MLB: New York Yankees-Workout

In Hindsight: What could the Yankees have done at the trade deadline?

On the day of the trade deadline, the Yankees stood 58-44, six games ahead in the AL East. From a standing perspective, dramatic roster moves seemed unnecessary. The team had holes at second base and in the starting rotation, but even those weaknesses didn’t appear dire.

And so general manager Brian Cashman pulled the trigger on only one transaction — the acquisition of utility man Dustin Ackley — choosing to rely on call-ups instead of trades.

As it turned out, the Yankee rotation was hit with injuries, Mark Teixeira went down for the season and the middle relief corps imploded. Despite impressive contributions from rookies Luis Severino and Greg Bird, the Yankees blew the division and lost the wild-card game 3-0 to the Astros.

In the hours after that season-ending loss, general manager Brian Cashman reflected on the trade deadline.

Cashman certainly makes some fair points. Given what we knew at the time, the Yankees’ inaction made sense — there was no room in the outfield, few available trade targets at second base and high price tags on many starting pitchers.

But even if we can’t necessarily fault Cashman for staying quiet at the deadline, we can look back and, using what we know now, try to figure out if any sort of July deal could have made a difference.

We’re looking for a move that could have either given the Yankees a shot at winning the division or lifted them over Dallas Keuchel and the Astros in the wild-card game.

Let’s consider some options.

*Warning: There is undoubtedly some fallacy of the predetermined outcome in play here, but let’s roll with it for the sake of the exercise.

  1. Acquire a starting second baseman

 The top second baseman on the trade market was the Athletics’ Ben Zobrist, who ended up in Kansas City, where he posted an .816 OPS. Zobrist would have been a good fit for the Yankees, but if the asking price was really Adam Warren and Rob Refsnyder, as Cashman said, the GM was wise to decline.

Other than Zobrist, the second-base market was bare. Chase Utley was available but in the midst of a replacement-level season. Brandon Phillips was expensive and on the decline. Starlin Castro had never played second base. Great options just didn’t exist.

Besides, no second baseman, not even Zobrist, would have been worth anywhere near the six wins the Yankees would have needed to pass the Blue Jays. In the wild-card game, a replacement right-handed-hitting second baseman might have helped, as Refsynder went 0-3 and grounded into a double play, but the remote chance Zobrist could have helped New York overcome Keuchel in that game would not have been worth giving up key young players.

Hindsight Verdict: No-trade was the right move.

  1. Acquire an outfielder

Let’s say the Yankees had foreseen Yoenis Cespedes’ huge second-half and traded for the outfielder at the deadline (sacrificing several promising young players). Let’s say they had arranged an elaborate platoon in which Cespedes plays in place of Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner against left-handed pitching and Alex Rodriguez against most righties. The difference between Cespedes and his replacements likely would have been a couple of games but definitely not enough to catch Toronto.

When the wild-card game rolled around, Cespedes would have started in place of either Gardner or Chris Young and in all likelihood failed to single-handedly make a difference in that three-run loss.

Actually, a deal for Carlos Gomez, who ended up in Houston, might have made a bigger difference. Gomez was worth just about one WARP during his time as an Astro. Remove him from the fold, and maybe Houston fails to secure the second wild card, leaving the Yankees to instead face the Angels and whichever non-Keuchel starting pitcher Los Angeles sent to the mound.

Then again, maybe if the Astros miss out on Gomez they get Cespedes. Or maybe Houston secures the wild card even without a new centerfielder. Or maybe the Angels shut down the Yankees in the one-game playoff just the same.

Hindsight Verdict: No-trade was the right move.

  1. Acquire an ace reliever

 The Yankees reportedly pursued several stud bullpen arms, most notably Craig Kimbrel, at the deadline, which appears prescient in retrospect. Though the bullpen seemed like a major strength in July, the collapse of Chasen Shreve and drop-off of Dellin Betances likely cost the Yankees a game or two in August and September.

Add Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman to the bullpen mix and New York probably inches closer to Toronto. Still, there’s little chance the Yankees would have topped the Jays regardless, and all the relievers in the world would have made no difference against Keuchel and the Astros.

Hindsight Verdict: No-trade was the right move.

  1. Acquire a starting pitcher

 A look at the post-trade WAR (via B-Ref) of some of the most notable starting pitchers dealt at the deadline:

Cole Hamels – 1.7
Johnny Cueto – 0.2
Scott Kazmir – 0.0
Mike Leake – 0.6
Mat Latos – 0.0
Alex Wood – 0.2
J.A. Happ – 2.4
Joe Blanton – 0.9
Dan Haren – 0.2

Could the Yankees have held off the Blue jays by adding one of these pitchers for the stretch run? Awfully unlikely.

Would any of these starters made a difference in that wild-card loss to the Astros? Well, only Hamels would likely have gotten the nod over Masahiro Tanaka in that game, and while that wouldn’t have hurt, the Yankees still wouldn’t have won anyway without scoring any runs off the Astros’ ace.

Hindsight Verdict: No-trade was the right move.

  1. Acquire David Price, specifically

In hindsight, the only move the Yankees could have made at the trade deadline to give themselves a legitimate shot at winning the AL East was trading for David Price.

Price was worth somewhere around two or three wins above replacement for Toronto. Take those wins from the Blue Jays and give them to the Yankees, and suddenly the division race is totally up for grabs. Toronto’s surge would have been less dramatic sans Price, and New York’s skid would be mitigated with him.

Sure the Blue Jays might have pursued another starting pitcher if they hadn’t nabbed Price, but, as illustrated above, there’s no guarantee that acquisition would have moved the needle.

In this scenario, if the Yankees’ had stolen the division, they would have been set up with Price, Tanaka and Severino for the Division Series. Maybe that’s worth forking over some prospects for? Hindsight offers no clarity on that front, but the alternate universe in which Price is a Yankee is certainly worth contemplating.

Hindsight Verdict: A trade might not have been a bad idea.

(Photo: Kim Klement-USA Today Sports)

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1 comment on “In Hindsight: What could the Yankees have done at the trade deadline?”

Les Schraeder

The only thing that the Yankees needed to do was to make some obvious changes in their batting order. To run out Ellsbury, Gardner first and second was being totally out of touch with what they were producing in the second half. If they Yankees had keep the race closer I feel that Toronto would have folded like a cheap tent.

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