The New York Yankees have the chance to make noise in the postseason, but upgrading the roster will come with a hefty price tag.
With one-half of the 2017 season in the books, the New York Yankees simultaneously showed their tremendous potential and weak links.
From Opening Day to June 1, the Yankees were recognized as one of baseball’s best clubs. They were 11 games over .500 and in first place by three games. Aaron Judge was playing like the American League Rookie of the Year. Matt Holliday, Brett Gardner, Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius were consistent contributors. The bench stepped up when needed, Luis Severino looked like the ace the organization believed he could be and the rest of the starting rotation — sans Masahiro Tanaka — was exceeding expectations.
But as spring transitioned to summer, the Yankees came back to reality. That’s bound to happen over a 162-game schedule, but it was still a far fall from grace.
There was still good. Aaron Judge doesn’t only look like the Rookie of the Year winner but is on his way towards the MVP award, too. Gary Sanchez played like it was August 2016 as he belted nine home runs with 27 RBI in June. Jordan Montgomery established himself as one of the best rookie pitchers and names like Tyler Wade, Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier made their highly-anticipated debuts.
Unfortunately, the bad outweighed the good. Holliday, Castro, Hicks and CC Sabathia spent extensive time on the disabled list. First base has been a black hole while Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury have been largely ineffective. Tanaka continued to struggle, Michael Pineda took a step back, Tyler Clippard was an absolute liability and even Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman struggled with effectiveness. And who can forget highly-touted prospect Dustin Fowler‘s season ending injury in his first inning of big league action?
The Yankees — who dropped 21 of their 36 games between June and July — remain over .500 (45-41) but trail the Boston Red Sox by 3.5 games and are tied for second in their division.
When healthy, they proved to be one of the top teams in all of MLB. But if they want to make serious noise in the postseason, upgrades will be needed.
There will be players that are available that can fill needs. There’s just one caveat — they won’t come cheap.
Clippard, Betances and Chapman — the 2017 version of the three-headed monster — sport a combined 8.53 ERA since June 1, and the bullpen as a whole has been a large reason for the Yankees’ struggles. There isn’t a shortage of help on the trade market — but the problems lie in the asking prices.
Hand has not only struck out 60 batters in just 47 innings but is also under team control until 2020. Ramos has an inflated ERA (3.51) but batters are hitting just .198 against him, and Phelps — Ramos’ teammate and former Yankee — still has fans within his former organization. The veteran Neshek may be the best of the bunch, as evidenced by his 0.91 WHIP over 39 appearances.
But relievers have become the hottest commodity in baseball. More often are teams shortening their starters with the hopes that a stacked bullpen can go for multiple innings to finish off a game. Hand, Ramos, Phelps and Neshek don’t compare to Chapman and Andrew Miller but it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that a high-end prospect will highlight trade packages.
Issues on the Yankees roster don’t stop in the ‘pen. Whether it’s Greg Bird‘s injury or Chris Carter‘s strikeouts, there’s barely been production out of first base. Ji-Man Choi has been chosen as the next man in line but his career big-league batting average of .171 is far from inspiring.
Like relievers, there will be plenty of first basemen on the trade market. Justin Bour, Yonder Alonso and Lucas Duda all play on teams that are expected to sell at the deadline. They’re exactly what the Yankees need. And their price tags will be sky high.
Bour is having the best season of his young career (.289/.367/.556, 20 home runs, 59 RBI) and has a tailor-made swing to excel in Yankee Stadium. But even though the Miami Marlins are making everyone available, it won’t be easy to pry Bour away as he won’t be a free agent until 2021.
Both Alonso and Duda are impending free agents but will also command a considerable haul in return. Alonso and his .934 OPS would fit perfectly in between Judge and Sanchez as a left-handed bat but the Oakland A’s will ask a lot in return for arguably their best position player. Like Bour, Duda’s power bat would fit seamlessly in the Bronx but the fact that he plays in Queens makes it hard to envision a deal without extra pieces involved.
Want a third baseman? General Manager Brian Cashman has anointed Headley as the man for the rest of 2017. Some could argue that a starting pitcher is needed, but both the A’s and Chicago White Sox have said Frazier or Gleyber Torres will be needed to part with for Sonny Gray and Jose Quintana.
Team brass has insisted that the Yankees will be buyers but won’t sacrifice long-term pieces.
But when the cost of winning is on the line, all bets are off.