Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has always preferred the quick strikes, the unseen and unexpected push for a player — like when he surprised the Red Sox and the baseball world by jumping on Johnny Damon, or when he made a big trade last season for relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle.
But there’s no way to hide the predicament that Cashman and the Yankees are in, following the injury to right fielder Aaron Judge. The Yankees announced that Judge cannot swing a bat for at least three weeks, but every rival executive is well aware of how problematic and slow to heal wrist injuries can be. The Dodgers’ Justin Turner was hit by a pitch on March 20, and even after he returned to the lineup 56 days later — almost two months — he acknowledged that he had some discomfort along the way.
It’s possible Judge could come back relatively quickly. And it’s possible that his days as an effective hitter in 2018 are over.
So in the hours ahead, Cashman must weigh the possibility that he will have a big hole in his lineup for much of the remainder of the regular season. The Yankees could try to ride it out with in-house solutions, with their path made easier by the fact that their remaining schedule is saturated with games against really bad teams. If you lined up just about all of the worst teams in baseball, that’s what is in front of the Yankees. From ESPN Stats & Information:
The Yankees have the easiest schedule through August by opponent win percentage:
Yankees — .415
Indians — .452
Cubs — .459
Rays — .468
Tigers — .472
Four of their next five series are against four of the five worst teams. However, the one that is not against a bad team is a four-game set at the Red Sox.
July 27-29 vs. Royals (31-71)
July 31-Aug. 1 vs. Orioles (29-74)
Aug. 2-5 at Red Sox (71-33)
Aug. 6-8 at White Sox (36-66)
Aug. 9-12 vs. Rangers (42-62)
The Yankees have the best bullpen, they have a good rotation fortified by the addition of J.A. Happ, and their lineup even without Judge is dangerous.
But given that the Yankees have already pushed a lot of chips to the middle of the table to add Zach Britton and Happ, it may make sense for them to add another veteran hitter. If the Yankees make another deal, they will likely have to ask the team they deal with to absorb some or all of the salary of the incoming player, as they continue to work under the luxury tax threshold. If the Yankees wait until after the deadline to add a hitter, they would have to hope that good options come through waivers — and Cleveland, which is searching for a right-handed hitting outfielder, would be in position to claim players ahead of them. That would be a gamble. They also have no idea how much Clint Frazier might contribute after another concussion issue, or whether Jacoby Ellsbury will play for them again, given that he hasn’t played a game all year.
Some of the possible names worth examining:
Curtis Granderson. The Blue Jays are going to trade him before the deadline, and the Yankees could jump in to try to grab someone they know well. He’s got a .332 on-base percentage this year, with nine homers.
Andrew McCutchen. The Giants have drifted back to .500, and it could be that San Francisco would think about selling. McCutchen, a free agent in the fall, is hitting .257 with 10 homers.
Starlin Castro. The Yankees have the option of shifting Stanton to right field and they would use Castro as the DH, or move him around different spots of the infield. He’s under contract for next season, but the Yankees will be in a much better position with the luxury tax situation in 2019, and they know this about Castro — he can hit good pitching, and he’ll put the ball in play. Castro is batting .289 for the Marlins this season, with a .335 on-base percentage and eight homers.
Jose Martinez. The Cardinals are prepared to move Martinez because, quite frankly, he’s an AL player. He can play first and he can play the outfield, but he’s a subpar defender. What he has shown he can do really well is hit: Martinez is batting .295 this season, with 13 homers and a .358 on-base percentage. He’s got 33 walks and 59 strikeouts in 374 plate appearances, and his style of hitting would be different than a lot of the swing-and-miss guys that the Yankees have.
Bryce Harper. We’re obligated to mention his name here because the Nationals might be sellers, but it seems more than unlikely that the Yankees would satisfy what Washington would require to trade a franchise player.
Michael Taylor. The Nationals have an outfield surplus and Taylor is one of baseball’s best defenders, according to metrics.
Billy Hamilton. He could be a non-tender candidate in the fall, and this might be the Reds’ best opportunity to move him. But the Yankees have always placed a high value on on-base percentage, and that’s not Hamilton’s thing. He’s hitting .221 with a .298 on-base percentage and 22 stolen bases, and he could be used in a variety of roles — late-inning defender, late-inning pinch-runner, etc. — especially after Judge returns to the lineup.
Adam Jones. The longtime Oriole has a full no-trade clause and he would have to approve any deal. The upside for the Orioles is that they have just reviewed the Yankees’ farm system as they worked through the Britton trade, and would have some additional insight. The possible downside is that they probably would not get a lot in return for Jones, who is hitting .277 with 10 homers. And the Yankees, focused on the postseason, saw Jones’s October struggles first-hand — he is 9-for-58 (.155) in the playoffs, with one extra-base hit and 16 strikeouts.
And here’s a completely out-of-the-box thought: J.T. Realmuto. The Yankees saw how much Gary Sanchez struggled defensively, and they don’t know if he’s going to regain his effectiveness this year after he returns from his groin injury. If they are prepared to deal some of their best prospects, they could be the team that meets the Marlins’ asking price on Realmuto — and the Marlins’ executives know the Yankees’ farm system better than any other. Realmuto could serve as the catcher for the rest of this season and upgrade their offense, and moving in 2019 and beyond, the Yankees would have some options.