Since the start of July, the Yankees made two moves that addressed areas of weakness on the team. With the acquisitions of Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley, the Yankees made minor upgrades that will help — but not fix — the most pressing needs on the team. Even if weak competition allows New York to stay in the AL East or wild card race, the Yankees’ goal of making the playoffs is currently unattainable.
Up to the close of the trade deadline and through the period of waiver wire deals, Yankee brass has the task of improving a team that is currently missing four starting pitchers while ranking second-to-last in offense in the American League (stats current at the start of play on July 24). In other words, they need a fair amount of pitching and hitting. Here are five moves that would solve the team’s biggest problems and give the Yankees a playoff-caliber team.
5. A backup first baseman
The Yankees miss Mark Teixeira in multiple ways when he is out of the lineup. Beyond the abject lack of power on the team, there is no first baseman to replace Teixeira defensively. Joe Girardi has played Kelly Johnson and Brian McCann at first with borderline disastrous results, but it is unthinkable that the Yankees don’t have a serviceable backup at the position.
They have given away numerous games in 2014 due to poor infield defense, but the situation at first is puzzling. Before looking for a power-hitting outfielder, the Yankees need a first baseman to spell Teixeira or play for longer stretches when the oft-injured slugger is out of the lineup.
4. A starting pitcher
Every team always needs starting pitching. Now that the Yankees are without C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda, the need has turned to desperation. The current rotation includes Chase Whitley (4-3, 4.60 ERA), a converted reliever who represents a gamble every time out, and Shane Greene (2-1, 2.67 ERA), a rookie never considered an option before the injuries.
Moving the southpaw Nuño for Brandon McCarthy has proven to be a brilliant stroke by GM Brian Cashman. McCarthy is 2-0 with a 1.45 ERA in three starts for the Yankees, striking out 17 with just 3 walks in 18.2 innings. David Phelps has also been solid in his fill-in role, but the rotation is hanging by a thread.
No one gives up starters on the cheap, so the Yankees will have to think carefully about the high price teams are sure to ask when Cashman comes calling. Even a decent pitcher who can give them six innings per start would amount to an upgrade over Whitley. The wear on the bullpen is beginning to add up, and their chances to pick up ground in the division are running out.
3. A shakeup at second base
Brian Roberts ranks 16 out of 19 qualifying MLB second basemen in batting average (.240) and OPS (.680). His subpar offense has been one thing, but his defense has been worse. Roberts is leading AL second basemen with 10 errors through July 24. On a team that is struggling offensively, this type of defense is a weight the Yankees cannot bear.
Unlike at other positions, the Yankees have the opportunity to improve this situation internally. Rob Refsnyder, now playing second base and outfield for the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, has been demanding the organization’s attention. A slump has reportedly put the brakes on calling up Refsnyder, but the Yankees need a shakeup at second base if they want to make the playoffs. Roberts is both an offensive and defensive liability.
Another option is moving sure-handed Brendan Ryan to second base permanently. Whichever way the team changes players at the position, the psychological impact would be just as important. Underachieving veteran players are becoming the defining element of the 2014 New York Yankees.
2. The return of Tanaka or Pineda (or both)
Masahiro Tanaka was the Yankees’ best starter by a mile (12-4, 2.51 ERA) before going down with a slight tear in his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). If Tanaka does not heal in the coming weeks, Tommy John surgery may be in the cards, which once again highlights the need for a starter. Michael Pineda (2-2, 1.83 ERA), out since April 23, had a simulated game on his radar after improving in his rehab effort through July 24. The return of Pineda is a must, especially if Tanaka cannot return from his injury.
Should the Yankees be unable to get either starter back, it would hardly be worth trading for another pitcher. Even if they made the playoffs, they would have no primary option to start a series against leading AL teams.
1. A bigger offensive upgrade
As the Yankees rank near the bottom of the AL in runs (395), slugging (.379), and on-base percentage (.313), the need for pop in the lineup is obvious. The addition of Chase Headley has provided the team with a game-winning hit on July 22 and another big RBI in the July 24 win against Texas, but the Yankees need far more production of the middle of the order to make the playoffs. Waiting for Brian McCann or Carlos Beltran to produce is no longer an option.
Yankees pitching is fifth in the AL in earned runs allowed (382) and seventh in ERA (3.81), so there are many winnable games that can be traced back to the lackluster offense. The equivalent of Alfonso Soriano is likely not available in 2014, but the Yankees will need an impact bat in order to contend for October. Could they give up and point to the injuries as the excuse? Surely, but then that wouldn’t be the Yankee way. Steinbrenner rules are still in effect in the Bronx.