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Can the Yankees sell at the deadline even if they want to?

The ship hasn’t been pointed in the right direction in weeks. The team is more than a move or two away from being fixed. But is folding even a viable option?

2019 ALCS Game 4 - Houston Astros v. New York Yankees Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Yankees have been rudderless ever since Aaron Judge broke his toe in early June running into the Dodger Stadium bullpen wall, but there were cracks in the hull long before then. After making only a single addition to the starting lineup that bombed out of the second half and the postseason in 2022 (and that change being forced by an electric spring training performance that wasn’t guaranteed to happen), New York is once again being buried under the weight of their inconsistent offense. Add onto that a starting rotation that has seen its members fall to injuries far too often and a bullpen that has begun to sink after being asked to carry too much of the burden, and you’ve got the recipe for a team with big expectations sitting in last place in their hyper-competitive division.

Of course, none of this is news. This has been the story of this team for most of the past two months, but it has only been exacerbated of late. A four-day break to get a much needed physical and mental reset and a new hitting coach brought in from the outside after the former coach got the axe for the lineup’s continued failures only brought more of the same in their first series back: a disappointing loss to a (fellow) last-place team in Colorado. This means that in the month of July, the Yankees have a split with the Orioles as their lone highlight overshadowed by series losses to these Rockies (36-58), the Cubs (43-49), and the Cardinals (40-53). To top it off, their results within the AL East have been relatively poor, with a 13-17 overall record against the four teams that they have to fight tooth and nail before even considering the handful of other teams within reach of a Wild Card berth.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that this is a mediocre team that could go either way in the standings. GM Brian Cashman has gone on the record as saying that the Yankees would like to add a bat on top of scouring the market for more pitching, which makes sense considering the Yankees want to be in the hunt, but looking at the play on the field shows a team that needs more than a move or two to even get in the hunt, much less feel like a contender.

MLB: New York Yankees at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, New York is counting on Judge to return, and maybe he’ll even be back sooner rather than later, but the team has its hands full until then and we’ve seen how it went when the Captain had to put the team on his back for the entire second half last year. It just feels like the Yankees have made a hole too big for themselves to fix in one fell swoop, but then what is the direction going forward — can the Yankees actually be sellers?

Well, it’s complicated there too. It turns out when most of your lineup is underperforming, trying to then spin those guys off to buyers doesn’t go well. Think of it this way: If you were a trade deadline buyer, would you truly want to drop prospects for any of these guys?

There was talk all offseason of trading Donaldson, and while he was here Aaron Hicks, but that was to no avail. Now Hicks is gone and Donaldson only looks worse, so that avenue is assuredly cut off. You’re not trading any of the major pieces like Judge or Gerrit Cole — not without opening up a full-on rebuild, and that’s never going to be accepted. Anthony Volpe has found his stride after a rough couple of months, and should only be considered in a blockbuster-type of deal that would be geared towards going all-in rather than resetting. So who can be marketed? There’s a few names, though the return won’t be great for most.

In terms of contract and playing ability, the one Yankee who lines up somewhat well in these talks is Harrison Bader. He showcased his skills immensely in the postseason, and has played a sterling center field for New York when healthy. That last bit is crucial though, as he’s only played in 46 games and it took until the very end of last year before we even saw him suit up after acquiring him at the deadline. That’s a risk that’s going to negatively impact any return the Yankees could get, but given that injury history, it would be a risky move to extend him beyond this year. If they’re not going to add significant pieces to the team, flipping Bader would be one of the more reasonable moves to make.

Plenty of fans have drummed up Gleyber Torres’ name in these conversations. In a short-term perspective, it would appear that he’s the best player that the Yankees could offer that would incentivize a decent return and also not drastically damage the championship window, thanks to the talent right behind him in Oswald Peraza. But selling Torres has its flaws. First and foremost, trading him away would indicate that this year is done and over with — he’s one of the few bats that is actually consistent, and while his defensive miscues can be painful, he more than outpaces the rest of the non-Judge lineup in terms of production.

There’s still plenty to like in Gleyber Torres’ Statcast data.

Second, Gleyber is not a pure rental — he does have another year of control, so the Yankees would be potentially giving up a valuable member of the 2024 team. Someone would have to come in with a strong offer, likely making a swap of major league talent, for it to make sense. It’s not inconceivable, as the Yankees surrendered Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela with control remaining not that long ago, but it’s not like they’re going to get a talent at the level of 2016 Gleyber Torres in return.

The prospects of finding an enticing deal only goes down from there. Perhaps dealing from the bullpen would be appealing, considering the Yankees have made it an organizational strength to identify potential arms on the market and grab them for cheap while developing long-term answers on the farm. Wandy Peralta has gotten results, but his 4.77 FIP indicates that he’s been fortunate not to have blown more situations than he has. He’s fallen a bit out of the inner circle with the resurgence of Clay Holmes and Tommy Kahnle, so maybe a pitching-needy team asks around for a steady lefty reliever.

The catching situation has deteriorated drastically from last year, and Jose Trevino is looking more and more like a one-half wonder. He’s been splitting time fairly evenly with Kyle Higashioka for the past few months, and Higashioka has vastly outperformed him offensively, which is saying something. Trevino has been on the bench for two of the games out of the break, and they have Ben Rortvedt sitting down in the minors, so perhaps Cashman could check in to see if teams would be interested in his defensive capabilities and gamble on restoring some of what made his 2022 run so electric.

I could go on, but the returns would continue to get so paltry that they aren’t worth mentioning. No contending team’s GM is going to want to touch half of the Yankees lineup with the long-term issues that they’ve showcased, whether that be Donaldson, DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo, or whoever you want to pick out of the left field hat. Giancarlo Stanton could be the lone member of the struggling veteran mix to pick his season up, but his extensive injury history and contract situation make a trade highly unlikely as well.

The 2023 Yankees are a team that was left in neutral. They made a solid signing in adding Carlos Rodón, and seemingly forgot that there was the rest of the offseason to make other moves, and now they’re paying the price for letting other teams get ahead of them. As awkward of a position that they’re in, there’s no truly favorable way forward — hitting the reset button isn’t going to get them much, and making a few choice additions doesn’t close the gap. The only answer we have with a few weeks left until the deadline is that they can’t afford to do nothing.