The Yankees are stuck in a tricky spot and still haven’t decided how to approach next week’s trade deadline, reports Jon Heyman of The New York Post. He says that the club’s decision makers are staying “in trade limbo” until the next few days play out, but will target an outfielder and a reliever if they don’t fall too far back. Even if they do have a disappointing week, it doesn’t seem as though selling is on the table, with Yanks simply sticking to modest moves in that instance.
The club currently has a record of 53-48, which places them last in the deadly AL East but still just 2.5 games out of a playoff spot. The playoff odds at FanGraphs give them a 31.7% chance of getting into the postseason, while Baseball Prospectus is slightly more optimistic at 42.6%. They are one of several clubs in an awkward spot where they’re not completely buried but not in such a strong position that aggressive buying is the obvious move.
A major wild card here is the health of Aaron Judge, who has been on the injured list since June 4 due to a right great toe sprain. The Yankees were 35-25 after his last appearance but have since gone 18-23 to land at their current record. Aaron Boone said yesterday that it’s possible Judge could return without a rehab assignment, with an activation for this weekend’s series against the Orioles not totally off the table, with Chris Kirschner of The Athletic among those to relay the news (Twitter links). It was reported today by Joel Sherman of the New York Post that the club is planning to activate Judge on Friday, though Boone quickly pushed back on that. He said that he “wouldn’t rule it out,” per Kirschner, but that they’re taking it one day at a time.
Having Judge back in the lineup would obviously be a tremendous help to the club’s chances. Before going on the injured list, he was having a season a bit below his MVP campaign from last year, but only slightly. His .291/.404/.674 batting line so far this year amounts to a wRC+ of 187, a bit of a drop from his 207 wRC+ last year but still one of the best lines in the majors.
Even if Judge returns to the Yankees shortly, they would likely still be open to outfield upgrades. Judge might need to see some time in the designated hitter slot as he returns from injury, and there are plenty of other question marks around the rest of the club’s outfielders. Harrison Bader has dealt with many injuries in his career and recently missed some time with a rib contusion. Jake Bauers and Greg Allen each just returned from their own IL stints. Giancarlo Stanton has played the field a bit this year but is still primarily a DH. Billy McKinney has been healthy and productive lately but in a small sample after many years of struggles.
With that uncertainty, the club has already been reported to be in the market for outfield help, connected to Dylan Carlson of the Cardinals and Randal Grichuk of the Rockies. Heyman lists some speculative fits for their pursuit, including those two, as well as Cody Bellinger and Tyler O’Neill. There’s nothing to suggest the Yanks have actively pursued those latter two names and it’s not even clear either of them are available. Like the Yankees, the Cubs are reportedly still deciding on their deadline approach, which could take Bellinger off the table, while the Cardinals are apparently leaning towards holding onto O’Neill.
The bullpen is actually a strength for the Yankees, as their relievers have a collective 3.23 ERA that leads the majors, well ahead of the second-place Guardians who are at 3.52. But just about every contender can add another arm to their relief mix at this time of year, bumping other pitchers down one spot in the pecking order. Some of the relievers thought to be available include Scott Barlow, David Robertson, Joe Kelly and many more.
Heyman also adds that the club, like almost all the rest, have checked in on two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani. But like the Cubs and Yankees, the Angels find themselves in the mushy middle ground, currently just 3.5 games out of a playoff spot. Though they are listening to offers, it still doesn’t appear likely that Ohtani will be traded.
The Yankees’ decision makers are undoubtedly engaging in multiple conversations with rival clubs, as the August 1 deadline is now less than a week away. Their level of aggression is seemingly still to be decided, with the health of Judge and the on-field results likely to weigh heavily in their calculus. They’re scheduled to play the Mets tonight before an off-day on Thursday, then head to Baltimore for the weekend before hosting the Rays for a series that starts on Monday.