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Five questions facing the Yankees in the second half

New York Yankees starter Gerrit Cole pitches against

New York Yankees starter Gerrit Cole pitches against the Houston Astros on July 10, 2021. Credit: AP/Eric Christian Smith

Will the Yankees buy or sell at the deadline?

That very likely will be determined very soon after the All-Star break as the Yankees play the Red Sox in eight of their first 10 games. (The Phillies break up a four-game set in New York starting Thursday night and a four-game series in Boston the following weekend). And after the second series against Boston comes a series against the hated Rays, for good measure.

The Yankees being eight games behind the Red Sox at the start of play Thursday – and 4 ½ games out of the second of the two AL wild-card spots – strongly suggest that opening stretch will determine whether Brian Cashman is in buy mode, which the longtime GM is currently making clear his team is in, or sell mode. The latter is the last thing Cashman, not to mention managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, wants to oversee.

If they buy, what will they be buying?

Pitching. Outfield help. Perhaps a reliever.

A rotation that shined in April and into May in many ways hasn’t been the same since Corey Kluber’s no-hitter May 19 in Arlington against the Rangers. Kluber went down with a right shoulder injury his next time on the mound and, coincidentally, virtually the entire pitching staff started leaking oil around the same time. Kluber is out indefinitely, Jameson Taillon, though solid his last couple of starts, experienced more bad than good in the first half, Domingo German continues to be a victim of the long ball and Jordan Montgomery, though decent more often than not in going 3-4 with a 4.16 ERA, hasn’t been quite as consistent as the Yankees hoped when camp broke.

And Gerrit Cole? More on that later as there’s a lot to unpack.

The outfield is a mess with Miguel Andujar, a natural infielder, getting most of the reps in left, and 37-year-old Brett Gardner all but getting run into the ground in center. They would love to add a lefty bat and another bullpen arm if possible, all without taking payroll over the $210 million luxury tax threshold.

So, which version of Gerrit Cole will the Yankees get in the second half?

Came out of the gate looking poised to win the first Cy Young Award of his career, 6-2 with a 1.78 ERA after the first two months. But the righthander, signed to a nine-year $324-million free agent deal in December 2019 promptly nosedived, going 2-2 with a 5.24 ERA over his next six starts, with the beginning of that stretch corresponding with the news coming in early June that MLB planned to start eliminating the use of illegal sticky substances on baseballs by pitchers.

Cole, who said he would need to adjust to the new rules, seemed to do just that, turning in one of the more impressive regular-season pitching performances of the last 25 years for the Yankees, a three-hitter against the Astros just before the break in which he threw a career-high 129 pitches of a 1-0 victory. If the Yankees get that Cole, and the Cole of April and May, a playoff berth is a strong possibility. If they get the Cole of June, there’s almost no chance.

What about that offense?

A collective group that had almost no questions surrounding it going into and then leaving spring training is the single biggest culprit in the Yankees’ disappointing first half. Instead of being the overwhelming strength it was expected to be, instead it has been more weakness than not.

The Yankees arrived at the break ranked 12th (out of 15 teams) in the AL in runs (370) and 10th in slugging (.394), though they are fourth in on-base percentage (.323) and a not-terrible seventh in OPS (.717). Though Cashman is likely to make a roster move or two before the trade deadline, the arrival of a bona fide star to jolt the underperforming group is unlikely. That fix probably will have to come from within.

Is Aaron Boone managing for his job?

Boone, hired to replace Joe Girardi after the 2017 season, is in the final year of a four-year contract. He was the hand-picked choice of Cashman to take over, but it was a choice enthusiastically endorsed by managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner.

If the Yankees make the playoffs, Boone is likely to return whether they win the World Series or not. If the Yankees miss the postseason, given the preseason expectations, a significant organizational change, of which the manager would certainly qualify, can’t be ruled out.

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