By Chad Jennings
Today is the Yankees’ final off day before the trade deadline. July 31 is roughly a week and a half away, and general manager Brian Cashman made it pretty clear on Sunday that he’s at least considering the possibility of making a move. That’s why, Cashman said, Rob Refsnyder was optioned to Triple-A rather than a veteran infielder being released.
“I just want to keep all options at my disposal through the deadline,” Cashman told Jack Curry.
Does that means the Yankees are going to make a move? Of course not. It doesn’t mean they’re going to acquire a second baseman, doesn’t mean they’re going to eventually trade Refsnyder, and doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a trade in the works. It only means what we should have always suspected: that the Yankees are considering the possibilities.
The Yankees are in the mix and certainly a team that should be a buyer and not a seller, but is there an obvious move to make? I’m not sure there is.
CC Sabathia still has a 5.25 ERA, but Sunday’s start was one of his best of the year, and his last start before the break wasn’t bad either. Does that make any difference as the Yankees approach the break? Do two solid starts from Sabathia make the Yankees any less likely to trade for at least a little rotation depth, if not a front-line starter? The Yankees’ rotation is an odd one. It clearly could be upgraded, but so far it’s healthy and potentially good enough to make a run. In any given series, they could have two of the best starters in baseball, but they could also face real depth issues if a couple of injury concerns present themselves. There’s quite a bit of starting pitching out there. How much should the Yankees give up to acquire some of it?
Depth issues: With Chase Whitley on the disabled list, and both Adam Warren and Chris Capuano converted to the bullpen — unable to immediately step back into a 100-pitch rotation role — rotation depth has to be a significant concern for the Yankees. Perhaps that’s why the team just sent Bryan Mitchell back to Triple-A to be stretched out. If the Yankees were to acquire a depth starter, what would they do with him for the time being? Should they be looking high-end impact starter or nothing at this point?
Contract issues: The Yankees’ entire rotation is under team control beyond this season. The more pressing long-term concerns are basically the same as the short-term concerns, all about health and durability and not so much availability. If the Yankees were to make a big move for a starter — an impact guy like Johnny Cueto or Scott Kazmir — would they include a guy like Nathan Eovaldi in such a deal? Would that be short-sighted or opportunistic?
Performance issues: As long as Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda are healthy, the Yankees have two high-end rotation arms (but each one faces some health and consistency issues). Eovaldi actually has a 3.79 ERA if you ignore that Miami atrocity, Ivan Nova’s been solid and occasionally very good since coming off the disabled list, and then there’s Sabathia who doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anyway. Putting a third big name alongside Tanaka and Pineda could make the Yankees no-doubt division favorites. Is that worth giving Severino, Judge, Bird or Refsnyder?
Not so long ago, the Yankees had real bullpen issues with Andrew Miller on the disabled list and Adam Warren still in the bullpen. At this point, though, the Yankees’ bullpen looks pretty strong and pretty deep. Justin Wilson has emerged as a third go-to arm who helps build the bridge to Dellin Betances and Miller. They also have Warren and Chasen Shreve available for basically any situation, Chris Capuano is the token long man, and there’s still that revolving door of young relievers (right now it’s Branden Pinder). There is one spot that’s fairly wide open, but does the bullpen actually need any help right now?
Depth issues: As we’ve seen over and over this season, the Yankees have no shortage of bullpen options on the Triple-A roster. Pinder, Bryan Mitchell and Nick Rumbelow have each pitched pretty well in limited opportunities, and there are plenty of other names in the mix (Danny Burawa, Diego Moreno, Jose Ramirez and Chris Martin are still on the 40-man roster). Problem is, none of those young guys has really solidified himself in the big leagues, and we don’t have to look back very far to remember when the bullpen seemed thin rather than deep.
Contract issues: Just like the rotation, all of the key bullpen pieces are under team control beyond this season. Unlike the rotation, the only one making significant money is Miller. If the Yankees rotation is full in the short-term and going forward — with Luis Severino on the rise — would it be worth selling high on a guy like Warren or Shreve, each of whom is having a real breakout season and could be useful in acquiring a short-term upgrade.
Performance issues: As long as these guys stay healthy, the Yankees have few complaints about their bullpen performance. Their bigger concern might be first-half workload and second-half need. The Yankees have the fourth-most bullpen innings in the American League, and that heavy lifting might not end if the rotation is going to continue having problems working beyond the sixth inning. For that reason, would the Yankees consider a huge bullpen splash, trying to use an overwhelming bullpen to make up for an uncertain rotation?
I’ll include catcher with the infielders, mostly because there’s not much to talk about at the catcher position anyway. The Yankees are clearly set with their starting catcher and their home run hitting first baseman. They also seem committed to and encouraged by Didi Gregorius at shortstop. They haven’t gotten much production out of third base, but they’re tied to Chase Headley long term. The biggest question in the infield, of course, is at second base. For now, the Yankees still like the idea of Stephen Drew’s occasional power, but could they be convinced otherwise?
Depth issues: One reason Rob Refsnyder is in Triple-A right now is that the Yankees didn’t want to lose their limited depth at shortstop. Cutting either Drew or Brendan Ryan would have left the Yankees one injury away from having either Gregorio Petit or Cole Figueroa being the No. 2 shortstop. That said, if second base is the infield position causing the most concern, it’s also the position with the most depth because of Refsnyder and Jose Pirela. If the Yankees want to dig into their infield depth, Refsnyder’s a good option.
Contract issues: Headley is not having a great year at the plate or in the field, but he was signed to a long-term contract this offseason, so he’s not going anywhere. Gregorius has also gotten better as the year’s continued. One contract issue to consider is the long-term deal with Brian McCann, with John Ryan Murphy still having several years of team control. That could make Gary Sanchez a strong trade chip going forward. His path to New York is not nearly as clear as it is Refsnyder, Aaron Judge or Greg Bird.
Performance issues: I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Drew has not hit for a very good average. He does have a good .782 OPS since June 1, but that production has been sporadic, generated mostly from the handful of games in which he’s homered (including three multi-homer games). The Yankees have committed to him — once again — for the time being, but if they want to upgrade, are they better off trading for a guy like Ben Zobrist (who provides depth almost anywhere) or by bringing Refsnyder back to the big leagues?
I’m still stunned by the number of emails, tweets and comments I read calling for the Yankees to release Carlos Beltran. I get that his overall numbers don’t look great, and I understand that his defense leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s hit .301/.351/.494 since May 1, and yesterday was a good example of his offensive value outweighing his defensive problems. Beyond right field, the Yankees clearly have no complaints in left field or center.
Depth issues: The Yankees had to test their outfield depth quite a bit earlier this season when Jacoby Ellsbury was injured, and it seemed they had some readily available talent, but both Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams have landed on the disabled list, and Ramon Flores has kind of oddly drifted away without getting many chances beyond that first week or so in the big leagues. The platoon of Chris Young and Garrett Jones has been basically the fourth outfielder most of the year.
Contract issues: Beltran is under contract through next season, which means it’s easy to imagine a role opening fairly soon for Judge (assuming Judge does what he’s expected to do in Triple-A. The Yankees are also committed to a big investment into Ellsbury, and they have Gardner signed to what seems to be a very favorable long-term extension. Gardner would be awfully valuable as a trade chip. Would the Yankees consider moving him to make a huge splash?
Performance issues: Ellsbury has gotten on base, Gardner is an All-Star and Beltran’s bat has come back to life after that brutal month of April. Should Beltran be a DH? Probably, but that’s not going to happen, so he’s in right field and the Yankees don’t really have an opportunity to significantly upgrade their outfield production. Young has even played his role to perfection, though the Yankees could adjust the Jones roster spot if they found a better fit that might actually play with some regularity.