The Yankees have dropped three straight games and have now tallied just two victories in their past 10 contests. Sitting in the unfamiliar setting of last place in the American League East, there are mounting questions about the team’s trade deadline approach. It would be out of character, to say the least, for the Yankees to engineer a wide-scale selloff at the deadline. And with New York still only two and a half games back from an AL Wild Card spot, that seems decidedly unlikely.
That said, the Yankees also have a porous roster, particularly with Aaron Judge on the injured list and facing a nebulous timeline for his return. General manager Brian Cashman said yesterday that it’s fair to characterize Judge’s return as “close” before taking a noncommittal stance on whether that constituted a matter of days or weeks (link via Bryan Hoch of MLB.com). It remains unclear when the reigning AL MVP will return to the lineup; the Yankees are hitting .223/.294/.374 as a team in his absence.
With the team reeling and currently in the AL East cellar, there have naturally been calls from the fans for the Yankees to sell at the deadline, a possibility that was discussed on the most recent episode of the MLBTR Podcast. At least to some extent, that could wind up being the case. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote this morning that the Yankees could work to dip under the top tier of the luxury tax in over the next couple weeks. Presumably, that’d come by dealing away short-term players — those who’ll reach free agency at season’s end or perhaps those controlled only through the 2024 season.
At least with regard to their crop of impending free agents, however, that could be easier said than done. Luis Severino has struggled to a 6.66 ERA in 48 2/3 innings thus far, and the underlying metrics don’t give much cause for optimism. His 17.4% strikeout rate is a career-low, and his 9.4% walk rate is the second-highest of his career. He’s averaged 2.22 homers per nine innings pitched, yielding hard contact at the highest rate of his career, and is sitting on career-low swinging-strike and opponents’ chase rates.
Utilityman Isiah Kiner-Falefa, meanwhile, is hitting just .251/.309/.369. That’s 11% worse than average, by measure of wRC+. Acquired to be a stopgap at shortstop, Kiner-Falefa has just eight innings at that position in 2023 and has been used primarily as an outfielder this season. Defensive metrics haven’t provided a strong review of his glovework there, however.
Center fielder Harrison Bader is also a free agent at season’s end and is playing his customary brand of standout defense. However, his .275 on-base percentage also ranks 295th of the 326 players with at least 150 plate appearances this season. His overall .246/.275/.427 batting line checks in below average.
Frankie Montas, of course, hasn’t thrown a pitch this season. Trading any of Severino ($15MM in 2023), Montas ($7.5MM), Kiner-Falefa ($6MM) or Bader ($4.7MM) could be enough to dip the Yankees under the top tier of luxury penalization, as Roster Resource currently has them at $294.1MM — just $1.1MM over the limit.
The most palatable rental option for the Yankees to trade would be southpaw Wandy Peralta, who’s earning $3.35MM this season. He’s currently sporting a 2.48 ERA, but his 19.5% strikeout rate is below average and his 13.6% walk rate is an obvious eyesore. Still, Peralta is averaging just shy of 96 mph on his heater and also possesses a huge 63.2% ground-ball rate.
Rosenthal speculates on the possibility of a Gleyber Torres trade, which could simultaneously fetch more talent in return and also trim payroll more than any of those rentals aside from Severino. He’s earning $9.95MM in 2023 and hitting a solid .264/.333/.430 with 14 homers. The Yankees also have an in-house, MLB-ready alternative in young Oswald Peraza, who struggled in the Majors earlier but is slashing a .261/.352/.495 in Triple-A.
Looking at the situation as a whole, however, the final tax barrier is an odd line to draw in the sand. It’s a purely monetary line of penalization, and the Yankees are only narrowly north of it. The Yankees already committed to having their top pick in next year’s draft pushed back by 10 places when they exceeded the third tier of penalty, which sits at $273MM.
Striving to dip under that threshold would perhaps be logical but also unrealistic; trimming more than $21MM from the remaining payroll at this juncture of the season would be immensely difficult. Trades at this stage would only spare the Yankees the remainder those players’ salaries. That’s roughly $5.3MM on Severino, $1.7MM on Bader, $2.1MM on Kiner-Falefa, $1.2MM on Peralta and $3.5MM on Torres. Even trading that entire quintet would only get the Yankees about two-thirds of the way there.
None of that even takes into consideration the possibility of the Yankees simultaneously adding pieces, either. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com tweeted earlier in the week that in addition to the Yankees’ desire to upgrade in the outfield, they’ve been monitoring the catching, starting pitching and bullpen markets. That wide swath of needs speaks to the predicament in which the Yankees currently find themselves, but it’s notable that as of Monday the team appeared set on — or at least open to adding some pieces. Both Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson and Rockies outfielder Randal Grichuk have been of some interest to the Yankees, per Feinsand. Carlson, controlled through 2026, would be an affordable and long-term solution in the outfield.
The Yankees potentially have another affordable and controllable option down in Triple-A, where former top prospect Estevan Florial has put together a huge season. Designated for assignment on Opening Day and unclaimed on waivers, Florial has batted .291/.388/.535 with an already career-high 21 homers in just 335 plate appearances.
That production hasn’t been enough to get him a look in the big leagues, however. Brendan Kuty of The Athletic took a look at Florial’s situation, speaking to Triple-A skipper Shelley Duncan and others about the 25-year-old’s work ethic and motivation in the wake of that DFA and subsequent outright. It’s frankly surprising that the Yankees have continued to lean on journeymen Jake Bauers, Willie Calhoun, Franchy Cordero and the aforementioned Kiner-Falefa in the outfield rather than give Florial some type of audition. Kuty suggests the team could look to trade him at the deadline, which could be a means of adding help in another area.
Broadly speaking, it’s strange to be discussing the Yankees in this context. They’re typically a motivated buyer at the trade deadline, one that has often acted aggressively and decisively in an effort to tighten their existing grip on a postseason spot. It’s a different feel in the Bronx this season, however, and various, simultaneous reports regarding payroll reduction, selling off short-term players and the possibility to add at virtually any spot on the roster only underscore the uncertainty surrounding the team.
We increasingly see modern front offices toe the line between “buyer” and “seller,” making moves in both directions in a given deadline season. The Yankees appear poised for such a hybrid approach to the ’23 deadline, though their play in the next couple weeks will surely prove instructive as well. If they’re able to right the ship and go on a winning streak of any note, Cashman & Co. could be emboldened to make moves that fall closer to the win-now side of the scale. Should the pendulum swing in the other direction, there’d be more urgency to take a step back and employ a longer-term focus.
The Yankees have one more game in Anaheim, where they’ve already lost two, before returning home to host struggling Royals and Mets teams for a combined five games. They’ll then head to Baltimore for three games and have one game against the division-leading Rays before the deadline rolls around. Their performance against a pair of sub-.500 teams on that homestand and in the subsequent four games against the top two teams in their own division will be worth watching with a careful eye; every win or loss is crucial at this point.