For the past two decades, the Yankees have not been trade deadline sellers. They have been perennially competitive, often missing just a piece or two to seal a playoff berth, and selling has long gone against the Steinbrenner ethos mandating winning now and winning at any cost. But what if the Yanks decide to sell? What if it makes more sense for 2014 and beyond to face the stark reality of 2013?
As the trade deadline nears, the Yankees find themselves in a complicated position. Their loss last night to the Red Sox dropped them to an even .500 since May 1, and they’re 21-23 since June 1 with a run differential of -20. They’re seven games behind Boston and 5.5 in back of Tampa Bay, but because of the second Wild Card, they’re just 3.5 games behind a chance to compete in an exciting but incredibly stressful play-in game. They’re just tantalizingly close to want to buy but not really good enough to compete, and to make matters worse, their offensive hopes are resting on the bats (and legs) of two guys closer to 40 than 35.
Meanwhile, the market right now decidedly favors sellers. There is a dearth of top-tier, race-changing talent available, and the promise of a qualifying offer allows those with bargaining chips to extract maximum value. If the Yankees were to become sellers, they have plenty of bargaining chips. So as an exercise in curiosity, let’s pretend the Yankees become sellers. They won’t trade all of these players listed, and they may only trade the one with the least amount of value. But maybe the team should consider selling and restocking. With the cards they’re holding, the spoils could be great.
1. Hiroki Kuroda
With CC’s struggles, Kuroda has emerged as the clear-cut Yankee ace and just a sheer pleasure to watch pitch. He’s giving up less than a home run per 9 IP and has a 2.65 ERA in the AL East. He’s signed to a one-year contract worth $15 million and would be a hot commodity on the market. He also has a no-trade clause that he has used in the past, notably to block a trade to the Yankees in 2011. In a sellers market, Kuroda could likely fetch a top-30 prospect and a top-100 prospect and maybe another fringy player.
2. Robinson Cano
Much like trading Kuroda would represent a pitching white flag, trading Cano would mean the end of any Yankee offense. I don’t believe the team will trade, and in fact, I strongly suspect Cano will sign a long-term deal to stay with the Yankees. Yet, he’s a second baseman playing superb defense with a .919 OPS. He also won’t take any qualifying offer. For 60 games of Cano, the returns would likely be at least what Kuroda could command. Trade one, and the future prospects are looking good. Trade two, and you can reload in a week.
3. David Robertson
Robertson is a great “sell” piece if the Yanks go down that route. He’s been a stand-out reliever for years and earns $3 million a year. He has a season of team control left and could likely close for a contender in need of a steady 9th inning presence. A Mike Adams trade under similar circumstances netted two B level prospects, and the relief market is unclear right now. A desperate team would part with more.
4. Phil Hughes
For Yankee fans, Hughes is a symbol of frustration. Heralded as the next big thing, he’s emerged more as a 4/5 type rather than 1/2 type many projected. Still, some of that stems from a combination of his pitching approach and home ballpark. Outside of Yankee Stadium, he’s got a 3.38 ERA, and the home run rate drops precipitously from nearly 2 per 9 IP to around 1.1 per 9 IP. He’s a change-of-scenery guy who could net a B grade prospect or even a B+ type if the market continues to tighten.
5. Joba Chamberlain
Once upon a time, Joba would have been untouchable. The third ranked prospect in all of baseball, Joba arrived like a revelation and then faltered. We could point fingers for hours, but it’s clear he needs to move on. Whether the Yanks are sellers or not, I’d be surprised if Joba is here on August 1. He didn’t get the ball before Adam Warren in the 11th inning last night, but if you squint, you can see velocity and a good strike out rate. Any returns will be nominal, and the Yanks’ best chances at getting anything back probably involve a package of Hughes and Joba. Save the big three, indeed.
So what do you do? The Yankees have Mariano’s farewell tour to complete, tickets to sell and ratings to realize. They want to get under a dollar threshold for 2014, and if they hope to accomplish this unlikely goal, they need cost-controlled young talent. It may makes sense to face the facts of a doomed season with too many obstacles and injuries to overcome to sell. But they’re still the Yankees, and the Yankees don’t sell.