The Yankees are in last place — unfamiliar territory — but the solution isn’t necessarily to blow the whole thing up at the trade deadline.
With the trade deadline approaching, the New York Yankees are in last place in the American League East. It’s the deepest into the season this has been the case since 1990 — a tidbit that’s both misleading and revealing.
Their 50-45 record is just 2.5 games out of the final AL Wild Card spot and would lead the AL Central. Yet New York’s lost seven of its last 10, including a series loss to the NL-worst Colorado Rockies coming out of the All-Star break. With exactly two weeks until the Aug. 1 trade deadline, there’s the ever-present impulse to make the huge splash that would bring the Yankees buzz and help them to the playoffs (hello Shohei Ohtani). But any individual move or series of transactions wouldn’t solve or correct the team’s overarching problems in its roster construction or even how it evaluates big league talent.
Here are a few more practical steps the Bronx brass can take.
Build A More Balanced Lineup
You don’t have to watch baseball too closely to realize that the Yankees are too reliant on power hitters when new rules are geared more toward contact and speed. Yet the Bronx Bombers aren’t even that good at extra base hits, with a .406 team slugging that ranks just 14th in baseball — a far more important number than their 131 team home runs, which ranks fifth. When your .231 team batting average is 27th and your on-base percentage of .302 is 26th, being that homer happy has diminishing returns.
New York is slugging .496 in wins and .305 in losses. The win-loss OPS gap is even larger, .832 to .567. These numbers aren’t sustainable for a consistently winning franchise, yet they aren’t surprising based on how the Yankees are built.
Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Josh Donaldson combine to make $93.75 million this season and have 40 of the team’s 131 home runs. Yet they’ve only played 127 total games this season. Judge is still on the mend after sustaining a toe injury while making a running catch against the Dodger Stadium wall last month. Stanton is injury prone, and the calf injury Donaldson sustained over the weekend could end his season.
Among Yankees with more than 30 games played this season, only Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Gleyber Torres have OPS+ numbers above the 100 league average. Only four hitters have Baseball-Reference WARs above 1.0 right now and all are models for how the offense should be built. Judge and Torres lead the team in average, and rookie Anthony Volpe and outfielder Harrison Bader lead the team in steals while also hitting for power, diversifying the offensive portfolio beyond the long ball.
Aside from Volpe — the team’s top-ranked prospect and 22-year-old shortstop — the Yankees have been afraid to elevate young prospects above overpriced veterans. Donaldson is only making $6 million next year on the final year of his contract, and shouldn’t really ever step on the field in pinstripes ever again. Five days after his 35th birthday, DJ LeMahieu looks fairly cooked, which is an issue with three years and $45 million remaining on his contract after this season, though his washed-ness is less certain that Donaldson’s.
The Yankees have two prospects in MLB.com’s top 100 in 20-year-old outfield wunderkind Jasson Dominguez and 24-year-old catcher Austin Wells. Neither may be ready this year in Double-A, but should both be given a shot to compete to start next season, bringing them into the fold with youngsters like Volpe, Oswald Peraza, and Oswaldo Cabrera. While they should re-sign Bader, they should also give fewer at-bats to Donaldson, impending free agent Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and journeyman fillers like Franchy Cordero, Greg Allen, Willie Calhoun, and Billy McKinney. Doing so would free up at bats to help develop younger, more cost-effective players. Trading for younger players who can hit for contact under team control over the next two weeks would also help solve the team’s issue, but aren’t a must-do if general manager Brian Cashman trusts the young players he oversaw in drafting and developing in the minor leagues.
Stop Relying on Veteran Pitchers
The Yankees pitching has been largely good this season, but has fallen off a cliff with a 5.10 ERA thus far in July. Free agent signing Carlos Rodon and big-ticket trade acquisition Frankie Montas have combined to start two total games this season as New York tries to build rotational stability alongside Gerrit Cole, Clarke Schmidt, and Domingo German. Nestor Cortes was an All-Star last season that the Bronx Bombers didn’t have to break the bank for, and mixing in prospects like Will Warren, Clayton Beeter, Jhony Brito, and Randy Vasquez could help the team this year and beyond, perhaps dissuading them from bringing back impending free agent Luis Severino.
Even selling some veteran relievers at the deadline like Tommy Kahnle could open up more spots for young pitchers to shine at the big league level. And given how many injuries this team has sustained, a new training and medical staff should be in place ASAP.
It’s clear the Yankees are behind the times on roster construction, but it’s also possible that many of the solutions are already in-house. New York needs to get younger, cheaper, and faster. The Yankees need to be less reliant on home runs, older arms, and bats past their prime who are being paid a premium for past production without enough insight on future production. New York is still a strong team despite being run inefficiently. An overhaul along the margins would be a great start.
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