Major League Baseball's annual non-waiver trade deadline is exactly one week away. Next Tuesday, July 31, is the final day for teams to get the help they need without jumping through August trade waiver hoops. Contenders will try to do all their buying and rebuilders will try to do all their selling by next Tuesday.
The New York Yankees are, of course, a no-doubt buyer. They have baseball's third-best record (63-35) and run differential (plus-129), and while they are still looking up at the Red Sox in the AL East, they have a comfortable lead on an AL wild-card spot. FanGraphs puts New York's postseason odds at 99.9 percent. SportsLine is a tad more conservative at 99.8 percent. Point is, the Yankees are in great shape when it comes to qualifying for the postseason.
Now, that said, the Yankees are not trying to simply make the postseason. They want to win the World Series and getting to the postseason is one step toward that goal. They've much rather win the division than settle for a wild-card spot -- the Yankees are four games behind the Red Sox in the loss column with 10 head-to-head games still to play -- but if it has to be a wild-card spot, it'll be a wild-card spot. The postseason isn't the goal though. It's part of the process.
The Yankees, as good as they are, have a clear need for another starting pitcher. Their lineup and bullpen are very strong -- there's always room for another quality reliever in the bullpen, though the Yankees are hardly desperate for another arm -- but the rotation behind staff ace Luis Severino looks vulnerable. To wit:
- CC Sabathia: Has a 3.51 ERA (122 ERA+), though his balky right knee required a lubrication injection over the All-Star break.
- Masahiro Tanaka: Has a 4.54 ERA (95 ERA+) and has allowed 18 homers in 15 starts.
- Sonny Gray: Has a 5.34 ERA (80 ERA+) and has been a disaster at Yankee Stadium (7.62 ERA).
- Jordan Montgomery: Out for the season with Tommy John surgery, necessitating a revolving door of fifth starters.
At minimum, the Yankees need someone to replace Montgomery and solidify that rotation spot.-- I'm not surprised other teams have interest in buying low on him given his track record -- and if the Yankees could flip him as part of a package for another starter, I think they'd jump all over it. Clearly though, the Yankees need another starting pitcher at some point before the trade deadline.
The good news: The Yankees have the young players to get pretty much anyone they want. Their farm system is loaded. The bad news: The current pitching market is rather weak. It is being dominated by rentals like Cole Hamels, Nathan Eovaldi, and Matt Harvey. Are any of them difference-makers? At one point, sure. In July 2018? Probably not. The Yankees could bring one of those guys in and he would be an upgrade over their fifth starter candidates. Enough to push them over the Red Sox and into first place in the AL East? Maybe, but probably not.
What the Yankees could do, however, is make some of their untouchable young players -- "untouchable" is my word, not the team's -- available before the deadline. Three of them, specifically: Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, and Justus Sheffield. The Yankees have made all three off-limits in trade talks in recent months -- Andujar was reportedly the hang-up during Gerrit Cole trade talks with the Pirates over the winter -- and that is still the case right now. They want to keep them.
And hey, why not? Torres is a stud. He's a 21-year-old impact middle infielder who made the All-Star Game as a rookie. Andujar is on pace to threaten the rookie doubles and extra-base hits records. Sheffield is widely considered one of the top pitching prospects in the game -- arguably the top left-handed pitching prospect -- and he's having success at Triple-A, meaning his big-league debut is right around the corner. Of course the Yankees want to keep those guys. Who wouldn't?
Given the current pitching trade market, however, it might be in New York's best interests to put those players on the table and see whether it shakes up the market. Let's say Torres is off the table completely because he's just too good and too valuable. Could Andujar and Sheffield get, say, the Mets to change their tune about Jacob deGrom? Or get the Rays to think about moving Blake Snell? Or make the Twins think twice about keeping Jose Berrios?
This isn't to say the Yankees should give Andujar or Sheffield (or Torres) away. Of course not. But in a pitching market that has all but dried up aside from depth rentals, a sudden willingness to include the kind of high-end youngsters rebuilding teams crave could net the Yankees the type of impact starter they so obviously want to pair with Severino. Consider some reasons to make these players available.
The Yankees already have a replacement for Andujar
As well as he's played this year, Andujar does have some obvious warts that may limit his ultimate ceiling. He's very aggressive at the plate (4.5 percent walk rate), leading to a subpar on-base percentage (.324), plus he rates very poorly defensively. Andujar ranks dead last among all third baseman with minus-13 Defensive Runs Saved. Based on the eye test, he'll make plays on anything hit at him. The trouble comes when he has to range more than a step or two in either direction.
The power potential and bat-to-ball skills are special though, which is why Andujar's name has popped up in several trade rumors in recent years. The Yankees can afford to part with him because they already have a potential third base replacement in house: Brandon Drury. Drury was their Opening Day third baseman, in fact, before migraines and blurry vision sent him to the disabled list and pushed Andujar into the starting lineup.
Since getting healthy, Drury has spent his time either tearing up Triple-A (.292/.404/.444) or coming off the Yankees' bench as a utility guy. The shape of their production would be different -- Andujar is basically all bat while Drury is more well-rounded -- but the Yankees could flip Andujar for a quality starter, install Drury as their everyday third baseman, and not lose much on the position player side while upgrading the rotation. Drury is a bona fide big-league player who could make Andujar expendable.
Sheffield may not be ready to make an immediate impact
Sheffield, who came over from the Indians in the Andrew Miller trade two years ago, has a 2.38 ERA with 99 strikeouts in 90 2/3 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A this season, and the Yankees are openly talking about him as a second-half call-up option. Here's what manager Aaron Boone told NJ.com's Brendan Kuty over the weekend:
"I would say Sheff is very much" a second-half possibility, Boone said. "He's had another really good year. He's putting himself in position, probably in the short term, to be in consideration for a spot, whether it be a rotation need, whether we have a bullpen need. He certainly probably knocking on that door and being a guy a lot closer to being an option, absolutely."
Here's the thing though: As good as Sheffield is and as promising as he looks long-term, expecting him to come up right away and have an immediate impact (in a postseason race) may be asking too much. The Yankees know this as well as anyone. Guys like Severino and Aaron Judge, now the foundation of their contending roster, both struggled initially as they got their feet wet in the big leagues. Severino pitched so poorly in 2016 he wound up back in Triple-A and demoted to the bullpen.
Just to use another AL East southpaw as an example, the Yankees hope that Sheffield will one day develop into what Blake Snell is right now, so why wouldn't they make Sheffield available in a trade for the real Snell? It only makes sense. Speed up the process and get the guy who can help you win today for a guy more likely to help you long-term rather than short-term. Factor into the high attrition rate of pitching prospects, even the very best ones, and making Sheffield available in a trade for an impact big-league starter is a no-brainer to me.
Trading Gleyber Torres would be difficult to defend. He's already lived up to the hype of being a tippy top prospect and looks every bit the star he was expected to become. The Yankees have made him untouchable and rightfully so. The team has also made Andujar and Sheffield off-limits in trade talks, however, and hanging on them is not as defensible as it is with Gleyber.
Like I said earlier, the Yankees shouldn't give Andujar or Sheffield away, but they should be more open to trading them for a controllable impact starter than they seem to be. They wouldn't part with Andujar for Cole over the winter, remember. The currently trade deadline pitching market is underwhelming. If the Yankees put Andujar and/or Sheffield out there, they would undoubtedly catch the attention of several rebuilding teams who have thus far hesitated to make their top pitchers available. The Yankees are a win-now team, and Andujar or Sheffield should be available for a win-now pitcher.