Do the Yankees look like a team desperate for help before tomorrow’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline? Chase Headley is performing like a poor man’s Mark Teixeira at first base — not a knock — and the mostly airtight bullpen, fortified by Brian Cashman’s deft trade, easily absorbed Caleb Smith’s brief, bumpy start in Saturday’s 5-4 walk-off victory, the Yankees’ sixth straight.
“With a team like this,” said Todd Frazier, who has worn pinstripes for all of 11 days, “there’s no telling what we can do.”
So far, as currently constructed, we know it’s capable of winning the AL East title. The Yankees are back in first place, their 10-22 swoon left in the dust. But as Cashman stays busy on the phone, searching for upgrades, he’s got to be thinking bigger than just a division title.
In addition to the talent, the Yankees have some mojo working. How else do you explain two walk-off wins in the span of three days, both engineered by a handful of heroic cameos and polished off by Brett Gardner’s clutch bat? The question then becomes where the prospect capital needs to be invested. The obvious answer is another top-shelf, experienced starter such as the A’s Sonny Gray.
Some teams get distracted this close to the deadline, but the Yankees seem to be immune. Inside the clubhouse, there’s been a singular focus, and Joe Girardi is too busy dialing up his bullpen to fret much about what the rotation lacks. “My job is to manage the guys in that room,” he said. “I try not to get caught up in any ‘what-ifs.’ Right now, let’s just keep it going.”
In the front office, however, it’s a different story. Cashman will be trying to pry Gray from Oakland for as long as he remains available, and the Yankees have the prospects to get it done. But deciding on which ones has been the sticking point for a franchise that never valued a deep prospect pool as much as they have in recent years.
And that includes managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, who has been thrilled to see a bunch of his young stars mature on the Bronx stage this season, well ahead of schedule. Steinbrenner has been reluctant to sacrifice too many of those minor-leaguers up to this point, and it will be interesting to see if he bends significantly before the deadline.
“You’d like to get another starting pitcher, but that’s going to cost you,’’ he told the Bergen Record before Saturday’s game. “So how much am I willing to stomach when it comes to prospects? That’s the biggest thing.’’
He went on to say that taking on salary isn’t a problem, but for a starting pitcher of Gray’s pedigree, the money is almost negligible. He’s earning only $3.58 million this season and won’t be a free agent until 2020. That team control is part of what makes Gray so attractive and so costly in terms of young talent.
The Yankees have no desire to include Clint Frazier or Gleyber Torres in any deal. Beyond those two, however, it seems as if Cashman can come up with a package that works, such as one built around either Jorge Mateo or Estevan Florial, the top two outfielders remaining in the system.
The Yankees’ rotation already has surpassed expectations, and Masahiro Tanaka’s 14-strikeout performance Friday night was encouraging. But there is a clearly defined hole that could use some patching up, and it’s really this team’s only glaring issue.
Cashman didn’t go to the mat to get Lucas Duda, who wound up annoying his team as a member of the Rays this weekend, but he still could negotiate to put Yonder Alonso in the Gray deal before tomorrow.
Then again, Cashman probably doesn’t need to. Headley not only has provided an adequate glove at first base but is hitting .394 (13-for-33) with a .430 on-base percentage since moving across the infield. He also delivered a go-ahead two-run home run Saturday as a pinch hitter. It was his first homer since June 13, a stretch of 124 at-bats, so maybe he’s coming around.
“I certainly don’t feel like a finished product by any means,” he said of the position switch. “It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do.”
The Yankees don’t appear to be finished, either. It’s just a matter of what they can still do.