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The consequences of flopping at the trade deadline

The Yankees are resigned to getting pennies on the dollar in a spree of waivers and releases.

Washington Nationals v. New York Yankees Photo by Katherine Woolson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

I actually wanted to start this post talking about Harrison Bader, placed on waivers Tuesday and informed of same by watching ESPN, but we’ll get to him in a moment. Right as I sat down to write this, though, the Yankees granted Spencer Howard his outright release from the roster, and after googling “Spencer Howard Yankees” to remind myself who this guy was, I realized he was one of two players the Yankees picked up at the trade deadline back in July.

Now, nobody is going to write about the legacy of Spencer Howard. He was a former top prospect with all of 115 innings in the majors across four seasons. The Yankees have a track record of churning out really talented relief pitchers, you take a flier on a guy who costs nothing, whatever. The Yankees paid nothing, but they also got nothing out of the arrangement, and that happens more than it really should.

Keynan Middleton has been OK in 12 innings, and is a free agent in a month. That’s all they did at the trade deadline, holding pat despite the team being in freefall all month.

It’s not hindsight to say the team should have sold on July 25th, it’s the logical conclusion to the trend the club was on. This gets even worse now that we’re at the part of the season where we’re giving players away for nothing. Some team is going to claim Harrison Bader, even as a postseason run bench piece, because he’ll cost you a fraction of the major league minimum. All the Yankees will receive is a slight bit of salary relief as they churn towards getting their payroll back into the first tier of CBT overages.

Roster Resource has the Yankees at $273 mil in payroll in 2023, which would put them $40 million over the $233 million cap, into the second tier of penalties. Shaving a couple hundred thousand dollars off might help alleviate those penalties, I get that.

Here’s the thing though — if you had traded Harrison Bader, a very obvious rental, you would have gotten some kind of prospect, even just a lottery ticket in return, and the salary relief would be greater! Every player the Yankees waive or release that gets picked up saves the team about a quarter million dollars, but trading Bader at the deadline would have netted $1,964,444 in savings. Even as they try to negotiate the best possible payroll situation, the Yankees aren’t able to thread the needle the right way.

And it all comes back to this fundamental problem the Yankees have as an org — they just don’t know how to evaluate their own positioning. They thought what the team needed was some high-risk veterans who they hoped would play to their historical level. They thought that Frankie Montas was a difference-maker on the mound — so make that two blown trade deadlines in a row (and only Anthony Rizzo worked out to some degree of their 2021 crop, too). They thought they were good enough on July 25th to not sell off the obvious pieces of the roster, and now they’re getting pennies on the dollar at best from players they’ve decided to cut.

Given that fundamental issue, that lack of self-awareness and then getting caught with their pants down over and over, gives me so little confidence that this can be fixed over the offseason. You have to know who you are before you can know where you need to go, and the fallout from July 25th’s impotence should tell us the Yankees don’t know either.