The Yankees came into the All-Star break with a 48-40 record and a +26 run differential. They have a 3.5-game lead in the AL East and have held sole possession of first place during 43 of 88 games this season. The Yankees were in sole possession of first during 32 games combined from 2013-14. Jeepers. This season has been much more enjoyable than the last two, yes. Here are some thoughts.
1. This is what I’ve learned about the Yankees in the first half: they are flawed — second base is a black hole and the rotation is inconsistent, putting it gently — and they are also the most well-rounded team in the division. The Red Sox, Orioles, and Blue Jays all live and die by their offense while the Rays have good pitching but no offense. The Yankees have a very good offense and the best pitching among the AL East’s non-Rays teams. This division is right there for the taking and the Yankees have to be considered the favorites. Not only because they lead the division right now, but because they boast the deepest roster in the division even with those second base and rotation concerns. This is the first time since 2012 that I’ve felt the Yankees are legitimately the team to beat in the AL East.
2. I expect the Yankees to be active at the trade deadline. Know why? Because they are in first place and they haven’t been to the postseason in two years. Hal Steinbrenner & Co. are surely very motivated to get the team to October this year because they don’t want to miss out on all that postseason revenue again, among other reasons. That could mean they will be more willing to take on salary at the trade deadline or surrender top prospects to get a deal done. Like I said, the AL East is there for the taking, and the Yankees want to take it. I would be surprised if they pulled the trigger on a blockbuster like Johnny Cueto, but I definitely think we’ll see some pitching depth brought in and possibly even a second baseman, regardless of how well Rob Refsnyder plays the next few weeks.
3. Speaking of Refsnyder, John Harper says he will remain with the team after the All-Star break, which makes sense. There’s no reason to send him down now. Hell, he should have been up weeks ago. The Yankees didn’t leave themselves a whole lot of time to evaluate Refsnyder before the trade deadline. He could be the answer at second base! Or he might not be. No one really knows. The second half begins Friday and the trade deadline will be exactly two weeks away. Two weeks to determine if Refsnyder is the answer at second base in the second half or if they need to make a trade. That’s not much time! They really did stick with Stephen Drew way too long. Hopefully they run Refsnyder out there everyday out of the break. No reason not to at this point.
4. Both Brendan Ryan and Carlos Beltran are expected back from the DL either immediately after the All-Star break or soon thereafter. With Refsnyder back, it’ll be interesting to see how they squeeze those guys on the roster. Gregorio Petit is an obvious send down candidate, though that’s just one roster spot. Garrett Jones is useful as a backup first baseman/fifth outfielder who can come off the bench and yank something into the short porch, which means either Drew or Ryan gets the axe. It has to be Ryan, right? He can’t stay healthy and he even though he’s a solid defender, he contributes nothing on offense. Drew is a fine defender himself — he can play both middle infield spots plus some third base — and at least he’ll run into a mistake pitch and hit the ball out of the park on occasion. Keeping both Ryan and Drew and cutting Jones loose doesn’t make sense. They’re redundant. One of Ryan or Drew has to go, and Ryan’s the obvious choice. Maybe this would be a tougher decision if Ryan hadn’t spent so much time on the DL the last two years.
5. Let’s close with a fun little exercise. It’s the bottom of the ninth in Game Seven of the World Series. The Yankees have a one-run lead with two outs, but the tying run is at third base. Who do you want the ball hit to? Using the regular everyday lineup, but excluding the pitcher and catcher because they’re not usually the guys who field a ball in play, I’d say:
- Mark Teixeira
- Jacoby Ellsbury
- Brett Gardner
- Chase Headley
- Didi Gregorius
- Drew (or Refsnyder)
Nos. 1, 2, and 3 are basically 1A, 1B, and 1C. I’d be comfortable with the ball being hit towards any of those three guys. After that it gets interesting. Headley has been a great defender his entire career except the first half of this season. Gregorius has been excellent in the field of late but had a knack for knuckleheaded plays earlier this season. Drew is as sure-handed as they come but his inexperience at second is evident at times. You could argue Drew should be fourth. Being a good defender and having the trust of fans are not the same thing!