Under normal circumstances the best team in baseball probably doesn’t need to change a lot around the trade deadline. They got there for a reason, and unless they have reason to suspect that one or more of their players’ performances will change in the second half a few tweaks will probably suffice. The Yankees, however, are not playing under normal circumstances. The AL East contains three of the best four or five teams in baseball, so even a modest losing streak can put their playoff chances in jeopardy. They would be best served by exploring all options that can improve the team in any way.
The Cliff Lee deal made sense from that perspective. He’s going to pitch better than the Yankees’ current fifth starter in the second half, so he would have been an upgrade to the rotation. He also would have rendered one of its members, probably Javy Vazquez, expendable, meaning they could trade him to help shore up another area of the team. At the same time, there are other deals out there that more directly address the team’s concerns. Those moves will not require the Yankees to trade Jesus Montero.
The bullpen presents one area of concern. Joba Chamberlain remains in the eighth inning role not only because the Yankees want to show confidence in him, but because there is no viable alternative on the roster. I sometimes delude myself into thinking that Robertson and Marte can handle that role, but it seems like every time they’re given a chance something goes wrong. The rest of the bullpen is probably closer to a DFA than a regular setup role, so something must be done to address this concern. Problem is, as I’ve repeated, that every team could use bullpen help, making relievers prohibitively expensive on the trade market. The Yanks might make a move here, but I see them focusing on a different spot.
Nick Johnson is done. The team might not have officially ruled him out for the season, but we should know better than that. It’s a shame, not only because the signing was a complete bust, but because Johnson is exactly the type of hitter the Yanks could use right now. A left-handed hitter probably ranks among the team’s biggest wants. Maybe a better utility player ranks among their wants as well, but a left-handed hitter with some power would make more of an impact, since the Yankees could use him as both a DH and PH.
Against left-handers the Yankees are set. They can play either Posada or Cervelli at catcher while using Marcus Thames, who was signed specifically to hit lefties, at DH. It’s against righties where the team hits a snag. Posada could DH in some of those situations, but that doesn’t make the best use of the team’s resources. It would mean more Cervelli at catcher, and considering his performance since May 18 (.197/.271/.239), the Yankees shouldn’t want more of that. It would essentially be surrendering the value they’d be gaining at DH for the value they’d be losing behind the plate. This means the Yankees should be on the market for a left-handed bat, preferably someone who can occasionally pop the ball over the porch in right.
Juan Miranda should and likely will get another shot in the role. He has hit well at AAA this season, and has been on a tear since returning from a minor injury. His performance at the major league level this year was nothing great, but he also appeared at the plate only 51 times, hardly a sampling by which to judge him. Even if he does get a full shot he’s not going to be a feared PH/DH option, but he can provide more value than, say Kevin Russo, who has a whole two plate appearances since June 19. Still, the Yankees might want to explore the market for a more reputable option.
There are a few left-handed DH types on the market right now, including Adam Dunn and Adam LaRoche. The Mariners will likely make Russell Branyan available, but I doubt Cashman would deal with them at this point. Lyle Overbay’s season looks disappointing, but he’s hitting .309/.388/.463 since June 1 and is hitting .269/.358/.453 on the season against right handed pitching. All of these players will become free agents after the season, and so far it sounds like only Adam Dunn will carry a hefty price tag. The Diamondbacks might be apt to trade LaRoche and the Blue Jays might deal Overbay because neither figures to net them a free agent compensation pick.
Beyond these players the Yanks might be stuck. There are currently 17 teams either leading their division or within five games, so those teams almost certainly will be of the buying, or at least the holding, type. Looking at the rosters of the non-contenders, there don’t appear to be many players who fit the mold of LHB with pop. There is Carlos Delgado, who could return this month, but he brings no guarantees either. The upside is that he’d cost just money, and if he didn’t work out the Yanks would be in the same position as they are right now.
Considering the players available on the trade market and the Yankees’ current needs, the team probably won’t make a big splash in the next two weeks. The current team is strong, and if they continue realizing Mark Teixeira’s production and if A-Rod truly is, as he said at the Home Run Derby, feeling stronger, then a lot of their minor issues will correct themselves. They could still use help with a left-handed bat, and they’ll have options. It just probably won’t be a big-time, sexy name. The team just doesn’t need that right now.