simply that much better than Austin Romine. Let’s start off by talking about their defense, the spot where many say that Romine greatly surpasses Sanchez. Defensively, there are four main things that people talk about: stolen bases, pitch framing, passed balls and how well a catcher handles his pitching staff.
It is beyond the scope of this article to dive into a detailed comparison between these two, defensively, but they are mostly a wash. Sanchez is much better at stopping stolen bases (1.95 second pop time vs. 2.04, 87.9 mph arm vs. 81.9 mph) and Romine is slightly better at pitch framing (0 runs strikes added vs. -3). When it comes to passed balls, they have been about the same, each generating between 10 and 11 passed balls every 1000 innings.
Offensively, these two catchers are not even in the same stratosphere. Even factoring in his recent slide, Sanchez has been at the top of the league in barrel percentage, exit velocity, xSLG, and xWBACON, while Romine has been embroiled in his worst season since the beginning of the Statcast era.
Make no mistake — the Yankees need Sanchez healthy and productive down the stretch.