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It’s time for the Yankees to retool for 2022

Call it waving an ecru flag.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

This is a tough post to write, since I’ve been such a loud advocate for buying before Friday’s trade deadline. I’ve talked about getting Trevor Story, Max Scherzer, or Joey Gallo, committing to the 2021 club, and getting this team into the playoffs. I no longer think they should do that. Losing three of four to the Red Sox over the weekend, while the Rays won three of four over Cleveland after adding one of the five or so best pure hitters in baseball ... I just don’t see the Yankees making a run any more competitive than being the road team in the Wild Card Game.

Ergo, it’s time to look at retooling this team for the 2022 season. I’m picking my words carefully — I don’t think this is a team that needs to be torn down to the studs. I think there are particular valuable elements that can be dealt away while keeping the primary core of a competitive roster intact, and those elements can bring a return that keeps the Yankees in the playoff picture next year.

We start, as trade proposals often do, with the bullpen. I don’t think you get much of anything back for Aroldis Chapman or Zack Britton, and Jonathan Loiasiga is too valuable, and too important to the 2022 roster, to dangle him. Thus, our analysis has to start with Chad Green. The veteran reliever is having a great season, his best since 2018, and crucial to his value proposition, is under team control for one more season after 2021.

The veteran reliever on an expiring contact is the classic deadline acquisition — get a guy having a good year, leverage the extra off-days in the postseason to use him more than you normally would, get outs in October, and then you let that player walk. But if you have that player under contract for another season, and you know that he can handle the workload of October, he becomes much more valuable. That’s how the Yankees got a haul for Andrew Miller in 2016, and while Green is probably not at that level, it’s worth considering.

Luis Cessa is a similar kind of player. He’s having the best season of his life — by ERA at least, he’s been better than Green! And like Green, an acquiring team gets multiple kicks at the can with Cessa, as he’s not a free agent until 2024. So in trading for Green, you get a little more of a known quantity, with better strikeout numbers, and you get two playoff runs. With Cessa, you have a little more uncertainty, but that’s priced against the extra year of control. Probably similar returns although I could see a team that has a high payroll, like the Dodgers, valuing Cessa a bit more because of that extra year of fairly cheap control.

And the nice bonus about trading relievers is how fungible they are. Loaisiga and Cessa are perfect examples of this. Deivi García, Luis Medina, Luis Gil, Clarke Schmidt, even Domingo Germán, could all step up and be bullpen pieces in 2022 — admittedly, for Germán that might be a step down, and conditional on Luis Severino’s return. Because of this fungibility, the Yankees can prioritize the best possible return, rather than being constrained by proximity to the majors. If the top return is a Triple-A prospect, great — they can be helpful in 2022. If the best return is still in A-ball, great — the Yankees can likely count on in-house arms to replace the innings and outs that the traded relievers would have been asked to get.

The third piece to a potential retool is the riskiest and most controversial, and it’s Gary Sánchez. I’ve proudly led the Gary Brigade — I’ve defended him when he’s played poorly, trumpeted him when he’s played well, and just overall, he represents to me a re-energized state of my Yankee fandom, where his debut really coincided with me getting back to being a serious fan of Yankee baseball after a couple seasons of, well, 2013-2015 Yankee baseball.

But let’s not talk like fans. Sánchez is a free agent next year. He is ... mercurial, to be the most charitable. It’s unlikely that the Yankees extend him to any major deals because of the error bars around his projections, and the general leaguewide disinterest in extending catchers to major deals. Yes, J.T. Realmuto got more than $100 million from the Phillies, but Yasmani Grandal, who’s been arguably as good if not better over the past five seasons or so, had to settle with the White Sox for $73 million.

We always knew that tough decisions were going to have to be made around Sánchez, especially with Aaron Judge becoming a free agent at the same time (and that’s to say nothing of Gleyber Torres’ arbitration raises). Sánchez is also in the middle of a legitimately good season, hitting as well as Realmuto and having an overall better year than Salvador Perez. This probably represents the last real chance to leverage that good performance on the trade market.

What a Sánchez deal looks like, I have no idea. It’s complicated by the uncertainty of his 2022 numbers — his ZiPS projections for that season have him at a .759 OPS, but he’s significantly outperforming that figure right now. It’s complicated by the Yankees’ catching situation — Rob Brantly is terrible, and Kyle Higashioka is not a 162-game starter. Although Donny Sands is off to a good start in Triple-A, his defense needs work and scouts don’t seem to be terribly impressed with him anyway. Austin Wells, Anthony Seigler, and Josh Breaux are better prospects in the lower minors, but no one really jumps off the page as The Obvious Replacement.

Still, Gary’s potential, and hell, even his actual 2021 performance, probably command the highest pure return of the three guys we’re talking about. Adding a 120 wRC+ catcher just isn’t something that teams can normally do in-season, or without ponying up in free agency. Like we’ve said multiple times in this post, getting that type of player for two postseason runs means even more. There are discounts because of uncertainty and the Yankee catching situation, but if you’re like me and don’t think he’s going to be on this team in April 2023 — this is his peak value.

Overall, I don’t expect any actual moves from the Yankees this year. I think Friday will come and go and the roster will be the same. I’ve very confident that the team will use COVID-19 as a handy crutch, that they could have made a real run had it not been for the outbreaks, so no sense in making major changes to the team. But I think the roster has real flaws, and will continue to have those flaws in the offseason. Small, targeted, calculated moves can make the Yankees better in 2022 and beyond, while being realistic about the team’s 33-percent chance of making the postseason.