For the past two years, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has been dormant at the trade deadline. Nothing last year, and just Edwin Encarnacion in June 2019.
The Yankees were aggressive both in 2017 (Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson and Sonny Gray) and 2018 (Zack Britton, J.A. Happ and Luke Voit, plus Andrew McCutchen in late August).
In 2016, for the only time in Cashman’s two-plus decade GM tenure, the Yankees sold — notably moving Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, but also Carlos Beltran and Ivan Nova.
In 2021, all doors are open seven weeks before the non-waiver deadline. The Yankees have not defined themselves enough to determine if they will buy big, not buy at all or even sell. Wouldn’t it be something if they punted and re-did the Chapman-Miller scenario by dealing Chapman and Zack Britton?
That is unlikely without an utter collapse. What is more probable is another avenue: What Cashman did in 2014. That was a transitional year. Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera had retired after 2013. Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson had left in free agency. Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the season. The Yankees bought Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Masahiro Tanaka. More importantly, it was Derek Jeter’s farewell campaign, so the orders were to try to win despite evidence the team was not good enough.
In the “what is old is new” department: Michael Pineda was caught with pine tar on his neck and the offense was unplugged, particularly because the shift was devastating the batting average of Yankees lefties. Tanaka and CC Sabathia were lost for long periods. Cashman could not justify giving up big prospects for a club that was .500 at the All-Star break and was filled with shortcomings. So, instead, he made a series of small deals for Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Brandon McCarthy and Martin Prado. They helped. The Yankees got to 84 wins and second place, but didn’t make the playoffs.
The Yankees do not have anything like Jeter retiring as motivation this year. But they have invested more than $200 million on this roster and don’t want to just concede that the Red Sox have yo-yo’d down and up again and passed them and the tiny-market Rays are just so much better. Thus, I envision Cashman hoping mainly the pitching improves internally, with healthy returns for Britton, Corey Kluber, Darren O’Day, Luis Severino and Justin Wilson. The focus would then be on finding Headley or Prado types to help positional depth, particularly left-handed natters. The Yankees, hitting lefty, collectively had 550 plate appearances and an MLB-worst slash line of .187/.283/.300 entering Friday.
Fortunately for the Yankees, some non-contending teams are lining up to offer solutions, both large and small:
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
They have lost 19 straight road games and had the majors’ worst record. For about a month, I have been championing Ketel Marte as the ideal Yankees acquisition to fill in many of their blanks — switch-hitter, multi-positional, athletic, on a team-friendly contract. If Arizona agreed to move him, it would mean, though, a sizable return and lots of competition from other contenders.
Asdrubal Cabrera, a free agent after the season, would provide a switch-hitter who can play anywhere in the infield except shortstop. Eduardo Escobar, owed $7.5 million next season, also is a multi-positional switch-hitter. David Peralta, owed $7.5 million next year, is a lefty corner bat, the same as Kole Calhoun, who might not be healthy enough after hamstring surgery to take a risk on this year. Josh Reddick, signed for just $775,000, is an experienced lefty bat. Josh Rojas, not even arbitration eligible until after the 2022 season, is a lefty bat who can play infield and outfield.
If the Yankees, say, traded for Cabrera and Rojas, they probably still could stay under the $210 million luxury tax (as they have intended) and give Aaron Boone much better options.
2. Minnesota Twins
How much will Minnesota step back as expected contention has met the reality of last place? Byron Buxton is not left-handed, and he has much in common with Aaron Hicks — an injury-prone first-round pick. His two-way talent, however, is so much better than Hicks that if the Twins make him available because of the injuries and a belief they cannot sign him long term (he is a free agent after the 2022 season), then the Yankees (and many others) have to at least seriously consider it.
Lefty-swinging outfielder Max Kepler (currently on the IL) and switch-hitting infielder Jorge Polanco are both on manageable long-term deals. Would the Twins think they have better internal answers plus ways to spend the saved money? Luis Arraez (also currently on the IL) is the kind of powerless hitter the Yankees ignore. But his lefty bat-to-ball skills (he’s a career .342 hitter versus righty pitching) and ability to play all over make him appealing.
3. Miami Marlins
Like Buxton, Starling Marte is a righty hitter. But he will turn 33 in October and in his walk year for a team eight games under .500 entering the weekend. He can hit and play center field. If Miami were willing to make a substantial trade with Marte that also included shortstop Miguel Rojas (on the IL now with a club option for 2022) and starter Pablo Lopez, the Yankees should be willing to offer a huge return. I doubt Miami is in that frame of mind.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
Lefty-swinging Adam Frazier, a free agent after next season, is going to be on the short list of a lot of teams looking for a contact bat in July. Would the rebuilding Pirates consider moving switch-hitting outfielder Bryan Reynolds, arbitration eligible this offseason? Would the Orioles in a similar situation consider moving rising star Cedric Mullins or Austin Hays?
5. Texas Rangers
The Yankees’ long fascination with Joey Gallo, a free agent after 2022, cannot be discounted. His offense, from the left side, has a lot of similarity to the current Yankees profile of mammoth power, but lots of exploitable holes in the swing. Despite his size (6-foot-5, 250 pounds), however, he is not a lumbering non-athlete. He can handle the corner outfield and first base, plus could move to center if needed.