As the calendar has turned to June, sportswriters, Yankees fans, and bloggers alike have speculated about the Yankees’ ability to fill holes at the trade deadline. Just in the last week here at Pinstripe Alley, Josh has talked about the Yankees’ need for a center fielder, Dan reminded everyone that prospect-hugging should not prevent a deal, and Tom emphasized how the Yankees have tied their own hands both with their adherence to the luxury tax and their repeated refusal to trade assets at the height of their value. Discussions in the comment section and on Twitter have likewise focused on who the Yankees can acquire to fill out the roster.
All of these takes are accurate, but in my opinion, they’re also a bit premature. Before you start looking at what to pursue on the trade market, you need to decide whether or not you should even be looking to bring in reinforcements. Unless things change, the answer for the 2021 Yankees is simple: absolutely not.
Like the other writers here at PSA, I try not to get too emotional in my writing, preferring to lean on analytics to drive my work. But let me first appeal to the former — does this club feel like a playoff team to you? It sure doesn’t to me, not with a lineup that is scoring fewer runs per game than the 2013 squad (3.69 vs. 4.01) that had Jayson Nix bat second on 21 occasions!
Thanks to recent hot streaks by Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela — they have wRC+ of 199 and 162 in the month of June, respectively — the Yankees currently have four starters with a wRC+ above 100 (Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are the other two). Even that figure is misleading, though: Torres got out to a dreadful start, Urshela has been streaky in the first two months, and a large portion of Stanton’s production came in and around his 12-game hitting streak. Judge has been the only member of the lineup even remotely consistent, and even he struggled for a stretch at the end of April. The rest of the lineup, meanwhile, has been consistently below average, and it is the combination of these two trends that has made this team resemble the 2013 squad in terms of offensive futility.
The 2013 squad, if you recall, was desperate for production out of anyone not named Robinson Canó. Thus, they made a major trade at the deadline, acquiring Alfonso Soriano from the Chicago Cubs, in addition to receiving the injured Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez back from what was then called the disabled list. Those reinforcements were decisive upgrades — A-Rod’s 131 wRC+ was a 60-point improvement over Nix, Soriano’s 114 was a 43-point improvement over Vernon Wells in left field, and Granderson’s 99 was a decisive improvement over not only Wells in left, but also Ichiro’s 72 in right field and Travis Hafner’s 87 as a DH.
Those reinforcements, however, were not enough. From the beginning of the season to the trade deadline, the 2013 Yankees’ wRC+ was 83; following the deadline, the reinforced offense put up a robust ... 93 wRC+. While definitely improved, there was simply too much dead weight to drag the pile of garbage that was the 2013 lineup into respectability, and that resulted in the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
It’s true that the 2021 Yankees have demonstrated a higher floor than the 2013 squad, with a 94 wRC+ going into action last night. A 10-point improvement, similar to what the 2013 team witnessed, would thus put this squad at a 104 wRC+, good for 11th in the league. That upgrade, however, would still leave the Yankees as the fourth-best offense in the division, behind Toronto, Boston, and Tampa Bay. So long as the pitching remains at its current level — one of the best in the American League, if not the best — then this might be enough to turn the Yankees into serious contenders. But that’s a big if, and frankly, not an assumption that we should be working on.
At the end of the day, the Yankees need more from the guys already on their roster — DJ LeMahieu, Clint Frazier, and Miguel Andújar, among others. They need some level of consistency from their big bats like Stanton, Torres, and Urshela. Most importantly, they need to find a way to score more than two runs on a consistent basis.
Because if these things don’t happen, there’s no reason for the front office to be aggressive at the trade deadline; the team simply wouldn’t deserve it.