Yankees headed toward unfamiliar role of deadline sellers
Really, the only remaining question now is how many players the Yankees will trade.
As I reported Saturday, the Yankees will be willing to move potential free agents such as closer Aroldis Chapman and right fielder Carlos Beltran if they do not turn around their season before the Aug. 1 non-waiver deadline.
And if the Yankees do turn around their season, they had better do it quickly — they have lost their first two games out of the All-Star break, prompting manager Joe Girardi to call Sunday’s series finale against the Red Sox as "important a game as we’ve had in July in a long time."
The Yankees are 44-46, a study in mediocrity, a crashing bore. Yet, once they decide that 2016 is a lost cause, they can effectively control the trade market. A number of their starting pitchers, relievers and position players are of interest to rival clubs.
This whole thing is new to the Yankees. Ownership does not want to concede. Brian Cashman, since becoming general manager in 1998, has never sold. The Yankees, remember, passed on chances to move second baseman Robinson Cano in ’13 and closer David Robertson in ’14 before losing them as free agents. Acting as a seller — trusting your scouts and analysts to identify the proper young talent to acquire — comes with inherent risk.
Cashman’s long trading history includes a series of major acquisitions in the 2000s that he achieved with minimal pain — David Justice, Randy Johnson, Bobby Abreu, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson. More recently, with the exception of his shrewd pickup of shortstop Didi Gregorius, the GM’s results have been mixed.
Consider the current club: Right-hander Nate Eovaldi cost the Yankees infielder Martin Prado and righty David Phelps. Right-hander Michael Pineda and outfielder Aaron Hicks came at lesser prices — catchers Jesus Montero and John Ryan Murphy — but have not proven significant assets. Ditto, at least so far, for second baseman Starlin Castro, who was acquired for right-hander Adam Warren.
Finally, considering the difference in ages and salaries, the Yankees might have been better off keeping Yangervis Solarte than trading him for third baseman Chase Headley, whom they re-signed to a four-year, $52 million free-agent contract after landing him in 2014.
Such analysis amounts to a snapshot in time — Eovaldi was effective in ’15 and still might rebound in ’16, while Castro and Hicks are only 26 and in their first seasons with a new club. The draft also factors into the bigger picture — the Yankees, due to their history of success, routinely have selected low in the first round, and not particularly well. But one rival GM, speaking for many of his peers, says, "I actually think Cash has done a terrific job of getting younger and staying competitive."
Selling, of course, would be a different challenge.
Chapman would bring back more than the Yankees gave up for him, when the length of his suspension for violating baseball’s domestic-violence policy was not known. Beltran has a limited no-trade clause — he can block deals to 15 clubs — and at age 39 obviously would yield a lesser return than the game’s most dominant closer. But if the Yankees traded only those two, they still could add significantly to their base of young talent.
Left-handed reliever Andrew Miller would be a more difficult call — he is under contract through ’18 for a relatively club-friendly $9 million per season. The Yankees are not motivated to move him, knowing that Miller and Dellin Betances could form a dominant late-inning duo for at least two more seasons. But if they traded both Chapman and Miller, they could re-establish a one-two punch with Betances this winter by signing a free-agent closer — Chapman, Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon.
The scarcity of available starting pitching presents another opportunity. The Yankees are drawing interest in Eovaldi, Pineda and lefty CC Sabathia, sources say; the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Saturday that the Pirates have inquired on Eovaldi, who has pitched 7 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings as a reliever and will return to the rotation against the Orioles on Tuesday.
The Yankees will not part easily with Eovaldi — he is under team control through next season, and some with the club believe that he simply had a bad month of June. Sabathia is in the middle of his own bad stretch, and the Yankees probably would love to escape his $25 million option, which will vest barring a sudden shoulder injury. But Sabathia’s ERA through June 16 was 2.20. No sense giving him away, either — and due to his service time, he has the right to block any trade.
Cashman actually might prefer to hold his starting pitchers until the off-season, particularly if he believes that Eovaldi and Sabathia will rebound in the second half — the same demand for starters will exist this winter, given the weakness of the free-agent market. And the problem with trading starters, even starters who are league-average or slightly below, is replacing them.
The whole thing is a delicate balance, particularly for a franchise with such a proud tradition. The Yankees almost certainly will not want to cut too deeply into their core — they will never do a full rebuild and should not, given their winning tradition and the size of their market. Some players also offer more intangible value than others — catcher Brian McCann and left fielder Brett Gardner, both signed through ’18, are practically the team’s co-captains at this point.
McCann, above-average at his position both defensively and offensively, possesses a full no-trade clause. Gardner, dangled in trades last off-season, is in decline, but still useful at salaries of $12 million in 2017 and $11 million in ’18. Better the Yankees figure out a way to dump center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is earning about $10 million more than Gardner per season through ’20.
It’s all speculation for now, but probably not much longer. If the Yankees indeed sell, ownership should allow Cashman to consider any and all combinations. Who knows what some club might offer? At this point, what’s to lose?