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2018 MLB Trade Deadline: Are the New York Yankees going to be buyers or sellers?

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What will the Yankees do at the deadline to try and push themselves ahead of the Red Sox and Astros?

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Photo by Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach July 31, we will preview what each team is projected to do in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline. For a complete listing of our previews, click here.

New York Yankees: 56-28, 2nd in the AL East

The Yankees have been extremely impressive through the first half of this season. While they only have the second-highest winning percentage in their own division, they also have the second-highest in baseball, and they’re clearly going to be one of the forces to be reckoned with come October — especially if they can get catcher Gary Sanchez back on track at the plate and settle on an everyday starter at first base. Beyond those tasks, they’ll also likely need to make an external addition to their pitching staff in order to separate themselves from the Red Sox, who are in first in the AL East, as well as the Astros, who very well may be the most talented team in baseball. If they don’t win the division, it’s very possible that they’ll end up facing dominant Mariners lefty James Paxton in a one-game Wild Card series, and that obviously has the potential to end badly. Here’s a look at what the Yankees have already done and what you can expect them to do in terms of trades from here on out:

What moves have they made so far?

The Yankees haven’t made any big deals yet, but they’ve made quite a few minor trades and waiver transactions. They re-acquired lefty pitcher Daniel Camarena — who had been in their minor-league system for the past six seasons but spent spring training with the Cubs — on April 3 for future considerations. They released him in late May, however, and he is now in the Giants organization. They also claimed outfielder Trayce Thompson on waivers from the Dodgers on the 3rd, though they lost him on waivers to the Athletics two days later. They traded for veteran utility man Cody Asche on April 4, acquiring him from the Royals for future considerations, but they ended up releasing him on May 1 — he’s now in the Mets system. They dealt A-ball outfielder Kendall Coleman to the Mets for Triple-A utility man L.J. Mazzilli on April 10. They acquired former Nationals top prospect A.J. Cole on April 24 for cash. The Yankees lost two major-league players on waivers in the space of three days in late April, losing infielder Jace Peterson to the Orioles on the 24th and reliever David Hale to the Twins on the 26th, though Hale would end up getting DFA’d by Minnesota and re-signing with New York less than a week later. They dealt Triple-A catcher Erik Kratz, who logged time with the big-league club last September, to the Brewers in exchange for future considerations on May 25. Most recently, the Yankees traded last year’s 10th-round pick, right-hander Chad Whitmer, to the Brewers for future considerations.

Who could they acquire?

The Yankees’ lineup is stacked, and their bench is similarly deep, so it’s not surprising that their most-discussed need has been starting pitching. That need is more amplified than it realistically should be right now, because they’re missing both Jordan Montgomery (season-ending Tommy John surgery) and Masahiro Tanaka (mild hamstring strains). Tanaka should be back sooner than later, and when he is, their projected playoff rotation of Luis Severino, C.C. Sabathia, Sonny Gray, and Tanaka sounds like an extremely good one, assuming Gray rounds back into form after a down first half. They’ll only need a maximum of four starters in the playoffs — and the 2016 Indians got through most of the postseason using a three-man rotation — but there are two major incentives for them to acquire a proven fifth starter to replace Montgomery: 1) They need to edge out the Red Sox in the AL East to guarantee themselves more than one playoff game, and a fifth starter could help them win some extra games down the stretch, and 2) if Gray continues to struggle, they’ll likely want a more reliable starter to help compete with whatever combination of Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers Jr., Dallas Keuchel, and Gerrit Cole the Astros throw out there during a potential ALDS or ALCS.

With the Yankees still possessing one of baseball’s deepest farm systems, plus an excess of young major-leaguers like Clint Frazier and Brandon Drury who don’t have clear spots in the team’s future plans, the possibilities are virtually limitless in terms of who they could acquire to fill the fifth starter role. One commonly-mentioned candidate has been 35-year-old Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ, who is a free agent at the end of this season. While Happ hasn’t been quite as great in 2018 as he was during the last three seasons, he’s still been pretty good — he has a 4.03 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over 17 starts — and would represent a clear upgrade over Domingo German at this point. He figures to command a decent return since he’s one of the best rental starters on the market, but New York probably isn’t going to have to give up a star prospect like Estevan Florial to acquire him.

Rangers lefty Cole Hamels, who — much like Happ — has put up average numbers (a 4.05 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over 17 starts) in the final guaranteed year of his contract, could also be a fit for the Yankees, though the New York Post’s Joel Sherman reported earlier this year that they were on his no-trade list. He also carries some extra value since he has a $20 million club option (and a $6 million buyout) for 2019, which would give the Yankees some extra cushion if Sabathia retires and they don’t want to give two Opening Day rotation spots to guys like German, Luis Cessa, Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams, and Jonathan Loaisiga. On the other hand, picking up the remainder of his $24 million AAV could complicate things a bit as New York looks to stay under the luxury tax.

Other less-heralded starters who could make sense for the Yankees include Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Francisco Liriano, Lance Lynn, and Tyson Ross. None of those guys would take the Yankees’ rotation to the level of the Astros’ starting five, but they’d be more reliable than German and would help New York to navigate through the last two months of the regular season.

It would’ve been easy to proclaim a couple of weeks ago, as Gary Sanchez went on the DL with a groin strain, that catcher could become a position of need for the Yankees. However, after getting a couple weeks of extended playing time, Austin Romine still has an impressive .805 OPS, and fill-in backup Kyle Higashioka has acquitted himself well, hitting three homers in his first 18 plate appearances — good for a 1.028 OPS. With that said, if the Yankees decide that they need extra coverage behind the plate, guys who might pique their interest could include A.J. Ellis and Drew Butera.

Ideally, the Yankees would probably like to add another established reliever, but they’re in a bit of a difficult spot since the only guys in their bullpen with minor-league options, Jonathan Holder and Chad Green, have arguably been their two most consistent relievers this side of Aroldis Chapman in 2018. It does seem possible that they could look to upgrade over Chasen Shreve, the only left-handed middle reliever in their bullpen, as he’s posted a 4.85 ERA and 1.55 WHIP this season. If they indeed look for a better lefty reliever, some names to consider would be intra-division rivals Brad Brach, Donnie Hart, and Aaron Loup as well as Xavier Cedeno, Jake Diekman, and Zach Duke. All of those guys except Hart and Cedeno are free agents at the end of the season, and Hart has failed to receive a fair opportunity in Baltimore despite achieving success in the majors, while the 31-year-old Cedeno was a minor-league free-agent success story who has just one year of arbitration left and doesn’t figure to contribute to the next competitive White Sox team. Thus, the Yankees could probably add any of the aforementioned lefties without having to give up a great prospect. If any of them require a semi-substantial return, it’ll be Brach, who is 32 and has struggled a bit this year but has put together a strong track record over the past six seasons.

Predictions

It seems extremely likely that the Yankees will deal for a fifth starter. Happ appears to be their most prominent target — and the Bronx Bombers certainly have the the prospect capital to acquire him — though they’ll face competition from teams like the Mariners and Brewers to acquire his services. If they can’t get Happ, they may have to settle for an incremental upgrade like Ross.

It’s possible that they’ll look to upgrade their left-handed relief depth, but it won’t be their first priority, and it’s hard to envision them giving up the prospects required to obtain an upper-echelon guy like Brach. And with their position-player depth as impressive as it is, it’s quite unlikely that they’ll look to upgrade there — even if it’s at catcher, because Sanchez will return at some point, and Romine and Higashioka have done a good job of holding down the fort in his absence.