Where is the chatter about the approaching trade deadline? No discussions in the lunch room, no frantic refreshing at MLB Trade Rumors. The Yankees have one of the best teams in baseball and look like a great bet to make the Postseason without major roster modification, but that’s the case almost every year and there’s usually more buzz than this.
There is a lack of big names with expiring contracts for sale. The Red Sox and Yankees, usually two of the biggest dealers during this time, have better options in their farm systems than usual. The combination of top prospects and a shallow market might make these two clubs shy away from any blockbusters. Their relative security in the standings factors as well.
The Yankees hold a big lead in the Wild Card standings, but as currently constituted, are they a viable threat to the Red Sox in either the American League East or in a short series? Which target should Yankees aim at, the Red Sox or the Wild Card?
If the Yankees want to win the Wild Card, they shouldn’t do anything crazy. They have Rafael Soriano coming off the DL to enhance the bullpen and Jesús Montero and Iván Nova in the minors to bolster the lineup and rotation. It’s doubtful they could get much better than that on the trade market that would justify the expense in both dollars and players.
But is winning the Wild Card enough? The Yankees would probably have to win a road series in Texas (which they failed to do last year) to earn the right to face Boston in their park, for a best of seven ALCS (I’m giving Boston an easy win versus the AL Central champ. Prove me wrong, AL Central champ, prove me wrong.).
The Red Sox have trashed the Yanks thus far, but as 2009 showed, that early success can be irrelevant in October. And on paper, the Yanks and Red Sox don’t appear that far apart. The Yanks currently hold the better run differential and the better Pythagorean record. The Red Sox surge back ahead in both second and third order wins, though, so if you want to find the gap, you can.
Running the risk of oversimplifying a multi-faceted calculation, the quick-and-dirty in me sees two aces on Boston’s side and only one in New York. I also see Boston’s DH making a difference while New York’s sputters and fails. The Red Sox have the better top of the rotation, the better lineup, and the better bench. I don’t think the Yankees are winning a best-of-seven series against the Red Sox without the kind of good fortune that makes myths.
So what would it take to put that series in play? The Yankees want to pair another ace with CC Sabathia and they need to get something out of DH and/or catcher. For the Yankees to stand on even ground with Boston in October, they’d need to acquire the best hitter and pitcher available.
Right now, those seem to be Ubaldo Jiménez and Carlos Beltrán. To accommodate Beltrán, the Yankees could rotate men through the DH slot and demote Jorge Posada to back-up catcher and pinch hitter. Or they could cut him. And other than CC Sabathia, I think only Bartolo Colón has proven worthy for an October start, so plenty of room for Ubaldo.
Perhaps there are other big players hovering beneath the radar, but two major acquisitions would devastate Scranton, Trenton and probably Charleston as well. They’d certainly wave goodbye to their two best prospects, Montero and Manny Banuelos. And they’d probably lose Nova and a few like him who are ready for the Majors or close to it.
Even then, the Yanks would be underdogs in Fenway, where the Red Sox are their toughest. So the return for this huge expenditure is to move from severe underdogs to close underdogs. Is that enough to justify the cost?
I don’t think it does. If the top end talent in the Yankee system can help the Yankees in the very near future, they should hold onto them. The Yankees should know these kids better than anybody else and their job at the deadline is to not only make the team better for the upcoming Postseason, but to put them in the best shape possible for years to come.
What happens at this trade deadline will be a signal of the organization’s true feelings for their big prospects. If they are dumped for something less than stellar, we’ll have to conclude the Yankees didn’t believe in them. And if they hold onto them even though it concedes a clear edge to Boston from this point forward, that should mean they expect them to graduate to beating Boston as soon as next year.