A healthy portion of the big league players acquired at the trade deadline are on expiring contracts. Teams that are out of contention have incentive to move this money off their payroll because A) there's no use in spending lots of money on a losing team, and B) sweet, sweet prospects. Indeed, the traditional return for major league assets at the trade deadline is a package of prospects. The selling team collects assets for the future, the buying team gains more firepower to make a drive to the World Series because they can win now. Also, if the big leaguer changing hands has more than just a half-season of team control left on his contract, the prospect package gets bigger as the buying team is getting more talent for a longer duration of time. It's a relatively simple concept. The amount of money on a player's contract can also be a factor in determining a player's value.
The question at hand is, of course, what kind of player should the Yankees pursue? Would it behoove them to simply pick up a rental or two and binge in free agency, or should they latch on to an asset that could potentially help beyond the immediate future? This question doesn't exist in a vacuum, but let's pretend it does for now. What are the benefits of each type of buy?
A short-term rental likely doesn't cost you an arm and a leg, unless you're buying into a Johnny Cueto-type. The trade deadline is on July 31st and the 81st game of the season has come and gone. Any rental player would be playing for less than half a season in pinstripes. There is a slight premium to buying at the deadline due to the place of need the Yankees would be buying from (and it's a total seller's market this year due to the league-wide parity), so it's not like Brian Cashman can ship out Austin Romine for a few months of Ben Zobrist. But if Cashman's moves last year (Brandon McCarthy for Vidal Nuno! Chase Headley for Yangervis Solarte and Rafael De Paula!) taught us anything, the man can work a trade. Both of those rentals were buy-low candidates that had problems the Yankees could fix, and the dividends were huge.
On the other hand, a long-term asset is just that; a long-term asset. It's a player you can pencil into the roster over the winter and have one fewer spot to address, if it's someone you want to keep around (Martin Prado, we hardly knew ye). These players cost more. It may involve partially trading from the 25-man roster. These trades might hurt if you're prospect purist, but they could be worth it, if the price is right.
Every trade deadline is different by virtue of the players that are made available. It's unlikely that this year's clearance sale will be as insane unless more teams clearly fall out of contention by the end of the month. Right now the obvious sellers are the Phillies, Rockies, Marlins, and Brewers. The Athletics, Rays, White Sox, Reds, Padres, and Red Sox might soon fall into that category. So, let's take a look at the wares in the store.
The Yankees need a second baseman, probably a starting pitcher, and possibly an outfielder. Another reliever would never be declined if the price is right, but the bullpen being so darn good and the presence of guys like Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder and Nick Goody in Triple-A lessens the urgency for such an acquisition. Basically, if Tyler Clippard can be had for a price that doesn't sabotage other potential acquisitions, go for it. But that's not the priority. The priority is finding someone not named Stephen Drew that can play second base on a regular basis. That means Ben Zobrist, if Rob Refsnyder isn't viewed by the organization as a viable option because of his defense. Zobrist shouldn't require too much of a haul to acquire, but never underestimate Billy Beane's capacity to squeeze value out of a trade.
In terms of starting pitchers, the market is flush with potential rental arms. Cueto has already been mentioned, and while his little spot of elbow trouble earlier in the year could drive his value down, an ace of his caliber could cost the Yankees a pretty penny. Scott Kazmir is also someone to keep an eye on, but leaving his start this week with triceps issues (and it's not the first time this season that's happened) isn't a good look for someone who wants to make Kazmir a big part of a playoff run. The third big arm that may be available is Jeff Samardzija, and he's been very good of late. He'll cost more than Kazmir, but not as much as Cueto. Other less-savory possible rental arms include Mat Latos, Ian Kennedy, Mike Leake and Aaron Harang. Also, if the Tigers decide that Miguel Cabrera's injury is too much to overcome... David Price becomes part of this group.
The big elephant in the room here is Cole Hamels. Ever since the Phillies went bad, Hamels has been lusted after by every big league club with enough prospects to obtain him. Hamels is an ace, and would be here for years. This conversation probably starts with Aaron Judge and/or Luis Severino, and then some. If you want a legit ace for a few years, that's the cost for a team that's desperately in need of a rebuild. No prospect in the Yankees system should be deemed untouchable. There's no Corey Seager down there, no Lucas Giolito. Aaron Judge can be struck out on a breaking ball with little difficulty. Severino could easily be a reliever in the end due to his size and delivery. Greg Bird could be Ike Davis as easily as he could be peak Lucas Duda. Everyone's on the table if a run at Hamels is deemed worthy and necessary. Other pitchers with team control that could become available include Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Matt Garza and Jon Niese (depending on the severity of Steven Matz's injury).
The second base market is rather understandably barren outside of Zobrist. The Padres might be willing to part with Jedd Gyorko, but he hasn't had much success after his rookie year and he would create a logjam with Refsnyder (if Refsnyder isn't traded, of course). Scooter Gennett of the Brewers could also be available, perhaps. I don't consider Chase Utley an option. He's cooked. Stick a fork in him. There's always the Cubs and their bevy of middle infielders, but they'd want pitching and the Yanks obviously won't trade from their big league rotation. Prospect-for-prospect trades are very rare, so don't sit with baited breath for a Luis Severino-for-Javier Baez trade.The thing about long-term buys at the deadline is that they sometimes come out of nowhere, and often involve big leaguers heading in both directions. Barring some sort of obvious matchup like the Mets and the Cubs, they don't happen too often midseason.
Because the Yankees are locked into so many roster slots with big contracts, they don't have a lot of wiggle room to improve. The good news is that those big contracts (A-Rod, Teixeira, McCann, Miller, Tanaka) are performing well for the most part. The places that need improvement can be fixed by punting on Drew, and the difficult assignment of placing CC Sabathia somewhere else. The Yankees will find ways to make all this work, as there's simply no way they can keep running Drew out there. CC is another matter because of his former stardom and massive contract, but push will come to shove. Better days are ahead, Yankees fans.
Nicolas Stellini is a staff writer at Pinstripe Alley, where he writes about the Yankees and covers the Double-A Trenton Thunder. His national coverage can be found at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.