Putting (a lot) of faith in the kids

Nope. (AP Photo/ Jack Dempsey)

Yesterday’s trade deadline came and went with no moves from the Yankees. Nothing, not a bench piece, not a spare bullpen arm, not an all-important lefty reliever, and certainly not a starting pitcher. They ended the day with the exact same squad as they woke up with. “I just feel like we’re a lot deeper [compared to the last few years],” said Brian Cashman in yesterday’s post-deadline press conference. “I’m willing, by the position I’ve taken in the last three weeks, to rely on that [rather] than go out and pay an enormous price on something that I’m not certain what it’s going to provide.”

That depth is something the Yankees didn’t have a few years ago and comes from having a strong farm system. They didn’t have to make a trade following injuries to Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez because Eduardo Nunez had played surprisingly well and Brandon Laird was a phone call away. Hector Noesi and scrap heaper Cory Wade shored up the bullpen after injuries to Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain. The Yankees are currently employing a six-man rotation because of that depth, and Cashman mentioned Adam Warren by name, calling him “a legitimate starting choice for us right now.” Other than Wade and the Brian Gordon experiment, the Yankees have plugged just about every hole from within this year.

But that depth only goes so far. The Yankees have been talking about improving their rotation since the offseason and they didn’t do it before the trade deadline. The current pitching plan is basically just wing it, hope that Bartolo Colon doesn’t tire down the stretch, hope that Freddy Garcia keeps generating ugly swings at an enormous rate, hope that Phil Hughes turns into the early-2010 version of himself, hope that Ivan Nova keeps it up, hope that the kids in the system make an immediate impact if called upon. That last part is the biggest question, because it’s not often young players (especially pitchers) come up and are immediate difference makers, even the most talented of hurlers.

I didn’t like the idea of giving up assets for the chronically injured Rich Harden or Erik Bedard, and I fully understand walking away from the Ubaldo Jimenez talks. I absolutely wanted him, said so many times in this space, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for a medical examination of a 27-year-old that has lost three miles an hour off his fastball when you’d have to give up multiple top prospects for him. The Indians obviously felt that way too, and for whatever reason Colorado granted their request. I like Doug Fister, but I don’t love him and question how successful he’ll be outside of Safeco Field and Seattle’s defense. The starting pitching market just didn’t develop, but it’s not much of an excuse. Did the Yankees misread the market? Get over-confident in their ability to absorb payroll as a trade chip? Something else? All of the above? Who knows.

Now, of course we have to mention that the July 31st trade deadline is really just an artificial deadline. Teams can still make trades in August through waivers, and there will be plenty of players available this month. Wandy Rodriguez, for example. There was no urgency to trade for him yesterday because no team is claiming that guy and the $38M left on his contract off waivers. If Hiroki Kuroda has a change of heart and agrees to waive his no-trade clause, he’ll be available as well. More teams will fall out of contention in the coming weeks (White Sox? Twins? Angels? Cardinals?) and some will certainly open up shop. The hunt for starting pitching didn’t end yesterday, or at least I hope it didn’t.

It’s admirable that the Yankees stuck to their guns and refused to overpay for they felt was less than a sure thing, especially since the GM doesn’t have a contract for next season, but the bottom line is that they needed to add to the rotation and didn’t. I love prospects as much as the next guy, but I’m also not really a fan of throwing them to wolves down the stretch, especially starting pitchers. The offense is fine (especially with Alex Rodriguez due back), the bullpen is fine (Soriano’s back, J.C. Romero is available at a moment’s notice), and the Yankees have a sizable lead on a playoff spot (eight games in the loss column), but another Colon hamstring problem or Nova sore ankle or collapse by A.J. Burnett, and their starting staff is going to be in big trouble. Winging it with the rotation is a risky proposition for a team with World Series aspirations.

Trade Deadline Post Mortem

To some it came as a shock. To others it made complete sense. But regardless of the reaction, the Yankees made a bold statement yesterday by completing no deals ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline. They will fight down the stretch and into the playoffs with the men currently on the roster. That seemed inconceivable at the beginning of the season, but after watching the first four months unfold and looking at the options on the market, Brian Cashman sounded pretty adamant about standing pat. Let’s take a moment to consider what it all means.

The Yankees’ Position

Despite the cries of an inconsistent offense, and despite the fear that the rotation won’t hold up, the Yankees are in a favorable position at the two-thirds mark. They’re just two games behind Boston for the AL East Lead, with Tampa Bay sitting 8.5 games back. They also lead Anaheim by 6.5 games in the Wild Card standings. The guys already on the roster have put them ahead of the pack. Furthermore, neither the Angels nor the Rays made any significant moves, so they remain on even ground. Boston added Mike Aviles, which hardly counts as a big move, and Erik Bedard, who will replace Clay Buchholz, who will miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his back. They might have added, but it was more about replacing a player than purely adding.

The Areas of Concern

Since the Yankees missed out on Cliff Lee last winter, they were expected to add a starter at the deadline. Cashman found nothing worthwhile on the trade market in January, and so played the waiting game. A team might not be willing to trade a high-end pitcher in the winter, when every team has a shot, but when reality set in by July perhaps a few would become available. This did happen, and in a way it is disappointing that the Yankees did not pounce. But as in all stories, there is more than one angle to this

The first angle comes from within, where the winter’s scrapheap signings, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, have exceeded expectations for the first two-thirds of the season. What’s more, they’ve actually looked good doing it. It’d be one thing if they were cruising along with super-low BABIPs, with regression just around the corner. It’s quite another when they have FIPs of 3.58 and 3.36 and BABIPs around .300. Their performances place them among the better pitchers in the league, so therefore fewer of the available arms represented upgrades.

(The other angle comes in the next section.)

On offense the team didn’t have many areas where upgrade was possible. All eight positions are capably claimed, leaving only the DH role as an opportunity. The Yankees DHs have hit .235/.317/.402 on the season; the .719 OPS ranks 11th in the AL, ahead of only Minnesota, Anaheim, and Seattle. Jorge Posada just finished an awful July, in which he hit .217/.284/.250. That takes away from the run he had from May to June, and leaves him with numbers far below expectations for a DH. There wasn’t necessarily a viable replacement on the market, but that doesn’t make DH any less an area of concern.

The Market

When the season began there was no indication that Ubaldo Jimenez would become available. It became even less of a possibility when Colorado got off to a hot start. But then they faded quickly, their flaws exposed for the baseball world to see. By July they were telling teams that they’d trade Ubaldo for a package that would help them address their several needs. That represented the best opportunity for the Yankees to truly upgrade the rotation.

The price, though, was deemed too great. The Rockies were asking the moon from the Yankees: Dellin Betances, Jesus Montero, and Ivan Nova just for starters. Phil Hughes was mentioned in these talks, and surely other names were exchanged between the two sides. That’s quite a prospect haul, though, and it’s one the Yankees did not deem worthy of the return. They had clear health concerns about Jimenez, and they made sure the media caught wind of those concerns.

Does injury concern justify the non-trade? I’d like to think that the concern, combined with the high prospect cost, was enough for the Yankees to eschew their best chance to add the one player who fit their needs. But I can’t help shed the idea that this is a post-facto justification. After all, there were no available No. 1 or No. 2 starters other than Ubaldo, and there is really only one available this winter (C.J. Wilson, at the cost of roughly $90 million). What are the chances that even one of Betances and Montero pans out? Isn’t it worth the cost in prospects to add a pitcher who has been a top-15 pitcher in the league since 2008, and who is under team control, at a huge discount, for the next two seasons?

There are certainly red flags involved. Jimenez has experienced a dip in velocity, and the Rockies refused the Yankees’ request to perform a pre-trade MRI. Of course, few pitchers maintain 96 mph fastballs for very long, and it’s not as though Ubaldo has dropped to the low 90s; he’s still averaging 94 mph this year. The Rockies’ refusal to perform an MRI makes sense as well, since you can find some sort of damage in any pitcher’s shoulder. It seems that the Yankees, for whatever reason, determined that they didn’t want to pay the cost in prospects for Ubaldo, and they covered themselves well. From the outside perspective, though, I’m still a little disappointed they didn’t put a suitable offer on the table.

Beyond Jimenez, the only other starter who represented a true upgrade was Hiroki Kuroda, but he invoked his no-trade clause and will remain a Dodger. There’s nothing anyone can do about that, so we might as well consider him unavailable from the start. There’s a chance Wandy Rodriguez could be a No. 3 in the East, but the Yankees wanted Houston to eat 45 percent of his contract. It’s understandable, since there’s a chance that Rodriguez would merely be a No. 4 in the East and therefore greatly overpaid. The two sides found no common ground, and so the Yankees avoided that risk. Every other starter was of the No. 4 or No. 5 ilk, a resource that the Yankees possess in relative abundance. They’re actually carrying two right now in Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes, and then they have Adam Warren at AAA. They might be able to find even more of this type on the waiver wire, should all of their current No. 4 and No. 5 options falter.

The Next Two Months

The Yankees didn’t necessarily need an upgrade to make the current rotation better. They’re fifth in the AL in ERA, fourth in FIP, second in xFIP, and fourth in WAR. What the Yankees needed at the deadline was insurance against drop-offs from Colon and Garcia. They’re the two unknowns right now, and the Yankees would do well to protect themselves against possible attrition.

That isn’t to say that either or both will necessarily decline later in the season. Garcia has actually seemed stronger as the season has moved along, missing more bats as he’s more fully harnessed his arsenal. He also pitched 150 innings last year, so he has a recent history of relative durability. Colon, on the other hand, hasn’t pitched more than 100 innings since 2005. He might stay healthy yet — we have no idea what the stem cell procedure truly did for his arm health and strength — but there is a matter of general fatigue. Can a 38-year-old out of shape man continue throwing darts for the next three months?

Essentially, all the Yankees lost here was a chance to hedge their bets. Unfortunately, since the bets are so big — both Colon and Garcia are in the top 20 in the AL in ERA and FIP — the hedge costs that much more. In this case it was Ubaldo, and the Yankees thought that the three, or more, prospects weren’t worth what they were getting. That might blow up in their faces, but they’ve pretty firmly stated that they’re willing to take that risk.

It’s surprising, for certain, that the Yankees made no moves at the deadline. But after examining the market, it appears that there was only one player available who truly fit their needs. They don’t need another No. 4 or No. 5 starter; they have enough of those in-house, and those don’t work out there’s the waiver trade market. What they needed, if anything, was a No. 2 starter who would represent a hedge against attrition from Garcia or Colon. But a bet on such a high level of performance will always cost a lot, and the Yankees deemed it unworthy. It’s certainly a risk to move forward with a reliance on Colon and Garcia, but it’s not as though they’ve failed the team this year.

Montero expected to join Yankees “in the very near future”

Via John Nalbone, sources close to the Yankees have indicated that Jesus Montero is expected to be called up to the big leagues “in the very near future.” Austin Romine and Dellin Betances are also next in line for a promotion to Triple-A Scranton following Manny Banuelos‘ promotion yesterday.

Derek Jeter‘s bruised right middle finger might actually work against Montero for the time being, since the Yankees probably don’t want to send Frankie Cervelli down just yet. As we saw yesterday, he’s their emergency middle infielder. Once Jeter gets back onto the field and shows the finger issue isn’t lingering, then it may be time. Montero has a .339 wOBA overall with Scranton, but he hit well in July (.271/.346/.514) and has performed very well against lefties (.307/.361/.557) and away from PNC Field (.298/.356/.465) this season.

Fan Confidence Poll: August 1st, 2011

Record Last Week: 5-2 (47 RS, 25 RA)
Season Record:
64-42 (560 RS, 410 RA, 69-37 pythag. record), two games back in the loss column
Opponents This Week:
@ White Sox (four games, Mon. to Thurs.) @ Red Sox (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Gardner & Garcia help close out homestand with a win

I’m going to be perfectly honest: I really didn’t watch very much of this game. I was too busy following all the trade deadline happenings, so I didn’t do much more than take a quick glance at the television every few minutes. I did listen though, which isn’t always the wisest of decisions when Michael Kay and Paul O’Neill are in the booth. Anyway, let’s quickly recap…

  • The big blow of the game: Brett Gardner‘s bases loaded triple in the fourth. All three runners came around to score, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead. Having the speedy Eduardo Nunez on first helped, a guy with even average speed wasn’t scoring ahead of the relay throws. Gardner’s not going to hit many grand slams (he does have one in his career), but triples are almost as good. He crossed the plate on Curtis Granderson‘s groundout two batters later.
  • Those four runs are all the Yankees would need, thought they had chances to score more. Nick Swisher left the bases loaded twice in the first three innings, once with a regular ground ball for out number three, once with a comebacker that Jake Arrieta turned into a 1-6-3 double play. They also left men at second and third in the sixth and men at the corners in the seventh.
  • Freddy Garcia chugged through six innings, giving up two runs on five hits (all singles) and two walks. He struck out six and generated 14 swings and misses, his third highest total this year and more than he got in any game last season. The trio of Hector Noesi (two outs), David Robertson (four outs), and Mariano Rivera (three outs) closed the game out. Noesi allowed a single and struck out a batter, D-Rob struck out the side in the eighth.
  • Derek Jeter left the game with a bruised right middle finger (he’s day-to-day), forcing some defensive shenanigans since Robinson Cano started at DH. Frankie Cervelli pinch-hit for Jeter in the fourth inning, then took over at second base while Nunez slid over to short. Cervelli had never played second before, not in the minors or majors. He had to make just two plays in the field, the first covering second on a steal attempt (runner was safe), and on the second he had to range to his left to snag a ground ball. He turned around and got the force out at second, which was pretty impressive. Cano came into the game for defense seventh. Nice job filling in, Frankie.
  • Curtis Granderson had a single, both Nunez and Mark Teixeira had two singles and a walk, Swisher had a single, Eric Chavez a walk, and Russell Martin a walk. That sums up the offense outside of Gardner’s big triple.
  • The Yankees wrapped up their ten-game homestand with a 7-3 record, losing one game each to the Athletics, Mariners, and Orioles. That’s a big success. Here’s the box score, here’s the advanced stats, and here’s the standings.

Now the Yankees hit the road for seven games against various forms of Sox. The first of four against the White Sox will be played Monday night, when CC Sabathia gets the ball against Jake Peavy. If you’re in the Windy City, RAB Tickets can get you into the game for cheap.