Yankees can still add depth for the stretch run with small waiver trades

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Despite trading away valuable veterans at the deadline, the Yankees remain in the wildcard race and have a chance to at least make these last few weeks interesting. Are they the front-runners for the second wildcard spot? No. But they’re within striking distance, and as long as they’re close, they should continue to push for a postseason spot. If you’re not going to do that, what’s the point?

The Yankees are an obviously flawed team that is now at least fun to watch. They were pretty boring for most of the season. All of the recent call-ups have made things way more interesting, and I’m pretty sure they’ve made the Yankees an overall better team too. There are still ways to get better, and the Yankees can still make upgrades through waivers trades in the coming weeks.

A really quick crash course on trade waivers: every player on the 40-man roster has to go through trade waivers to be traded after the deadline. If the player goes unclaimed, he can be traded anywhere. If he is claimed, he can only be traded to the claiming team. Trade waivers are completely revocable, so if a player is claimed, he can be pulled back. Pretty much every player is placed on trade waivers this month. By putting everyone on waivers, teams mask the guys they actually want to trade.

Players must be in the organization by 11:59pm ET on August 31st to be eligible for the postseason roster and that’s a hard deadline. There are no loopholes around that one. Obviously if you make a waiver trade, you want to be able to take that player into October. But the Yankees aren’t in position to think that far ahead yet. They have to get to the postseason first, and if that means making a trade after August 31st, so be it.

The Yankees are committed to this transition and playing the kids, as they should be. There are still ways to upgrade the roster around them and improve the team’s chances of contention, and the Yankees should look to do that in the coming weeks. Here are the obvious spots Brian Cashman & Co. could look to upgrade for the stretch drive, plus some potential targets on teams out of the race.

The Sixth Starter

The last turn through the rotation has gone well thanks to Chad Green and Luis Cessa, who are replacing the injured Nathan Eovaldi and the ineffective Luis Severino. Severino is the sixth starter by default right now, which isn’t great because he has some things to work on in Triple-A. There’s always room for more pitching, though right now, the pickin’s are slim. Unless you want to pay big for someone like Jeremy Hellickson, that is. One veteran candidate stands out as a possible trade target.

De La Rosa. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)
De La Rosa. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies: The Rockies were three games back of a wildcard spot as recent as August 4th, though they’ve struggled of late and have slipped to seven games back. De La Rosa, an impending free agent, has a 5.07 ERA (5.19 FIP) in 110 total innings this season, though that doesn’t tell the whole story. He started the year in the rotation, pitched terribly, got demoted to the bullpen, then eventually rejoined the rotation.

De La Rosa made his first start back in the rotation against the Yankees and held them scoreless over five innings, as you may remember. Since rejoining the rotation the 35-year-old southpaw has a 3.56 ERA (5.00 FIP) in 78.1 total innings. The Yankees have been connected to De La Rosa before, both as a free agent and in trades, so there may be lingering interest. You could do a lot worse than a guy with a history of missing bats, getting grounders, and experience pitching in a harsh home ballpark for your sixth starter.

The Extra Reliever

No, they’re not Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, but Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard have done a fine job in the seventh and eighth inning since the trade deadline. The middle relief is still a bit sketchy — Tommy Layne and Blake Parker haven’t done much to solve things — and besides, there’s always room for another quality reliever. Reliever prices have been pretty high, though there’s a chance they may come down as rebuilding teams look to unload impending free agents rather than lose them for nothing after the season. Here are some potential bullpen targets.

Jim Johnson, Braves: The Braves have been signing and flipping scrap heap arms for prospects all year. They did it with Bud Norris, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Grilli, and Lucas Harrell. Johnson has a 3.50 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 46.1 innings thanks to an improved strikeout rate (24.2%) and his typically excellent ground ball rate (56.6%). He’s been closing the last few weeks, ever since Arodys Vizcaino landed on the DL with an oblique problem. Johnson’s on a cheap one-year contract.

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
Logan. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Boone Logan, Rockies: The Yankees went from having two of the three best lefty relievers in baseball to no reliable southpaws at the trade deadline. Miller and Chapman are gone, leaving guys like Layne, Chasen Shreve, and Richard Bleier to pick up the slack. It hasn’t gone too well. Logan is having a phenomenal contract year, pitching to a 2.65 ERA (2.42 FIP) in 37.1 innings. More importantly, he’s held left-handed batters to a .148/.213/.253 batting line with a 32.6% strikeout rate and a 62.5% ground ball rate. He’s been a shutout left-on-left matchup guy.

Carlos Torres, Brewers: Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been an irrational Carlos Torres fan for a few years now. He’s have a strong season in Milwaukee (2.86 ERA and 3.78 FIP) and he’s a rubber-armed swingman, someone who can throw two or three innings at a time and pitch back-to-back-to-back days with no problem. As an added bonus, Torres would remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2018. The Yankees don’t have a long man at the moment and Torres would fill that void well.

The Big Bench Bat

Pitching is pitching and teams always need it. These next two positions are September specialties. Only once rosters expand does it make sense to dedicate a spot to an extra lefty bench bat, something the Yankees lack right now. (Their current bench is Mark Teixeira, Aaron Hicks, Ronald Torreyes, and Austin Romine.) Expanded rosters give teams the flexibility to carry a dedicated pinch-hitting specialist, which can come in handy. Here are two candidates.

Ryan Howard, Phillies: Go ahead and laugh. After all, Howard is hitting .198/.252/.445 (78 wRC+) on the season and he’s been a punchline for three or four years now. He hasn’t even hit righties this year (.206/.268/.472). So why target him? Because Howard is a short porch friendly left-handed hitter who can still hit a baseball to the moon …

… and he’s hitting .378/.425/.838 (228 wRC+) this month. The Phillies have been trying to give Howard away for close to two years now. Picking him up for cash considerations, say the pro-rated portion of the league minimum, to pinch-hit 12-15 times in September as literally the 40th man on the 40-man roster is a super-low-risk move. One well-timed dinger in those 12-15 September at-bats would make it all worth it.

Justin Morneau, White Sox: The Howard logic applies to Morneau, though Morneau is at least hitting a respectable .275/.312/.480 (108 wRC+) in limited time with the White Sox this year. They signed him at midseason following offseason elbow surgery and the club has since fallen out of the race, so there’s not much point in keeping him. As with Howard, Morneau could be a strategic September pinch-hitter as long as he comes super cheap.

The Pinch-Runner Specialist

Designated pinch-runners have become a September staple. The Yankees don’t have a true burner in Triple-A, and in fact their best pinch-runner option may be Jorge Mateo, who will have to be added to the 40-man roster for Rule 5 Draft protection after the season anyway. Is it worth calling him and starting his service time clock for that? Maybe. There are other candidates around the league though.

Emilio Bonifacio, Braves: Bonifacio never has been able to carve out as a role as a super utility guy, but he can still run, and he currently leads the Triple-A International league with 37 steals (in 42 attempts). He’s always been a bit reckless on the bases, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, but at least he won’t hesitate to run. Bonifacio is mighty aggressive.

Michael Bourn, Diamondbacks: Bourn’s days as an elite base-stealer are over because he’s old by speed guy standards (33), but he can still run a little and is 12-for-17 in steal attempts this year. I also think there’s something to be said for his base-stealing experience and knowing pitchers (and their moves) around the league.

Mastroianni. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Mastroianni. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Darin Mastroianni, Twins: A sexy name? Nope. But neither was Rico Noel last year, and Rico did the job well. Mastroianni has been up-and-down and hurt this year, so he hasn’t played much and only has ten steals (in 13 attempts). This is a guy who went 56-for-67 (84%) in steal attempts from 2013-15 though. Remember, the September pinch-runner only has to run. He doesn’t have to hit or even field. Just run. Mastroianni can run.

* * *

The important thing here is expanding rosters. There’s no sense in acquiring someone like Howard or Mastroianni right now. They’re guys you acquire on August 31st and activate on September 1st, once rosters expand so you don’t have to cut someone loose. The Yankees can still commit to playing the kids while upgrading the margins of their roster, either with some extra arms or bench players. And as long as they’re in the postseason race, even minor league upgrades are moves worth making.

Update: “No chance” the Yankees pursue Michael Bourn

Friday: Wally Matthews hears there is “no chance” the Yankees will pursue Bourn, nevermind sign him. Not only is his price tag too high, but the team is looking for a right-handed outfield bat, not another lefty. No surprise here.

Sunday: Via Nick Cafardo: The Yankees are believed to be “quietly interested” in Michael Bourn. With Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton off the board, Bourn and Nick Swisher are by far the two best outfielders left on the free agent market.

Bourn, 30 later this month, hit .274/.348/.391 (104 wRC+) with 42 steals (in 55 attempts) for the Braves this year. He’s one of the very defensive outfielders in the game and has a classic slap-hitting, leadoff man profile from the left side of the plate. The Yankees already have two of those guys in Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki, so their supposed interest doesn’t make much sense. Add in the fact that he’s a Scott Boras client (no discount) and would require a draft pick to sign, this one doesn’t pass the sniff test.

Mailbag: Athletics, Ortiz, Youkilis, Lowrie, Bourn

Five questions this week and three of them involve Red Sox players, either current or former. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Travis asks: If Oakland is out of the running, which they may be now, would it be smart to look at possible moves for a NYY-OAK trade? Josh Reddick and Kurt Suzuki could be interesting for NY going forward.

Reddick, 25, is having a real big year (136 wRC+ and 17 homers) in Oakland though he has slowed down a bit in recent weeks. He’s always had power and so far he’s handled left-handers fine (136 wRC+), but it’s going to take an awful lot more than 98 plate appearances for him to prove that a career-long platoon issue is behind him. Obviously the Yankees need a young corner outfielder long-term so they should have interest in Reddick, but he’s not without his faults (he doesn’t walk, hasn’t hit lefties, and has a lengthy injury history). Billy Beane always seems to ask for way too much for his guys and I suspect this would be no different.

Suzuki, on the other hand, is just awful. The 28-year-old has hit .234/.292/.353 in nearly 1,300 plate appearances over the last three seasons and is down to .210/.249/.260 this year. The Athletics recently called up Derek Norris and he’s basically taken over as the starter even though Suzuki is owed more than $8M through the end of next season. Perhaps he’s just worn down after playing so many games behind the plate at such a young age — started 516 of 648 games from 2008-2011 (79.9%) — and his body just can’t handle it. Suzuki is owed way too much money and is just so impossibly bad at the plate that I don’t want him anywhere near the Yankees. I’d rather go with Frankie Cervelli and Chris Stewart next year if Russell Martin walks. Seriously.

Preston asks: What should the Yankees do at DH next season? David Ortiz seems like an obvious target, although that would clog up the DH spot. Another target might be Kevin Youkilis; he might be in line for a bounce back year and he could back up the corner infields keeping the DH a little bit more flexible.

Youkilis can do all of that and he’d be perfectly fine in that role. The only problem is that some team somewhere is going to offer him a starting job. He’s not going to come to New York to be a backup or even a half-time player when another team would pay him more money to start. Youkilis doesn’t want to stick it to the Red Sox, he doesn’t hold enough of a grudge to take a discount — both in salary and playing time — to wear pinstripes. It’s not gonna happen.

The issue with Ortiz is clogging up the DH spot that the Yankees use to rotate their regulars. With Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter getting even older, it’s that much more important to give them regular rest. Raul Ibanez is a guy you could sit for those two no problem, but Ortiz? I doubt it. He sure would look great in pinstripes and with that short porch, but I would be really surprised if the Yankees spent that much money on a player who is a true DH.

Daniel asks: This may be a bit off the wall, but what about going after Jed Lowrie? He’s hit very well since leaving Boston, and could be used as a super-sub with an eye towards taking over for Jeter in a few years.

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

Lowrie is actually second among all shortstops in fWAR this season thanks to his 14 homers and 132 wRC+. The Astros have used him at shortstop exclusively but he has experience at all four infield spots. As a switch-hitter with that kind of versatility, he’s an ideal bench target. The only problem is that he’s actually a starter and you’re going to have to pay a starter’s price to acquire him. Houston isn’t trading a bench player, they’re trading a legitimate starting shortstop — with two years of team control remaining — who the Yankees would choose to use as a bench player. That’s not the Astros problem.

Starting shortstops don’t come cheap, especially really good ones. Lowrie has slowed down in recent weeks and he is really injury prone — hasn’t had 500 total plate appearances in a season since 2008 — but he’s definitely a useful player, especially when batting against lefties. I have a hard time thinking that trading several prospects for a would-be bench player would be a net upgrade for the Yankees.

Mark asks: Should the Yanks consider pursuing Michael Bourn this off-season assuming they cannot come to terms with Nick Swisher?

I don’t think so. Bourn is really good, but he’s likely to command a larger contract that Swisher because he’s a better player even though they have very different styles. He does it with speed and defense while Swisher gets on-base and hits the ball over the fence. Plus playing two no-power guys in Bourn and Brett Gardner in the same outfield is really tough to do. They have to replace Swisher with someone capable of hitting the hitting for power; adding another leadoff type to a lineup that already has two of them isn’t the answer. That said, Bourn’s contract should make him a non-option for New York anyway.

Shai asks: In 1996, Mariano Duncan hit .340 and as a kid I felt that it was a weak .340, like he really wasn’t as good (in 1996) as that number. Did he have a high BABIP that year etc?

Andy Fox started nearly 40 games at second base in 1996, though Duncan was the everyday guy at that position for the most part. He hit .340/.352/.500 with eight homers that year, easily the best season of his career at the plate. This is a guy with a career 87 wRC+ suddenly posting a 113 one year. Like I always say, if you want to win a championship (in any sport), you need to get big contributions from unexpected placed. Duncan’s production that season was quite unexpected.

Anyway, that gaudy batting line was propped up by a .400 BABIP (.313 career), the fourth highest single-season BABIP of the last 25 years (min. 400 PA). Duncan didn’t walk at all (nine walks in 417 PA and one of them was intentional) and most of his power came in the form of doubles (34 two-baggers, three triples, eight homers). Does that qualify as an empty .340? Yeah I think so. I can’t imagine someone hitting for that high an average without getting on base 36% of the time, it seems impossible to do. That said, .340 is .340, and it helped the Yankees win the World Series.