On July 24th, one week before the trade deadline, the Yankees were 53-42 and 5.5 games up in the AL East. They had scored the second most runs in baseball (435) but also allowed the 12th most (409) at the time. They were pretty healthy too. Andrew Miller and Jacoby Ellsbury had both returned from their injuries, and Ivan Nova had returned from Tommy John surgery.
Things were going pretty darn well for the Yankees in late-July. There were also some clear needs, particularly at second base and in the rotation. Getting another starter was going to take some creativity because the Yankees had five starters (six if you count Adam Warren), though they sorely lacked an innings eater and, frankly, a dominator. Masahiro Tanaka had his moments but there was a little too much mediocrity mixed in to call him a true ace.
Given those needs, the nice but not entirely comfortable lead in the division, and the fact they hadn’t been to the postseason in either of the last two years, I thought the Yankees would be aggressive at the trade deadline. Instead, they walked away with Dustin Ackley and nothing else. That doesn’t mean they didn’t try to get help, it just means they didn’t pull the trigger on anything. In the end, the results were both good and bad.
The Good: Keep the Kids
Scroll back through our various Trade Deadline Open Threads and you’ll see the Yankees were connected to a whole bunch of players before the deadline, some more than others. They were in on guys like Mike Leake, Jeff Samardzija, Yovani Gallardo, Carter Capps, Tyler Clippard, and Mat Latos, among others. I don’t even remember half of that.
When it was all said and one, we only heard about three serious offers. Well, four if you count the completed Ackley trade. Here are the three deals that didn’t get done:
- Ben Zobrist for Warren and Rob Refsnyder (proposed by Athletics)
- Cameron Maybin for Gary Sanchez (proposed by Braves)
- Craig Kimbrel and Jedd Gyorko for Jorge Mateo plus stuff (proposed by Yankees?)
The Maybin-for-Sanchez offer makes no sense. The Yankees already had a great right-handed hitting outfielder in Chris Young and literally no roster space for Maybin. I guess they could have acquired Maybin instead of Ackley, but why? That was the Braves trying to get a talented young catcher. Didn’t make sense for New York.
Zobrist, on the other hand, would have fit the Yankees perfectly because he fits every team perfectly. He would have stepped in at second base, an area of great need for New York, and provided them with another switch-hitting bat for the lineup. The Kimbrel stuff came after the Yankees decided the price of rotation help was too high, so they were going to beef up the bullpen instead. Gyorko would have platooned with Stephen Drew at second.
Look at the names involved in those trades. Refsnyder, Sanchez, Mateo. Warren’s not really a kid but he was under control for a few more years and was a really valuable piece of the pitching staff in 2015. Luis Severino and Greg Bird were also mentioned in rumors at the trade deadline. So was Aaron Judge. These guys are all among the top young players in the organization and all except Mateo were knocking on the door of MLB at the trade deadline.
The Yankees kept these players and now most of them are in position to help next season. Heck, Severino and Bird helped almost immediately after the trade deadline. Refsnyder helped later in the year. Judge isn’t far off either. There is a clear path for these players to take on significant roles with the Yankees in the extremely near future. Severino has a rotation spot locked up. Refsnyder was going to at least compete for the second base job until the Starlin Castro trade. Bird and Judge are stuck behind Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, though those two will be free agents next winter.
It would have been very easy — and I would have considered it totally justifiable — to trade any of those young players for a rental player at the deadline. Instead, the Yankees stuck to their guns, continued what qualifies as a Yankees youth movement, and kept their top youngsters. Now those players are in line to help and the Yankees will potentially reap the rewards going forward. They held on to their MLB ready guys. We’re not going to wait another two years to see them in pinstripes.
The Bad: Second Half Collapse
The Yankees were 5.5 games up a week before the deadline, seven games up two days before the deadline, and yet they finished six games back in the division. They lost 13 games in the standings to the Blue Jays in the final two months of the season. The Yankees finished one game better than the Astros for the top wildcard spot and two games better than the Angels for a wildcard spot in general.
That’s quite a collapse. The Yankees really could have used some help in the second half! Zobrist and even Gyorko would have (potentially) helped the offense, and if nothing else, Kimbrel would have meant fewer innings for the shuttle guys down the stretch in September. There’s also David Price. The Yankees made a run at Price before the deadline but fell short, reportedly because the Tigers really wanted Daniel Norris.
I have a hard time believing it would have been impossible to bridge the gap between Severino and Norris, but it doesn’t really matter now. Price is a balance of power guy. He changes the entire complexion of a division race and we saw that down the stretch. Price dominated (2.30 ERA and 2.22 FIP) for the Blue Jays and they won nine of his eleven starts. He helped them win other games by saving the bullpen too (averaged 6.2 innings per start).
Who knows what would have happened had the Yankees been more willing to trade young players at the deadline. The offense crashed so hard those last few weeks that adding Zobrist or Gyorko or whoever else might not have mattered. The Blue Jays may have beat up on Price and mashed their way to first place anyway had New York landed the left-hander.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say the second half fade could have been slowed somewhat with some deadline help. Enough to win the division? Probably enough. Enough to win the wildcard game? Well that’s a much different story. Price starting that game instead of Tanaka and/or Zobrist/Gyorko instead of Refsnyder at second could have made all the difference in the world.
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Believe me, I’m happy the Yankees kept Severino and Bird and those others guys. I look forward to watching them play next season and beyond. I also appreciate a team that goes for it. Too many clubs are content to sit back and wait for the future. At the time, I wanted the Yankees to go for it at the deadline, especially Price and Zobrist. Not doing so looks smart in hindsight, but only in hindsight in my opinion.