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Category: Musings Page 1 of 23

Dipping a Toe into the Trade Pool

Though we’re all waking up this morning with a more sour Yankee taste than we’d like, the fact remains that the team is in contention. Given that fact and that it’s June, it’s time to look forward to the rest of the year and what can be done to improve the team.

In a surprise not many saw coming, the Yankee offense is the thing in need of improvement. The pitching staff has, for the most part, been excellent and likely won’t need too much tinkering. Luis Severino’s impending return will help bolster it, too. Now, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t look to explore trade options, but the priority needs to be the offense.

With Chris Gittens now called up to (potentially?) plug the first base hole and, thus, move DJ LeMahieu back to second base, the can be kicked down the road a bit and the focus can shift to the outfield, specifically center field, LHB if possible. Beggars, though, can’t be choosers and any outfield help should be considered.

MLBTR ranked the top 40 trade candidates the other day, so let’s take a look at the outfielders on the list. They are:

Mitch Haniger, SEA

David Peralta, ARI

Joey Gallo, TEX

Michael A. Taylor, KC

Robbie Grossman, DET

Starling Marte, MIA

Corey Dickerson, MIA

Kole Calhoun, ARI

Anthony Santander, BAL

Nick Castellanos, CIN

Of those, only Taylor and Marte are listed as CF and both are RHB. One name not listed, perhaps because his contract is pretty friendly–is Ketel Marte of Arizona, who plays center field and is left handed.

If the rest of the Yankee offense were clicking, I’d be okay with going after Taylor, who’s a good defender. But given his offensive profile and what the Yankee offense is doing right now, I think he’s a pass, even if his cost would likely be low. Starling Marte is just a better hitter and, even if he’s right handed, the Yankees have to take a surer thing to get the offense boosted a bit. Ketel Marte offers enough of a sure thing at the plate, too, and he is left handed, something the Yankees sorely need.

While early June certainly isn’t late, the time has come for the Yankees to press things a little bit. With each passing game, it’s harder and harder to say ‘they’ll come around’ or ‘they’ll snap out of it.’ Is it possible their hitters do that? Absolutely. But with their record falling over the last two weeks and few of those hitters showing signs of coming around, it’s time to go get some help.

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Needs

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Every team has needs. Sometimes big, sometimes small. Aside from size, they can be categorized temporally, too: immediate and future, short-term or long-term. Given that designation, the Yankees have both immediate and future needs.

In the short-term, the Yankees just need to hit better. Better at bats, better swings, better…something. Recent injuries haven’t helped, of course, but whatever the reason, whatever the process, the Yankees need better results.

For the long-term, meaning the rest of the 2021 season and playoffs, the Yankees need to figure out center field and the right side of the infield. Derek outlined some potential outfield trade targets recently and I agree with him; outfield is where the focus should be. Given the lack of internal options–barring a Brett Gardner rebound or dead cat bounce–going external is the only path to replacing Aaron Hicks with someone worthy of a playoff/World Series run.

The infield situation can be solved internally and the solutions may already be playing themselves out. That is to say there isn’t really a solution beyond the two-pronged approach on the field right now.

As it stands, the Yankees have at least two players who can man second in DJ LeMahieu and Rougned Odor and another who could if needed in Gleyber Torres, not to mention Tyler Wade. But the prolonged absence of Luke Voit has forced and will continue to force the Yankees’ hand in a less than ideal right side alignment. So, really, a first base issue has affected second base as well.

One ‘prong’ has them playing Mike Ford at first with DJ LeMahieu at second and Gio Urshela at third. The other has them playing LeMahieu at first with Odor at second and Urshela at third. Both options have warts, like DJ playing away from a position where he’s a premium defender and Mike Ford playing at all.

Even with some clutch hits and generally good defense, Odor isn’t exactly a shining option out there, either. Perhaps he could be hidden if others were hitting up to their potential, but they’re not and his flawed bat is becoming more and more exposed. The argument could be made that they should trade for an upgrade at second, but I doubt the Yankees will do that. Having already spent resources in the form of prospects to get Odor, I doubt they do it again for another second baseman (or shortstop to move Gleyber back to second).

However, either approach would more or less cement LeMahieu as a first baseman, which is, as mentioned, a waste of his defensive talent. And given his relatively low offensive output this year, LeMahieu looks a lot worse as a first baseman instead of a second baseman.

If the Yankees could find a solution at first–which is likely easier than acquiring a middle infielder–it would shift Odor back to the bench where he should be and let DJLM play his natural position.

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Before looking outside, the Yankees do have two more options in Scranton: Chris Gittens and Derek Dietrich. Our Derek discussed Gittens here and I, once again, agree. Dietrich, alternatively, offers the Yankees a little more assurance since he’s done it at the Major League level before, but there’s also some Odor potential in him.

Both choices let them kick the can down the road a bit, whether that road is waiting for Voit to get healthy or looking for an external upgrade. Again, I doubt the external road is taken; they have internal options and it’s not like Voit is going to be out the whole season.

If you asked me two months ago if I thought the Yankees would need to upgrade offensively in some way, I would’ve thought you were crazy. But, as a certain announcer might say…

The Yankees have nailed it, more or less, on the pitching front and find themselves in such a position that just modest improvement on offense would really complete them as a team. Whether they fill that need internally or externally remains to be seen. But they need to fill it.

Outfield help should be the top priority for the Yankees

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It’s no secret that the Yankees’ offense has severely underperformed expectations this season. The lineup has scored 191 runs, fewer than four per game, which ranks in the bottom third of Major League Baseball. Injuries, underperformance, and perhaps the dejuiced baseball are all culprits. There’s no hitting star lying in wait down in the minors, so the Yankees will either need to see some improvement from the current roster, or look outside the organization before the trade deadline.

Left field and center field are the two positions in biggest need of improvement. Those two spots have combined to hit .204/.291/.302 (71 wRC+) this season. Only the Brewers have received worse offensive production from those two positions (68 wRC+). Even if the Yankees current options (Brett Gardner, Clint Frazier, and Miguel Andújar) turn things around at the plate soon, the team really needs some added depth in those outfield spots. Aaron Hicks is out indefinitely and Giancarlo Stanton probably won’t see any time in the field this season. So, this needs to be the front office’s top priority over the next couple of months.

Lucas Luetge has proven he belongs

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No one seriously thought Lucas Luetge, a random non-roster invitee, would make a significant impact on the Yankees in 2021. I noted nothing other than the “ex-big leaguer” qualifier to describe him when the Yankees announced its NRIs in February. And yet, it didn’t take long to take notice of Luetge’s Grapefruit League dominance, which has carried over to a strong regular season start.

Last night’s clean outing was the southpaw’s sixth consecutive scoreless appearance. It dropped his ERA and FIP to 3.78 and 3.95, respectively, in 16.2 innings. While those run prevention numbers don’t jump out, keep in mind that Luetge got off to a slow start. He surrendered a run in each of his first five outings, though not all of them were bad performances. Initially, it looked like Luetge would settle in to a low leverage relief role, which isn’t a bad outcome considering how long he’d been out of the majors (2015!). But yesterday, Aaron Boone threw him right into the fire.

Hitting a Release Valve

Today seems like a good day to stop the slide. The Yankees have been pretty putrid for the last two games, two ugly losses against the Rays. As many fans–including many of you loyal readers–would tell it, this young season has been at least mildly frustrating to many and down right infuriating to others. For some, that boiled over on Friday night with fans throwing things onto the field.

As I wrote on Twitter Saturday morning, I’m much more frustrated with people who do that than with a struggling baseball team. The latter is to be expected, even with a team as talented as the Yankees. The former is unacceptable and dangerous. Please be better, Yankee fans.

While that’s not a good way to hit a release valve, we all need to at some point. That includes me despite the patience I’ve been preaching online and in real life. So here’s my release valve, my early airing of the grievances, so to speak.

On the micro level, I’m annoyed with Aaron Boone pulling his patented ‘get one more inning out of the starter’ act, which almost never works. He did it yesterday and it helped put the game out of reach. Of course, Jordan Montgomery shouldn’t be throwing five balls in a row, but there was no need for him to be in after the sixth inning.

I’m also frustrated with the team’s handling of Clint Frazier, which Derek detailed already, even before Frazier sat out on Saturday. The entire lineup seems to be slumping, save one or two guys, but only Frazier is the one who’s not allowed to work through his slump in game action. His replacement, veteran Brett Gardner, isn’t exactly lighting things on fire. He’s got two hits and three walks in his last 18 PA. Is this really an improvement?

The offense in general has been frustrating to watch, and Randy summed up why pretty easily yesterday:

When an offense isn’t getting breaks, it’s not too hard to watch. But when an offense is in between, as Randy noted, it’s awful. They seem to miss everything hittable and hit everything missable. That’s no good for anyone. But I still trust this team will hit and hit well.

The non-Gerrit Cole rotation has been disappointing to watch as a whole. Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon haven’t lived up to their upside yet, but I’m willing to give them more time. Montgomery has been fine, but it would be nice to see him find a groove over the next few starts. Maybe not playing Tampa so much will help him and everyone.

Speaking of Cole, he’s the release valve today, right? He’s the guy the Yankees can turn to now after a losing streak and feel confident that he will stop it. With a win today, with a typical Cole outing, he can help us all head into the Yankees’ off day with confidence that things will turn around.

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