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  • Cory Claus

Yankees should stand pat at the trade deadline

The Yankees thought they built a World Series team this year. That doesn’t appear to be the case. Now the pundits, players, and fans are wondering if they’re going to be buyers or sellers. My advice: do neither.


Yankee Stadium

The Yankees have arrived at the trade deadline still not sure who they are.


On the one hand, they’re tied for last place in the AL East with a Red Sox team not even trying to win. But their record of 53-47 puts them within two games of the last Wild Card spot with plenty of time to make up the difference. And the talent to do so.


With their pitching and the return of Aaron Judge, they have a good shot at making the playoffs. Making and winning the World Series, however, seems doubtful. And just making the playoffs is not the Yankees' way.


So, what should they do: buy or sell?


Yankees Need to Know When to Hold 'Em


This would be a much easier question to answer if Hal Steinbrenner were willing to blow way past the final tax threshold, otherwise known as the Steve Cohen tax. Here’s a quick summary for those who don’t know what that is:


In fact, the MLB’s new luxury tax structure, forged in the latest labor deal, has been dubbed the “Cohen Tax.” Thanks partly to his [Steve Cohen] spending, MLB added an extra tier to the luxury tax chart, penalizing those who spend more than $63 million above the threshold at a whopping 90%.

Right now, the Yankees are 1.1 million over that threshold. By all accounts, they mean to stay that way. This is Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reporting just that a week ago:


Citing “sources with knowledge of the team’s thinking,” Rosenthal reports that the Yankees’ Deadline dealings could be influenced by a desire to get under the highest CBT threshold of $293 million. FanGraphs estimates New York to be roughly $1.1 million over the threshold.

If true, and my guess is that it is, then the Yanks are not going to bring in the two or three high-priced players they would need to put them over the top. That means no Juan Soto, who would cost about nineteen million for the rest of the year, according to Spotrac. That figure includes the 90% tax. It also means no Cody Bellinger, who would cost around nine or ten million.


Even the over-performing Randal Grichuk seems out of reach at approximately seven million.


There are other impediments as well. Brian Cashman might normally try to dump salary to offset the cost of those trades. But the players who are making enough money to make it worthwhile–Cole, Stanton, Judge, and Rodon–aren’t going anywhere, and shouldn’t.


After them are Rizzo and Lemahieu, and the only way anyone is taking them is if the Yankees pay their salaries. That kinda defeats the purpose. Severino might be of interest, but his 6.64 ERA accurately reflects his uneven season filled with shaky starts. Plus, getting rid of him hurts the Yankees' chances of winning this year.


The same is true of Gleyber Torres and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who is the team’s best utility player. After that are a lot of guys making not a lot of money.


The team would have to dump five or six of them just to offset Bellinger, let alone Soto.


The Yankees Have Issues


The other big issue is that the Yankees traded away a lot of promising prospects to try to win it all last year. The cupboard isn’t bare, but it’s not exactly fully stocked, either.


And the Yankees are going to need the prospects they still have left.


That’s partially because of the top-heavy nature of the team’s payroll this year and at least next. The combined salaries of Judge, Cole, Rodon, Stanton, Lemahieu, and Rizzo sit at around $162,000,000.


Of those, only Rizzo comes off the books, but not until the end of next year.


That’s why the Yanks entered the season already tapped out of money. It’s also why they need some of their homegrown players to develop into anything from league-average to above-average while two or three become all-stars and superstars.


Otherwise, the Bombers will be in the same situation next year that they’re in this year, maxed out from Opening Day. That’s clearly a bad strategy. I’m sure that the Yankees and their fans wish the team had an extra 20 mill lying around so they could get a guy like Soto.


The way to solve that is by reducing salary, not keeping it status quo.


Where does all of that leave the Yankees? With a maxed out payroll and in need of their prospects.


Cracks in the Foundation


Besides, this team was built to win the World Series with the roster they already have. Remember that it’s a team that went to the ALCS last year, then added Carlos Rodon. It’s a team with the reigning MVP, two of the top ten pitchers in baseball, and role players who’ve performed at a high level the last few years.


Their biggest problem this year is not that they don’t have good players. It’s that those players haven’t performed to the back of their baseball cards.


Carlos Rodon missed more than half the season and is still finding his form. Aaron Judge looked great, until he smashed through a wall that smashed him right back. Now the best defensive catcher in baseball, Jose Trevino, is out for the year.


And while those are the headlines, the Yankees have lost a host of other players to injuries throughout the season, including Harrison Bader, Jake Bauers, Willie Calhoun, and Nestor Cortes.


The bigger issue, however, has been performance. Gleyber Torres might not be an all-star, but he’s pulled his weight. He’s currently hitting .264/.330/.439 with 16 home runs, good for second on the team.


But that’s not been the case for many of the players the Yankees were counting on. Anthony Rizzo sits at an unimpressive .253/.338/.398. He also just went two months without hitting a home run. DJ Lemahieu is even more disappointing, slashing .233/.297/.375.


This from a man who’s won batting titles.


Then there’s former MVP Josh Donaldson. He was hitting an unbearable .142/.225/.434 before he mercifully landed on the injured list.


This team simply isn’t getting on base enough or hitting for enough power.


The Yankees Should Stand Pat at the Trade Deadline


Based on that, it would make little sense to empty the farm system and blow up the payroll just so this squad has a chance to make the playoffs. You make those moves to win the World Series, not the wild card. Again, that's not the Yankees' way.


No, if this team wants to win it all this year, then the players they already have need to perform to their expectations. Let them go out and dig their way out of this hole. Let the team overcome the adversity they’ve created. Let them face their fears and their panic.


Let them build their character and resolve–to dig deep inside themselves to find the best they can be–because that’s how champions are born. If they’re successful, the sky’s the limit in the postseason. This team was put together with the talent to win the World Series; now, let’s see them prove it.


If not, their struggles and disappointment will harden them for next year.


Don’t get me wrong: if Hal Steinbrenner were willing to spend whatever it took to get two or three of the top players available right now, I’d be all for it. Yes, bring in Soto and Candelario and Lucas Giolito.


But he won’t.


I’d also feel the same way if the Yankees had such a deep farm system that they could lose several high-value players and still have enough left to restock the team.


But they don’t.


I Can See Clearly Now


I recently wrote an article about which players the Yankees might trade for. That was before it became clear that the Yankees are not willing to spend big money at this time. And if they’re not willing to go big, they shouldn’t go at all.


Instead, they need to let the players they have make their bones this season. They need to reduce payroll by letting the contracts of Donaldson (21 million), Severino (15 million), and Bader (5 million) drop off the books this offseason. They need to trade Gleyber Torres (10 million this year, more next) after this year for promising prospects.


Most importantly, they need to continue to develop and promote their own young, low-cost players.


If they do that, the Yanks will enter next season still with a great nucleus of talent. And they’ll have the resources to add the types of players that they can’t afford now, the type that can transform them into World Series champions.


That might even include Soto. He’s a free agent after 2024, so the team that trades for him now–if he is traded–might be looking to unload him by next July. If so, the Yanks would have enough money and new rising prospects to trade for him.


But that’s next year, not this one. This year, the Yankees need to stand pat at the trade deadline.


The Yankees simply do not look like a World Series team this year. But they could rise up and do what seems like the impossible. They still have the talent to do so, and I hope they do.


But they need to do it on their own. Because if they sit out the trade deadline now, they might be able to put together a much better team by August 2024, one with a much more realistic chance of winning it all. And instead of a desperate gambit this year, they’d set themselves up for a run at a new dynasty.


Now that’s the Yankees' way.




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