Yesterday's acquisition of Dustin Ackley was likely more about potential upside than a move for immediate convenience. The Yankees had a opportunity to land a former second overall pick, a player who has struggled this season but who five years ago was a borderline top-10 prospect in the game. As Nick pointed out yesterday, the two players going the other way were expendable, even if Ramon Flores made a positive impression in his time here and Jose Ramirez is a tale of yet-unfulfilled promise himself. Neither player looked a long-term fit on the Yankee roster. Perhaps Ackley won't be either, but there is a chance he could be. Brian Cashman has been pursuing him for a while now, the organisation must see some promise in him.
The trade-off for this upside and potential improvement on Flores, in addition to the loss of Ramirez, is roster flexibility. Ackley is out of options and has to be carried at the major league level, which means the Yankees will need to move someone. No move announced at time of writing, a likely candidate if they want to remain at 12 pitchers would appear to be Garrett Jones. Jones may not be a major loss either, he hasn't been terrific for the Yankees, with a 67 wRC+ and is a below average defender at both first base and the outfield.
Still, as a midseason acquisition, for a first place team, the team must see Ackley as providing some form of upgrade in the short-term. Joe Girardi spoke about the ability of Ackley to play five positions - all three outfield spots, his original position of second base as well as first base where needed. Certainly that versatility is valuable in the era of short benches, and while Ackley has struggled early in this year he was a near-average hitter as recently as 2014. He's not Ben Zobrist, but he's a versatile bench player who might provide something with the bat. The power and strikeout-to-walk ratio is essentially the same this year as it was last year, the 77 wRC+ so far in 2015 is likely driven by a BABIP which would be a career low by over 30 points. While a drop in line-drive rate might explain some of that it, there is hope than the 27 year old Ackley might see the change of scenery bring him back at least to the 2-win player of 2014, and 7.5 win player over his first four years with the Mariners, before his below-replacement 2015. Perhaps the Yankees see something more than even that in a player who's average exit velocity rates just behind Nelson Cruz.
The ability to play second base, a position where he was an asset defensively before being moved to accommodate Robinson Cano, is a key component of Ackley's appeal. Even if he rebounds offensively, a requirement at this point for him to carry value, he'll naturally carry more positional value as a middle infielder. Certainly so for 2015, where second base is the weakest position on the Yankee roster, and easiest to upgrade. However, Ackley isn't immediately an option there, as Girardi suggests he'll need some work with his infielder glove before being deployed there in-game. This will be a little more challenging in July than it would have been for an offseason acquisition, but hopefully Ackley can be counted on at least as depth at second base soon, before getting more playing time there next spring. At the moment, though, he is not immediately viewed a second baseman, so he isn't a candidate to replace Stephen Drew in the starting lineup just yet. Perhaps Ackley can change that relatively quickly by impressing in fielding drills.
At the moment, Ackley looks like a low-risk utility type who might be given a chance to earn playing time at multiple positions. This isn't the blockbuster trade-deadline move his draft and prospect pedigree might suggest it to be, which is reflected in the price the Yankees paid. This fits in with the rest of the Cashman's deadline activity, where we've heard primarily about moves the team hasn't made, and their unwillingess to deal from the upper echelon of the farm system. An advantage of being a first place team is the ability to hold on to your prospects as other teams pay potentially steep market rates for upgrades.
The Yankee roster did have opportunities for improvement, but backup outfielder wasn't really looked at as a spot for a significant upgrade, so until Ackley earns the trust of Girardi to cover second base he's not going to do too much to advance the Yankees chances in 2015. Even then, he'll have to show progress with the bat. Like any deadline acquisition, there is a chance this move might not pan out this year. Helpfully though, this is a low-risk trade, may not necessarily be about 2015 anyway, and does come with the potential for reward. After all, Cashman may have paid for the player Ackley currently is, but the allure remains of the prospect he was, once. At 27, perhaps it is too early to write off what Ackley could yet be.