We’re entering trade rumors season in full effect, with daily reports of just who the Yankees might be interested in a month before the August 2nd deadline. The Yankees sport the best record in baseball, albeit with a roster that is often a little top-heavy, rather than the endless depth we’ve seen from other superteams like the Dodgers in this era. Brian Cashman has never been shy about adding at the deadline, and I think his approach to this season largely revolves around three questions.
What do you get the team that has (almost) everything?
The Yankees have the most wins in baseball, the most Pythag wins, are tied for the most Base Runs wins, projected to have the third-most wins in the remaining games this season, and have the best offense and best pitching staff in baseball. Whew. Even with an imperfect roster, they’ve run roughshod over the rest of baseball, recently going 9-4 in four series against likely playoff contenders — Tampa, Toronto, and Houston.
They’ve got the AL MVP frontrunner, two of the five or so best relievers in the league, and even in spots like shortstop, where offense has been at best unreliable, have dedicated themselves to a glove-first strategy that seems to be working out. Even the catching position that looked unreliable on Opening Day has looked a lot better with Jose Trevino putting together a surprising All-Star-caliber first half. There are no major changes needed with this roster, and any additions would likely be around the margins.
Combine that with the rental market being somewhat underwhelming — there are only three or four guys likely to be on trade boards under the age of 30 — and it seems like depth is the order of the day. Indeed, the best use of a deadline pickup may be to give some half-days off to the lineup regulars or hedge against Michael King or Luis Severino’s usage, as the club prepares for its best shot at a World Series yet.
What is the pitching plan?
As noted right above, Severino is almost certainly on some kind of innings limit in his first full season since 2018, Nestor Cortes will have exceeded his career-high in IP by the All Star break — and perhaps has shown some cracks in his stellar arsenal, giving up six home runs in his last four starts — and both Clay Holmes and Michael King are projected to blow past their previous usage marks as well.
The Yankees have been among, if not the overall leader in pitching development over the past two years, and I trust them to have a good idea about what their guys can handle in terms of pitch and inning counts. Still, if the overall plan is to give some bullpen innings to Sevy, or reduce the number of times Holmes is used to keep both fresh for October, someone else has to pick up those outings.
Maybe that’s a case for more JP Sears or the three W’s in the minors; Ken Waldichuk, for example, has looked quite sharp since his promotion to Triple-A Scranton. Maybe the returning Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Loáisiga can pick up some of the slack, and Domingo Germán might still have a role to play as well. But adding a true swingman or other bullpen depth pieces is probably the likely move to shift some of the injury and exhaustion risk off a stellar pitching unit.
How do you solve a problem like Joey Gallo?
If there’s been one consistent flaw in this team, its been that too often the bottom third of the lineup gives you absolutely nothing at the plate. Again, Trevino has been a revelation, but the team clearly wants to at least play Kyle Higashioka at least every few games or so (they only recently changed from a near-equal split). It’s worked out so far, I don’t think you can talk about the strength of the team’s pitching without crediting the fine work behind the plate, but the team still needs some runs from the back half of the lineup.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa hasn’t really been what any of us wanted defensively, and his bat has been exactly as bad as advertised. Still, with the way the Yankees were content to sit out the free agent shortstop market over the winter, I can’t see them doing anything on the trade market. Even if IKF’s finger injury from this past weekend is a long-term problem, Marwin Gonzalez or perhaps prospect Oswald Peraza can take over the spot.
And then there’s the outfield. Every time we think that Joey Gallo is on the cusp of breaking out, he goes 1-for-15 with 12 K’s and kicks down that optimism. Aaron Hicks hasn’t been very good either, but if we assume his role on this club is a true fourth outfielder, then we can get by. Joey Gallo is not supposed to be a fourth outfielder.
Building on that, Ian Happ and Andrew Benintendi, both among the likely candidates to be dealt by August, both play left field and are both having much better seasons than Gallo. Joey’s contract status is the tough nut here — as a free agent this winter, it doesn’t make much sense for any team to pick him up. A contender in need of a corner bat, like the Blue Jays, might as well just try for Benintendi himself. A non-contender has no use for two months of Gallo, even if he’s able to bounce back to Texas-levels of production.
There is a 6-foot-5, 250-pound hole in any plan to shore up the corner outfield spot, doubly complicated by the Yankees’ rotational use of the DH. Even though this is the part of the lineup where an improvement might be the easiest acquisition, Gallo’s status on the club might nix any attempt at a league-average outfielder.