There have been numerous rumors swirling over which teams are interested in Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman at the trade deadline (all of them, of course), or whether Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia have played well enough for another team to take on their hefty contracts. If you're a Yankees fan with even a hint of optimism though, you may be wondering why this is already being discussed.
If Miller, Chapman, Beltran, or Sabathia are on the move come late-July, it means the Yankees aren't in the playoff race. The Yankees are barely through a third of the season, and they are just one game under .500, so these talks seem premature. New York is a mere four games out of the Wild Card and they have a light schedule coming up. Maybe, just maybe, the Yankees aren't done yet.
If the Yankees want to compete in September and reach the playoffs, there are a couple of things that need to happen. Needless to say, the most important goal is to win baseball games, but just how many games is up for debate, though. The most realistic goal is the second Wild Card berth, and teams in that spot have averaged 89.75 wins since 2012. So give the Yankees a goal of a 90-72 record. Given their current 29-30 mark, the Bombers would have to go 61-42 over the final 103 games of the season to make it to the playoffs.
Is this attainable? 61-42 would be a .592 winning percentage, which is better than every team other than the Cubs, Rangers, Nationals, and Orioles this season. That's a lot to ask from the Yankees. They have a worse team this year than last, and the 2015 squad only had one month with a winning percentage above .592.
Expecting a (current) sub-.500 team to play 61-42 ball going forward is a tall order, but there is hope that the roster might be up for the challenge. Their biggest strength is obviously the elite bullpen, which has lived up to its pre-season hype as the best in the league. The rotation isn't quite as good, but it's also nothing to sneeze at. The staff will need to improve a bit for the Yankees to make the playoffs, though the upside is there.
Current ace Masahiro Tanaka is a true and dependable number one (assuming health). Former ace CC Sabathia has rebounded from a couple of bad years and his performance thus far looks real. The fear that he turns back into a pumpkin will always be there, but Sabathia could be a strong number two for the Yankees. Speaking of pumpkins, Ivan Nova's shallow repertoire is catching up to him and he has allowed 13 runs over the past three starts; he may quickly become a liability.
Former liability Michael Pineda adjusted his arm slot and has looked much better over his past two starts. Maybe he has turned a corner, but "Big Mike" will likely always struggle with inconsistency. Nathan Eovaldi's overall numbers aren't great, though he continues to have brilliant games mixed in with a few poor ones. Like Pineda, Eovaldi will probably always have his fair share of clunkers, but he has also steadily improved. A sub-4.00 ERA for the rest of the season is very achievable. Fans might have forgotten about the immensely talented Luis Severino, who is healthy and getting back on track in Triple-A. He could be a difference maker later in the season if Nova continues to struggle.
New York has the makings of a very solid rotation. Although Yankees starters had a middling 4.11 ERA in May, the numbers were skewed by Pineda and Severino's struggles. Take away those two and they have a 2.74 ERA, third best in baseball. Any team will have its numbers improve by removing the worst starters, but this still demonstrates the rest of the rotation's skill. It's hard for Pineda to go anywhere but up from last month, and Severino isn't currently in the big leagues. It's not going to be an elite rotation, but there's room for one that is easily above average. Couple that with the bullpen, and the team has arms worthy of winning the necessary games for a playoff berth.
Of course, the offense also has to figure itself out. The Yankees have scored the fifth fewest runs in baseball, and things didn't improve much last month. Mark Teixiera and Dustin Ackley are both sidelined as well, so on paper, the outlook is not great. On the bright side, the bats look much better in early-June, and New York scored the second most runs in baseball last season, so there's upside there. How much, though, is unclear.
The reasons last year's offense thrived and this year's offense struggled lie in three players: Greg Bird, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez. Sadly, Bird is out for the season. Teixeira was awful to start the year and landed on the disabled list, now flirting with season-ending knee surgery. Even if he makes an (unlikely) full recovery, Teixeira will be hard-pressed to be a league average player with the bat. Rodriguez is doing better in June, after hitting .130 last month, but the 40-year old is striking out much more this season and there's almost no chance he can sniff last year's 129 wRC+. So, not great news there.
Unfortunately, one of the best case outcomes for the Yankees' offense remains league average. Luckily, they have a rotation and bullpen that can carry them to success. Whether success means a 62-42 record remains to be seen, though it's unlikely. Regardless, the Yankees should keep games close all season, and that gives them a chance to start winning more. Their upcoming schedule is extraordinarily Yankees-friendly.
Still, there's very little chance the Yankees can maintain a .592 winning percentage for the rest of this season. The fact that the 2015 Yankees—a better team than this year's—couldn't manage that for more than a month really puts a damper on things, and there are serious offensive hurdles for the Yankees on their way to becoming more than a .500 team.
Is there a chance the Yankees will make the playoffs? Yes, and that's why discussing trading big names like Miller, Chapman, and Beltran this early is a pointless exercise. Down the road, though, there could be a conversation about how the Yankees can build for 2017 and 2018. All I can say for certain is that the Yankees' upcoming stretch, leading up to the All-Star Break, will be a season-defining one.