Lay of the land
At 9-14, the Yankees sat last in the AL East on April 30, 2007. Even then, it took a couple of A-Rod walk-offs to even keep them at that level. They recovered, but then fell back off, again finding themselves in the cellar, tied with the Devil Rays at 22-29. Meanhwile, Boston has the best record in baseball. By July 15 they’d hit some kind of stride, creeping into second place but still 8.5 games behind the first-place Red Sox.
At this point the offense was starting to come around. Johnny Damon had somewhat recovered from his putrid start, which included leg cramps and a reported desire to walk away from the game. Robinson Cano had bounced back after a slow April. Bobby Abreu returned to form after a May which was so bad that some wanted to trade him for Jermaine Dye, who was hitting equally poorly.
Then, of course, were Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, who were both tearing the cover off the ball. Melky Cabrera had heated up after a slow start. Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter were both hitting to their expectations. Only two real holes remained on the offense, and they were Jason Giambi, who was out with plantar fasciitis and a partial tear of his plantar fascia, and Doug Mientkiewicz, who after kind of turning it on was out as a result of a Mike Lowell elbow.
The rotation looked the best it had in years, though that’s not saying a lot. Chien-Ming Wang was having another standout year, Andy Pettitte was contributing quality innings for the first time since 2003, and even Mike Mussina had recovered after a shaky start (though we know how that story ended). Roger Clemens was in the rotation and pitching okay. The bullpen is what needed some serious help.
Things were just starting to get good. The Yanks had propped themselves up by mid-July, and after the All-Star Break they went on a tear.
There were plenty of Yankees rumors leading up to the deadline, mostly focusing on acquiring Eric Gagne. It seemed like they were close with the Rangers, but it just didn’t work out. The Red Sox jumped in and got him. That was the big name. There were other little ones.
In an attempt to find someone, anyone who could pitch a scoreless inning, Cashman took a few shots in the dark. First was Runelvys Hernandez, though that experiment ended on July 7. He picked up Scott Williamson, who hadn’t pitched well since 2004. That was it on the bullpen front, though. Neither worked out, obviously.
There were a couple moves of note, though. Sick of watching Wil Nieves, the Yankees dished Jeff Kennard for Jose Molina. Then, in a surprise move which left the bullpen even weaker and spelled the end of Torre-favorite Miguel Cairo, Cashman traded Scott Proctor for Wilson Betemit.
That was it. Nothing major, just a few moves to the team going forward. This was a bit strange, because the Yankees were looking for relief help and so many relievers changed teams before the deadline. In addition to Gagne, Scott Linebrink, Dan Wheeler, Ron Mahay, Octavio Dotel, and Wil Ledezma all found new homes. The Yanks had someone better than all them, though.
How it all worked out
In early August, the Yankees decided to do something a bit unorthodox. They announced they’d take a look at first-year pro Joba Chamberlain as a reliever. The idea was that someone with Joba’s electric stuff could make a difference in the bullpen. They were right, and Joba served as the bridge to Mo over the last two months of the season. It was better than any deadline acquisition they could have made.
(Especially Gagne, who famously tanked.)
Yet even with a mostly quiet deadline, the Yankees picked up steam. Phil Hughes came back after tearing his hamstring amid a no-hitter and then rolling his ankle during rehab, pitching serviceably the rest of the way. The offense started hitting — including Jason Giambi, who came back in early August.
Despite their torrid start, the Red Sox cooled off, and found their lead as little as 1.5 games on September 23, with seven games left. They’d end up winning it, but the Yanks took the wild card with relative ease, The Yanks had almost come all the way back, by doing almost nothing.
The pickings were seemingly slim in 2007. The Yanks definitely could have used Mark Teixeira, but there was no way they could match the Braves’ package without giving up Phil Hughes, and in 2007 that was off the table (partly because he was untouchable, partly because hew as injured at the deadline). Even then, that was one helluva trade, and I’m not sure the Yanks could have matched it anyway.
It was all going so well, and they would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling midges.
In the three years we’ve examined, the Yankees have made one big move, the 2006 trade for Bobby Abreu. Other than that they’ve gone with a series of lesser moves in hopes of shoring up a few weaknesses. I expect much of the same this year. Maybe they get a pitcher today, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The Yanks look good now, their flaws no greater than those of other teams.