Once the Yankees finish off their series with the Texas Rangers, the season will be one third over. The freak-outs by many in the Yankees fanbase might make it seem like the season is further along, but there’s still plenty, plenty of baseball left. Players will get hot, players will get cold, and managers will be second-guessed to death for the next four months — five if they’re lucky. With so much baseball to be played, it’s difficult to get a grasp of where a team will be in a few months. However, what we can do is evaluate where the team is, identify its shortcomings, and how the team can shore up those weaknesses.
In other words, welcome to trading season.
Over the next two months, we’ll be inundated with trade rumors, some frivolous, some provocative. Most will never happen, but that doesn’t mean the rumors aren’t entertaining. It’s always interesting to see what the people most familiar with a team’s needs (outside the actual front office) think it can do to put itself ahead of the pack.
We know the Yankees aren’t perfect. They have flaws, just like the rest of the teams in the league. Thankfully, they rode those flaws all the way to first place, so perhaps those flaws are not as egregious as we might have previously believed. On the other hand, perhaps they’re just as egregious as we believed, but the team is currently doing a good job of covering them up. The Yanks will certainly explore the trade market to see what’s available to fill these weaknesses.
The question at this point is of who’s selling. Most teams won’t admit defeat at the 1/3 mark. It might not resonate well with the fanbase, which could lead to depressed revenues for the remainder of the season. From a pure baseball standpoint, though, failing teams would do best to work the trade market right now. The sooner they trade their valuable chips, the better value they’ll receive in return. It could be the difference between getting both Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, and Grady Sizemore in a trade and getting just two of those.
How should a team determine if it’s out of contention this early? SI’s Tom Verducci explores the question. He notes that since the inception of the Wild Card there have been 104 teams to make the playoffs, and only three of them have made the playoffs after entering June with a record five or more games below .500 (one of them was the 2007 Yankees). In 2009, the lucky teams are the Indians, A’s, Natinals, Pirates, Astros, Diamondbacks, and Rockies. So which of these can the Yanks pillage for bench and relief help?
As we discussed last week, the Yankees could certainly look for bullpen help. Two of the more attractive names among possibly available relievers, Chad Qualls and Huston Street, play for two of the teams on Verducci’s list. What it would take to acquire them, of course, is another question entirely. It’s also unknown if the Yankees will seek external bullpen help. With both Damaso Marte and Brian Bruney working on rehab assignments, they might just sit back and see what their current guys can give them. There are also a number of high-upside arms in the minors they could give a try, such as Mark Melancon, George Kontos, and Mike Dunn.
If the Yankees did decide to seek help from elsewhere, it probably won’t be until far closer to the deadline. Given the theory of teams getting more by trading their chips earlier, one might think that the Yanks could get a better deal closer to the deadline. In this scenario, though, that theory might not apply. The D’Backs and the Rockies don’t have a pressing urgency to deal Qualls and Street, so they could ask for a sizable return no matter when the trade takes place. Other teams will surely be interested as well, which always jacks up the asking price.
Josh from Jorge Says No! presents another idea which could work to the Yanks’ advantage. Why don’t teams try to package their valuable players along with albatross contracts, rather than seek top-flight prospects in return? After all, no prospect is a sure thing; salary relief is. That would certainly make the goings tougher for the selling team, and they won’t get a good prospect package at all. It could lead to some interesting scenarios, though.
Take the Diamondbacks for instance. Surely they want to shed Eric Byrnes and the remaining $15 million on his contract, but what team would take that albatross? Perhaps one team or another would make the deal if they could also get the year and a half remaining of Qualls’s indentured servitude. Clearly, a high level prospect wouldn’t be involved here. For the Yanks, it would be a Kontos-type player or less. This type of trade makes sense for them because they’d be using their biggest advantage, financial might, to improve their team.
Now, taking on a $15 million obligation for a player like Eric Byrnes isn’t ideal. But is trading a Zack McAllister-type player for Chad Qualls a better one? It’s easy to say, because it’s not my money, but taking on an albatross in conjunction with a useful player for a B prospect seems like something the Yanks should consider. What remains to be seen, of course, is if selling teams buy into this mindset. If they do, the Yankees could have many options available to them as we approach the trade deadline.