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Revisiting the Yankees’ 2018 trade deadline

The Yankees won big at last year’s deadline, getting three key producers and a solid arm down the stretch.

New York Yankees v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

June is coming to a close, which means that the time for midseason trades is almost upon us. Before looking at the Yankees’ main trade targets or possible trade partners, let’s look back at last year’s trade deadline and see how they did in retrospect. What were the Yankees’ needs going into July? What moves did they make? How did they work out? If your memory is unclear, let this article serve as a quick refresher.

At the end of June 2018, the Yankees owned a record of 53 wins and 27 losses. They had gone 18-9 for the month, after posting a 17-7 record in May. That’s two full months of nearly .700 ball. Aaron Judge was doing Aaron Judge things, Didi Gregorius was playing out of his mind, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andújar were looking like Rookie of the Year co-candidates, and Luis Severino was pitching like the second coming of Pedro Martinez. This was a dangerous ballclub, almost unstoppable at the height of its powers.

However, the 2018 team was not without its weaknesses. Rotation depth (ring a bell?) was a key issue, as the Yankees had lost Jordan Montgomery to Tommy John surgery early on, and both Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray were struggling to find consistency. May saw Domingo German join the rotation, but while he showed promise, he could not provide the stability that the Yankees sorely lacked. Ditto with Jonathan Loaisiga, who made his debut in mid-June.

Another point of concern was the Yankees’ lack of production at first base. Greg Bird wasn’t quite 2017 Chris Carter bad, but he was still uneven, hitting .214/.317/.457 for a 107 wRC+ before the All-Star break. The Yankees were still able to keep things rolling during May and June due to strong performances from the rest of the cast, but when they slowed down Bird failed to step up.

So, going into the trade deadline, the Yankees’ priorities were clear; solidify the rotation and keep an eye out for first base help. To these ends and more, Brian Cashman made the following moves in the days leading up to July 31:

July 24 - Acquired Zack Britton from Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Dillon Tate, Cody Carroll and Josh Rogers

July 26 - Acquired J.A. Happ from Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney

July 27 - Acquired Luke Voit and bonus pool money from St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Chasen Shreve, Giovanny Gallegos

July 30 - Acquired Lance Lynn from Minnesota Twins in exchange for Tyler Austin and Luis Rijo

How did these trades work out? Well, they didn’t exactly lead the Yankees to their 28th ring, but that’s really the only nitpick you can make with this haul. To recap briefly; Happ pitched like a front-line starter down the stretch, going 7-0 with a with a 2.69 ERA (despite a 4.21 FIP) in 11 starts. Lynn was somewhat less effective in terms of actual run prevention but was still solid, posting a 4.14 ERA and a sparkling 2.17 FIP as a swingman. The two starters helped offset the effects of Luis Severino’s tumultuous second half, and strengthened the Yankees’ grip on the first Wild Card slot.

Meanwhile, Luke Voit was a revelation, hitting .333/.405/.689 with 14 homers in just 39 games. His Herculean efforts kept the lineup afloat in Judge’s absence and Torres’ second-half struggles. The Voit trade still continues to pay off dividends, as he is solidifying his presence in the lineup with each passing day. It’s been said time and time again, but credit to Cashman and his analytics team for taking a chance on an old-ish AAA slugger and his elite batted ball profile.

Finally, Zack Britton (still known as Zach at the time) wasn’t exactly the pitcher he was in his prime, but he provided the Yankees with yet another solid relief option, recording an ERA of 2.88 (4.08 FIP) over 25 innings pitched. As Aaron Boone had to rely heavily upon the bullpen last year due to injuries to the rotation, the addition of Britton made his job just a little bit easier in the second half.

All in all, the Yankees found a mid-rotation starter, a solid swingman, their first baseman of the future, and a reliable bullpen arm at the trade deadline. The haul in itself is impressive, but what makes it even sweeter is how little the Yankees gave up for it. In terms of prospect value at the time, the most significant piece the Yankees traded away was either Dillon Tate or Billy McKinney. If neither of them ring a bell anymore, don’t worry; that has more to do with their prospect status than your knowledge of the game. The rest of what the Yankees conceded was mainly made up of MLB role players (Austin, Drury, Shreve, Gallegos) and minor league arms (Carroll, Rogers). I honestly don’t know how Cashman did it, but he made something out of almost nothing.

The 2019 Yankees, like the 2018 Yankees, are on a roll now, and they have the added benefit of actually having a comfortable division lead. However, they also have problems that need to be addressed, particularly in the rotation, and their pool of minor league value to trade from hasn’t exactly grown much. Yet, Cashman’s performance at the deadline last year should provide hope for Yankee fans. In terms of identifying talent and working out the best deals to obtain it, he’s perhaps the best in the business.