The All-Star Game is the unofficial halfway point of the MLB season. While the Yankees have already played 86 games, just over halfway, the Yankees still have much of the second half to reinforce the club en route to the playoffs.
Let’s take a look at the club so far, while looking ahead to the trade deadline and a possible playoff berth.
After being an average offensive club for much of the past 4 years, the Yankees are among the MLB leaders in all offensive categories. The Yankees have a very deep and balanced attack when everyone is healthy, but a few superlative players have been shouldering much of the load.
What more is there for Aaron Judge to do in his rookie season? He is expected to win the Rookie of the Year Award and the MVP Award, won the Home Run Derby, started in the All-Star Game, and shattered a few Yankee club records. Behind Judge’s lead, the Yankee offense has been reinvigorated.
Gary Sanchez has been just as good in his sophomore season as he was last year, and there has been marked improvement from the likes of Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks. Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner, and Matt Holliday have all been clutch, steady veterans while Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley have been typically streaky.
Even the bench has gotten in on the offensive attack: Ronald Torreyes is batting .278, Austin Romine hit over .300 while Sanchez was hurt, and prospects like Clint Frazier, Tyler Wade, and Miguel Andujar have all gotten chances at the MLB level in recent weeks.
Of course, it’s not all this perfect for the Yankees. They endured an awful June, a month in which the club fell out of first place and lost all of its mojo, thanks in part to injuries suffered by Castro, Hicks, Holliday, and anyone the Yankees have tried at first base. While all except Greg Bird are expected back in the Bronx soon, the Yankees need these guys to come back at full strength. When the Yankees have a full, healthy lineup, there are few clubs better. If the Yankees are to get back into first place, they will need their A-lineup leading the way.
The performance of the Yankees’ rotation this season has been unpredictable. While many pundits figured that would be the case, it’s the way in which the rotation has shaken out that has surprised.
Masahiro Tanaka, the man expected to be the ace of the ballclub, has struggled mightily in 2017, with no real cause or explanation, as well as no real signs of improvement. If Tanaka was pitching like he should, the Yankees would probably still be in first place. The Yankees have playoff aspirations this season, and they will need Tanaka to be the guy he was for his first 3 MLB seasons to take them there.
The rotation behind Tanaka was supposed to be thin, fragile, and lacking in talent. That couldn’t be any further from the truth here at the All-Star Break. The Yankees’ fourth-starter-turned-All-Star, Luis Severino, has been the Yankees’ best pitcher by far. He is on pace for over 200 innings and 200 strikeouts, and would certainly start first in any playoff series.
CC Sabathia did miss a month with a hamstring strain, but he has pitched at a high level while continuing his rebirth as a pitcher. Now throwing more cutters and sliders than four-seamers and changeups, Sabathia is still fooling hitters and is a top-quality “stopper” when the Yankees are on a skid.
Michael Pineda had a typically inconsistent first half, filled with strikeouts, home runs, and potential. However, it was likely his last stretch as a Yankee. Pineda was recently diagnosed with a partial UCL tear and was recommended Tommy John Surgery, which would end his season and probably much if not all of his 2018 campaign. A free agent to be, the injury will be crushing for both the Yankees and Pineda.
Jordan Montgomery has stepped up in Pineda and Tanaka’s stead though, quietly turning heads are garnering votes for Rookie of the Year. Montgomery will be counted on heavily in the Yankees’ postseason push.
Youngsters including Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, and Chad Green have also started games, to varying degrees of success. Top pitching prospect Chance Adams could be next to get a turn, or perhaps a trade deadline acquisition is looming.
One constant of the past two decades for the Yankees has been a strong bullpen. However, the club’s characteristic strong suit has been a weak link this season. Both the guys supposed to be leading the way (Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard), and the lower-end depth (Jonathan Holder, the since-released Tommy Layne, and a multitude of AAA call-ups) have disappointed this season.
The only bright spots in the bullpen have been Adam Warren, Chasen Shreve, and Chad Green. I fully expect Chapman and Betances to get their act back together, but there’s no doubt about it that the Yankees could use another late-inning reliever to build a stronger bridge through the middle innings with their rotation providing little in terms of length.
Trade Deadline Outlook:
We’ve already touched on it some, but the Yankees are in need of an upgrade to all three facets of their team: offense, starting pitching, and the bullpen. However, it is imperative that GM Brian Cashman plays this deadline right.
This is very much a seller’s market: prices for both rentals and players with years of control alike are through the roof. Clubs are losing more and more prospects to get 3 months of service out of a player, and this is not a trend that Cashman’s Yankees need to get involved in. They have worked so hard to acquire these prospects, and it would make little sense to trade them away.
Thus, Cashman should be firm on his prices. All of the top prospects have been off-limits for years, and the Yankees cannot block their prospects by acquiring a washed-up veteran with 3 years left on his contract. Thus, Cashman should look at acquiring rentals or players with no more than one season left. This will keep the prospect core intact, while upgrading the current team.
In spite of the team’s recent performance, the 2017 season has been a success for the Yankees. No one expected them to be here at this point at the start of the season, and the team still has a very real chance to do damage in the playoffs. It’ll take a little bit of luck, health, and a smart deadline, but the Yankees are still contenders in the American League pennant race.