At this year’s deadline, Hal Steinbrenner so far is showing us that maybe he’s more Boss than we gave him credit for.
The Yankees acquired Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo in a 24-hour span — actually getting someone else to pay for them — all sandwiched around Thursday’s two-touchdown loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Earlier that morning, the trade of Gallo (along with reliever Joely Rodriguez) became official. The Yankees sent four prospects to the Rangers, who agreed to pay their remaining salaries (roughly a total of $3.5 million).
A few hours later, Gerrit Cole was torched for eight runs in 5 1/3 innings and the Yankees’ lineup managed only four singles as the Rays denied them a sweep. Maybe they didn’t get an on-field boost from the previous night’s Gallo blockbuster, but Aaron Boone assured us postgame that Brian Cashman & Co. were still busy in their Tampa war room as Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline approached.
The manager wasn’t lying.
Shortly after Boone spoke those words, the Yankees agreed on a deal for Rizzo, with the Cubs picking up his $6 million price tag for the next two months, according to YES, in exchange for two more minor-league players. Cashman’s willingness to lavishly spend prospect capital underscored Steinbrenner's directive to stay below the luxury-tax threshold of $210 million and the Yankees did so by adding two All-Stars for free.
"Part of the reason why I’m here is because Hal [Steinbrenner] always goes for it," said Cole, speaking before the Rizzo trade leaked out. "And so does Brian [Cashman], so I really feel fortunate to be in this spot, where a club can make a fantastic move like that and continue to push chips in."
Hal definitely went for it with Cole, handing him a record $325 million contract two years ago, which is why both he and Cashman have no choice but to chase that money now in their efforts to improve the 2021 Yankees. Steinbrenner’s obsession with staying under the threshold is no doubt related to the sting from nearly $500 million in missed profits from last summer’s empty stadiums. But Cashman has navigated his way around it by bartering with higher-quality prospects, another indication of the Yankees’ all-in commitment to salvaging their playoff hopes. They were three games out of the second wild-card spot after Thursday’s loss.
Doubling down after the Gallo trade was a very Boss-like move by Hal, and the Yankees still are a few million under the threshold should they look for pitching help before Friday’s deadline. Even with Gallo en route, bringing along his .869 OPS and 25 homers, Cashman evidently was still hungry for more lefthanded pop. Enter Rizzo, who was hitting .248 with 14 homers and a .792 OPS with the Cubs.
On Thursday, the Yankees had to endure another three-strikeout afternoon from Giancarlo Stanton, who has one homer in his last 73 plate appearances (since July 7) while hitting .210 with 27 strikeouts over that stretch. He has four RBIs in those 17 games and Boone (or the front-office analysts) again had him in the cleanup spot for the series finale.
Using Stanton in the outfield has been a recurring conversation with Boone since the start of the second half. It almost happened at Fenway -- supposedly Chris Gittens’ ankle injury scuttled the plan -- and now it’s come up again for the Miami series, where the Yankees have to play by NL rules. If anything, the place for Stanton at the moment should be the bench, especially after the Gallo and Rizzo trades.
Gallo is a versatile, Gold-Glove defender that can be deployed in any outfield spot, which is an option the Yankees desperately needed, considering how thin they’ve been at the position. Rizzo will be taking over first base, as DJ LeMahieu slides over to second and Luke Voit -- who was nearing a return from the IL -- is now in limbo. The Yankees could always flip him in another deal, but with Stanton again looking lost at the plate, he’d probably be a better DH option at the moment. Still, dealing last year’s AL home runs champ doesn’t seem as big a worry now with a masher like Gallo coming.
"Sign me up for the guy that’s on base almost 40 percent of the time, has the power and provides the potential balance for our lineup," said Boone, referring to Gallo’s .378 OBP this season. "No player is perfect, but it’s hard to argue we’re not a lot better team adding Joey Gallo."
A few hours later, they got even better with Rizzo en route.