What Will the Yankees Do at the Deadline?
When the trade deadline passes, the New York Yankees will be sitting 30 games over .500 for the first time since 1998. They are on track for 104 wins, which would be their most since the historic 1998 season, and their second most since 1964. In addition to the wins, the team is leading the league in home runs (166), are second in runs per game (5.18), and, despite struggles, have the fourth-best team ERA in baseball at 3.58. For most teams, they would be sitting pretty in this situation, the Yankees however, don’t have that luxury. The Boston Red Sox are having one of the greatest seasons in the history of baseball. The Sox are an insane 74–33, and if they keep the .692 pace they’re on, they’ll finish with 112 wins, baseball’s most since the 2001 Seattle Mariners, and the fourth most ever. The Bronx Bombers sit 5.5 games back of baseball’s best team and are struggling to keep pace with Boston. The team has already made a couple moves this July, trading for Baltimore Orioles’ star closer, Zach Britton, and the Toronto Blue Jays’ lefty starter J.A. Happ. They have had a great start, but the Yankees may not be done.
The entire season, and frankly, for the last decade, the Yankees most significant problem has been pitching, or lack thereof. The team ERA is excellent, but that attests more to the dominant bullpen the Yankees have built, led by Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and newly acquired Britton, than the Yankees rotation. Luis Severino had arguably the best first half among American League starters, but in his four starts since July 7th, Sevy has not lasted more than five innings, has pitched to an 8.84 ERA, and has not looked like himself. CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka both have been pretty good for the Yankees, but are wildly inconsistent, and Sabathia struggles to pitch past five on a regular basis. Sonny Gray has looked like the Sonny of old in his last three starts, pitching to a 1.10 ERA, but those have come against three of the worst offenses in baseball, the New York Mets, Orioles, and Kansas City Royals. Those teams rank 25th, 28th, and 30th in runs-per-game, respectively. The Yankees did acquire J.A. Happ, a tough lefty who looked great in his Yankee debut on July 29th against the Royals, throwing six innings, while allowing just one run, but is he enough? Three of the best remaining starting pitching options the Yankees could look at, are Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays, Kyle Gibson of the Minnesota Twins, and Miles Mikolas of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Archer is the prize of this deadline, with a plethora of teams connected to him, including the Yankees, the San Diego Padres, the Atlanta Braves, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Archer has the stuff of an ace but has not pitched to it this year or last. In 2018, the Rays’ righty is 3–5 with a 4.31 ERA, and 102 strikeouts in 96 innings. However, his 3.62 FIP shows that he has pitched significantly better than his ERA shows. With four of the top systems in baseball interested in acquiring the righty, the Rays will demand (and receive) a ton for Archer. A deal for Archer would almost definitely include Clint Frazier, in addition to a combination of the Yankees deep pitching prospect system, and may have to contain the Yankees’ #1 prospect, lefty Justus Sheffield. Archer may be the guy to put the Yankees over the top, but it would be surprising if New York pays the high price.
Kyle Gibson’s last start before the deadline was a beauty, as he went eight innings allowing just one run against the best offense in baseball, the Red Sox. The Twins are expectedly thrilled with Gibson’s outing, as it has put the former top prospect’s value at an all-time high. This season, he has pitched to a 5–7 record, with a 3.42 ERA. With control through next year at the low price of about four million dollars per year, the Twins could demand a lot for Gibson. Gibson may cost the Yankees Frazier-plus, or could require some mixture of the Yankees pitching prospects. The Twins do not want to trade Gibson, but his success against the Red Sox may motivate the Yankees to make them an offer they can’t refuse.
Miles Mikolas’ name has not been mentioned anywhere when talking about deadline options, but he would be a great option if the Cardinals would part with him. The 29-year-old’s journey is a great story. He came up with the Padres in 2012 and pitched mediocre out of the bullpen, before being traded to the Texas Rangers in 2014 where he was shelled. At the end of the year, he decided to leave the big leagues and pitch in Japan, where he became a star. In his three years with the Yomiuri Giants in the Japan Central League, Mikolas pitched to a 31–13 record with a 2.18 ERA. His dominance earned him a two-year, $15.5M deal this past offseason with the Cardinals. He has earned every bit of it, earning an All-Star bid with an 11–3 record and a 2.83 ERA in 21 starts. He has only struck out 91 in 130.1 innings but has induced a 51.5% ground ball rate, making teams think he can keep it up. There has never really been a situation like this, so his value is not certain. He has been great this year and has control through next year, which is an obvious plus, but he also has no track record and could be risky for a team. He’s another guy that I think could cost the Yankees Clint Frazier, but he may be cheaper than that. No one knows, but he will be a compelling option if he is available.
Whether it’s Archer, Gibson, Mikolas, or someone not mentioned, if the Yankees acquire a starter, it will give them six MLB starting pitchers for five spots in the rotation. Sonny Gray would be the obvious odd-man out. He has pitched well in his last three starts, but the Yankees still may look to move him. The Milwaukee Brewers and the Braves have both reportedly checked in with Brian Cashman on what it would take to move Gray. Despite the struggles this year, with so many teams needing pitching and not many options out there, Gray could bring back a pretty good return for the Yanks.
The Yankees may or may not get a starter, but it would be shocking if the team doesn’t acquire a bat. Both Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are out for the month of August, and Clint Frazier has a concussion that could take weeks to return from. With all the injuries, Shane Robinson is the team’s fourth outfielder, and second baseman Tyler Wade is their fifth. The Yankees are on the verge of falling out of the race for the division crown, and they don’t have any time to spare, especially with a big four-game set coming up against the Red Sox from August 2–5. Three bats that have been connected to the Yankees are José Martinez, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Bautista.
Martinez is an odd case. He spent ten years in the Royals’ system, never cracking the big league roster. In May of 2016, he was traded to the Cardinals and has not stopped hitting since. He made his big league debut in 2016 but wasn’t an everyday big leaguer until 2017. In the last two years, Martinez has played in 203 games, and in 688 plate appearances, has slashed .301/.368/.487 with 27 homers and 105 RBIs. Martinez is under control through 2022 and can flat out hit. It may seem like St. Louis would never dream of trading him, but he is 30 years old and is a liability in the field. He is built for the American League, and whoever acquires him will control him through his prime. His value is pretty high, but with his defense, it takes a hit. Martinez would, unlike the other two mentioned, not only be a force in the lineup for 2018, but for at least four years after.
McCutchen was the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates for nine years, including winning the National League MVP in 2013. Last offseason, the Pirates traded him to the San Francisco Giants, where he has played well, slashing .253/.347/.405, with ten homers and 43 RBIs in 102 games. Many people thought the Giants would be “smart buyers” at the deadline, but after four straight losses, the team has fallen into fourth place in the NL West (6.5 games out), and six games behind the second wild card. With five teams ahead of them, many believe they could sell over the next couple of days. “Cutch” is a free agent after the season and is owed a little over $7M for the rest of the season. The righty would be an excellent fit for the Yankees. He could fill in during Aaron Judge’s absence, and, when Judge returns, could platoon in left field with Brett Gardner. He wouldn’t cost too much, a mid-level prospect like Chance Adams likely, and would be a perfect addition.
Bautista would return to the AL East after spending ten years with the Blue Jays. This season in 57 games with the Mets and 12 with the Braves, Bautista has slashed .220/.362/.414 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs. Bautista, like McCutchen, is a righty rental who could fill in for Judge and platoon with Gardner. Unlike McCutchen, he is not a great fielder and is not as good of a hitter. He could probably be had for international signing bonus money which the Mets are interested in, but it will be interesting to see if the Yankees and Mets can make a deal, even as small as this.
After a starter and an outfielder, there are very few holes remaining on the team, but one is a backup or starting catcher in Gary Sanchez’s absence. Wilson Ramos, Robinson Chirinos, and Devin Mesoraco all are good options. All three are rentals, who are excellent behind the plate. Ramos is the best bat of the three, hitting .297 with 14 homers and 53 RBIs this year, could be packaged in a deal for Archer. Chirinos, a 34-year-old who has hit 14 homers and 44 RBIs this year with the Texas Rangers, and Mesoraco, who was traded by the Cincinnati Reds to the Mets for Matt Harvey and has hit .227 with 8 homers between the two teams, would both be cheap, reliable options, who you could either start or at least have backup Austin Romine until Sanchez comes back.
Brian Cashman is one of the most active general managers at every trade deadline, and he’s been more of the same this year. He has acquired the best starter and best reliever to be moved to this point in time, and he may not be done yet. Many believe Cash will get a starter, a bat, and trade Sonny Gray before 4 pm on Tuesday, though no one knows anything at this point. Will Cashman make the moves to put the team over the top, or will he save the farm and see what he has with his 104 win team.