We have entered the dog days of August, and for the first time, there are no more trades to look forward to. This is the first year of the single trade deadline, and that means the current Yankee roster is the one you’re going to see all year. With no trades made, Brian Cashman is betting on his current crop of players as the team pursues their 28th World Series title.
At the end of the day, it seems Cashman was never comfortable with the prices charged on the trade market. It was a tough deadline to assess – the cost of acquiring Marcus Stroman was far lower than I think anyone would have predicted, but conversely, the pieces sent in the Trevor Bauer deal were more than most thought.
Certainly the level of competition, just how many teams could make a case that they were playoff possibles, hurt the prospects of buyers this year. San Francisco and Arizona both had multiple pieces that would have made for good fits on the Yankees or other teams, but neither NL West side committed to selling fully.
Of the truly bad teams in MLB, only the Blue Jays sold off major assets, largely because teams like the Orioles and Marlins just don’t have anything worth trading – a major symptom of the stratification we see in baseball today. The other basement dweller with tradeable assets, the Tigers, set their price high on Matthew Boyd, though they did move Shane Greene.
The other serious question is just how the Yankees are viewing their prospect capital. Their farm system is ranked somewhere around the midpoint of baseball depending on the publication, with a couple of high-ceiling pieces in Deivi Garcia and Jasson Dominguez. One of them can’t be traded this year, and the other was widely considered untouchable. Cashman has had some success not trading the prospects he really likes – not sending Luis Severino in exchange for Cole Hamels comes to mind – but only time will tell if keeping Garcia was the right move. Indeed, the fact that Garcia’s unavailability was so widely telegraphed may have caused other teams to not even include the Yankees in discussions.
In fact, that cliché that “only time will tell” is going to be the story of this deadline. The Yankees already have one of the very best teams in baseball, with depth, power and a tremendous bullpen among their biggest assets heading into October. They have a 98.8% chance of making the playoffs, with a greater than 90% chance of winning their first AL East title since 2012. If the postseason started today, you’d figure the Yankees would at worst enter as the second favorite to win the AL pennant, behind the Astros, who of course made some major moves at the deadline themselves
The goal of the deadline for the Yankees was threefold: acquire a top-of-the-rotation starter, or a depth rotation piece, or shore up the bullpen. The name of the game was pitching, and they went 0-3 on that front. I think there’s a valid argument that a playoff rotation led by Domingo German, Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton is solid on paper, and if Luis Severino does come back to work out of the bullpen, that stacks up well against much of the American League, even if Houston still holds a pronounced starting pitching edge.
There is still the issue of the regular season, and the performance of the rotation can impact bullpen usage. We have a whole month to go before September roster expansion, and the rotation has been deteriorating at a pretty significant pace, while their workload has not really changed:
One of these things is unsustainable. Either the Yankee starters pitch better, or they won’t be asked to work so many innings. If it’s the former, that’s great for the team and justifies Cashman holding firm at the deadline. If it’s the latter, that presents a very real risk of burnout come playoff time as the relief corps will be asked to do more and more, and there’s still a full month before September reinforcements can eat those innings.
The trade deadline is over, and we have a pretty good idea what this Yankee squad will look like down the stretch, while making allowances that we’ll probably see another injury or two given how this season has progressed. The team is really good, but the front office has made a clear decision that they are good enough, and we’ll only know whether they were right or wrong come late October.