Once the All-Star Break comes to an end, the focus around MLB shifts over to the trade deadline. Over the three weeks leading to July 31st, organizations will have a better understanding of whether they are sellers or buyers. Clear sellers might not trade every single one of their productive players, though that hasn’t teams from entertaining the idea. What’s most definitive is that buyers will do whatever they can to cover weaknesses they feel might hinder their chances to make the playoffs or their postseason success.
Injuries have been a major part of the Yankees season, so far and it only makes sense they will affect their trade targets as we near the deadline. With Luis Severino and Dellin Betances both sidelined since the beginning of the season, the one positive is their expected returns are still estimated to be during the season, despite their numerous setbacks. No matter how talented both of them are, safety precautions have to be set considering the amount of time they have missed. The Yankees simply can’t afford to assume Severino and Betances will be at the top of their game when the goal this year is a World Series championship.
The Yankees have been shopping starting rotation arms, but over the last two seasons, we’ve seen them make big bullpen acquisitions right before the deadline. In 2017, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle were brought over from Chicago, and last season Zack Britton joined the Yankees in July. Currently, the Yankees bullpen ranks second with a WAR of 4.1 per Fangraphs, but we can’t ignore their recent history of adding relievers especially, with Betances still on the injured list. Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino, and Tommy Kahnle have all been great, but one more can’t hurt.
With that said, Will Smith from the Francisco Giants looks like a possible candidate the Yankees could add to bolster the bullpen if they decide to go that route once again. Since returning from Tommy John surgery in May 2018, Smith has been one of the best relievers in the majors, tied for sixth place with Chapman in WAR. What’s even more impressive, after having a breakout 2018 season with the Giants, Smith has managed to improve even further in 2019. His 12.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 rates in 51 innings last season have gotten even better this year, in the form of a 13.50 K/9 and 2.04 BB/9 in 35.1 innings.
Smith’s success has been heavily aided by a dominant slider, which currently owns an .108 expected batting average and .156 expected slugging per Statcast. Compared to the rest of the league, his slider ranks third in both his xBA and xSLG, while his xwOBA of .112 is first place overall. Considering his slider is his secondary pitch, Smith’s fourseam fastball is just as important. Fortunately, his fastball has also shown signs of improvement, increasing in whiff percentage from 17.8 to 26.2 this season. At an average velocity of 92.8 mph, his four-seamer isn’t the most overpowering pitch, but it has allowed him to create some deception and separation from the rest of his repertoire, as the average velocity of his slider is 81.6 mph.
If the Yankees don’t acquire one of the top rotation trade targets in Trevor Bauer, Madison Bumgarner, or Marcus Stroman, providing length to the bullpen could be their secondary plan. Adding one of the best relievers in baseball to a Yankees bullpen currently ranked second in league would give any starting pitcher a short leash come the postseason. One can easily think back to Luis Severino during the 2017 Wild Card game, as the Yankees’ ability to consistently bring quality arms out of the bullpen helped them keep the game close as the offense roared to life. Any advantage Brain Cashman can find is welcomed, and if he finds Will Smith, you can expect late innings to go the Yankees’ way.