In late 2014, Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish was shut down with elbow inflammation, a fitting ending to a nightmare season for the team that was expected to be in the midst of the pennant race. Seven months later, Darvish's elbow would flare up again, this time requiring Tommy John surgery. Fresh off a 67-95 season, some believed that the Rangers' best course of action was to blow it all up and do a full rebuild.
At the All-Star break, it looked like the doubters were right. The Rangers entered with a 42-46 record. To the surprise of many, they entered the trade deadline as buyers, refusing to part with the likes of Adrian Beltre and Yovani Gallardo. Instead, they acquired Phillies ace Cole Hamels, in addition to erratic but hard-throwing relievers Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman.
Almost one year later, the Rangers are fresh off a playoff appearance and have the best record in the American League. It should be noted that at this time last year, full rebuilds had been romanticized by the success of the Cubs, Mets, and Astros. Despite calls to sell though, the Rangers doubled down on what they had, a decision that has paid dividends.
In order to shock the baseball world, the Rangers did two things. First, they bolstered one of their strong points, the bullpen. They already had a formidable duo in Shawn Tolleson and Keone Kela to close out games, but adding Dyson and Diekman helped them shorten games to six innings. Secondly, they addressed the weakness that even the most casual fan knew about: starting pitching. Despite the inevitable second half regression from Gallardo, Hamels was able to do damage control.
Of course, part of their success was probably due to some fortune. After faltering in the first half, Shin-Soo Choo and Adrian Beltre both came alive, providing 3.5 fWAR each after the All Star break. Both Dyson and Diekman had constant control issues, which were conveniently reduced to manageable levels with Texas. Still, they were able to retool their team without parting with prized prospects like Nomar Mazara and Jurickson Profar.
At first glance, it looks like the Yankees have some things in common with the Rangers. With Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman closing things out, the Yankees' bullpen is a force to be reckoned with. But as Jason pointed out, they have found no help from the middle relief corps. As crazy as it sounds, they could benefit from adding another bullpen arm, preferably someone who can serve in a role similar to that of Adam Warren last year. In the very least, it would prevent games from getting out of hand when the starters have short outings.
Both the Yankees and last year's Rangers have had a position of strength to build on in the bullpen. However, that's where the similarities begin to fade away. A pitcher like Hamels isn't really even available, unless the Yankees want to take a chance on the flyball-oriented Julio Teheran.
While they might not have someone like Choo or Beltre to go off on the second half, they might have something comparable. Players like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley, and Aaron Hicks have played so far below their respective expectations that even hitting at a league-average level would provide a major boost. In the starting rotation, the same could be said for the likes of Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, with rookie Chad Green also starting to look like a viable option.
With the recent frenzy regarding the Yankees' trade deadline plans, everything should be up for consideration. Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine have vehemently denied any plans to sell, but it is important to remember that there might not be much incentive to put up the white flag a month in advance, considering the effect it would probably have on attendance. If the Yankees do decide to buy at the trade deadline though, it could very well be more than just a stubborn PR move.
Data is courtesy of FanGraphs.