MINNEAPOLIS — The Yankees aren’t simply going to wait for 2018 after all.
And it was a message heard loud and clear in the clubhouse.
Late Tuesday night, the Bombers completed a major deal with the White Sox that addressed significant needs, as they landed bullpen pieces David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle and third baseman Todd Frazier, who can also play first base.
“It shows the front office believes in us,” Chase Headley said after Tuesday night’s 6-3 victory over the Twins. “It’s exciting. We did something to get better.”
With the victory, the Yankees stand at 48-44, in third place in the AL East, 3 1⁄2 games behind the Red Sox. The Rays (51-44) are in second place, two back.
Certainly on the surface, the Yankees improved themselves and did so without giving up one of their top prospects. They included Tyler Clippard in the deal, as well as outfielder Blake Rutherford, the Yankees’ first-round pick in 2016, lefty Ian Clarkin, a No. 1 pick in 2013, and minor-league outfielder Tito Polo.
Rutherford is rated by some services as the club’s top outfield prospect but the majority of opposing team talent evaluators who cover the Yankees’ system rate Estevan Florial higher.
Clippard, whose struggles the last month made him expendable, said it was “gut-wrenching” to be leaving, but acknowledged: “It’s a good trade for the Yankees, for sure.”
The deal also has the dual benefit, from the Yankees’ perspective, of denying the Red Sox a coveted piece as Boston had been going hard to land Frazier.
Joe Girardi said there will be discussions about how to handle Frazier and Headley, who has been the primary third baseman. Headley can play first but has far less experience there.
“I wouldn’t have any problem going over there,” Headley said of first base. “I’m more than happy to do whatever makes the team better.”
For weeks, the Yankees have been in the market for help at first as they’ve been operating under the notion they would not get Greg Bird back this season. Bird had surgery Tuesday to remove a bone from his troubled right foot and was given a recovery time of six weeks before he can begin baseball activities.
Frazier, a 31-year-old native of Point Pleasant, New Jersey, has played the vast majority of his career at third, starting 719 games there, but he’s played first, as well, starting 82 times there. Frazier has a .207/.328/.432 slash line with 16 homers and 44 RBIs.
The Yankees have also been looking for bullpen help as they’ve suffered 18 blown saves to this point of the season after blowing 16 all of last year. They are more than familiar, of course, with Robertson, who came up with the Bombers and pitched well for them from 2008-14 before leaving as a free agent. Robertson, 32, took over for the retired Mariano Rivera in 2014 and saved 39 games. He signed a four-year, $46-million deal with the White Sox before the 2015 season. Robertson is 4-2 with a 2.70 ERA in 31 games this season with 13 saves. The 27-year-old Kahnle, whom the Yankees lost in the Rule 5 draft in 2013, has a 2.50 ERA in 37 games, with 60 strikeouts and seven walks.
“I think it’s important to do all we can to make our team better,” said Brett Gardner, a close friend of Robertson who texted briefly with the reliever late Tuesday after the trade was completed. “Excited to get those guys over here.”
Girardi said he hopes one message resonates above all else in the clubhouse with the trade.
“It should tell then, hey, we’re in this, and that we need to continue to play hard and play better than what we’ve done,” Girardi said. “But it should be a pick-me-up in there in a sense like, hey, there’s a lot of people that believe in this club.”