It’s still unclear what type of team the New York Yankees want to be this season. We know they are greatly improved the last few weeks, winning four of the last five series and 11 out of the past 16 games overall. We also know if the season ended today, they would be just 3.5 games out of a playoff spot despite a 20-22 record. So goes the temptation of modern day Major League Baseball, even when you’re mediocre, you’re in teasing distance from a playoff spot.
The American League is very even top to bottom and the American League East in particular is full of good, not great, teams. It creates headaches for teams who overachieve the first half of the season, or who simply are not as good as a contender but can see a playoff spot nearly in grasp.
The Yankees may be playing well, may be closing in on .500, may be within a stone’s throw of both the division and a playoff spot, but at the end of the day an aging team is unlikely to finish the year red hot and even if they made the playoffs, this team has too many offensive blackouts to make noise, even with a dominant bullpen and, at times, a solid rotation.
But we still have two months to figure out just how well this group can play. If the answer is “not much better than the first 42 games” than they need to move players. Here is what they should do with the starting outfielders:
Brett Gardner: Trade (Before the 2017 season)
The Yankees may want to move Gardner even if they are in contention. Gardner represents the ideal trade candidate for New York. the left fielder is 32-years-old, so in a couple of years when the Yankees are truly World Series caliber if things go right, he will be out of his prime with an expiring contract. Basically, Gardner’s presence is a ticking time bomb but he’s signed to a reasonable $13 million per year contract through 2018, giving him tremendous trade value.
To his credit, the speedy lefty is hitting .246/.373 with five home runs, showing some pop he’s developed the last couple of years as well as an elite ability to reach base along with eight stolen bases. It’s becoming sink or swim time with elite prospect, Aaron Judge, and New York already has Aaron Hicks who has shown he should play everyday and not part-time, so Gardner is expendable and could net a decent package in return for any team looking to complete and in need of an outfielder and hitter.
So the question becomes “when do you move Gardner”? The answer? This upcoming winter. The Yankees could trade him at the deadline but he’s not the type of player who demands much of a difference in prospects if he’s moved this summer or this winter. Either way, a player with a two year $26 million dollar contract who has been a former All-Star and can hit, run and get on base will have value. At the deadline, only a handful of teams will be in the market for a player like Gardner. In the winter, more teams will be looking to buy and it’s a down year for talent. Jose Bautista and Yoenis Cespedes will be the top outfield prospects, but Gardner offers a different skillset, should make about half the salary for half the years and is younger than Bautista and could have high value in a trade market.
Jacoby Ellsbury: Keep
Similar to Chase Headley, when Ellsbury is going bad, he’s untradeable because of his contract. When he’s going good, he’s worth it because of his skillset. Ellsbury is hitting .276/.348 with nine stolen bases, an ideal leadoff hitter in today’s day and age. Yankees’ fans will always have to deal with his durability issues and his inconsistencies and he will always be overpaid, but New York is better off with hoping Ellsbury stays on the field long enough to be an elite leadoff hitter than trying to eat most of his contract for no return and have him play elsewhere. They have the money to deal with Ellsbury’s shortcomings and won’t see the value in return if they try not to.
Carlos Beltran: Trade Before the 2016 Trade Deadline
Beltran is in a walk year and unlike Mark Teixeira, he plays a position the Yankees would rather not see him in. While Teixeira represents a luxury to hold possibly into next year if he does end up finding his bat, Beltran is an older version with a sub .300 OBP who is out of position playing any position. With Alex Rodriguez under contract regardless next season, Beltran’s presence on the roster in 2017 makes no sense, which means making him a $16 million dollar qualifying offer would make no sense, which means New York gets nothing for Beltran’s still otherwise productive bat if they hold onto him all season.
An AL team, like the Royals, may consider themselves in contention with one more productive bat and Beltran has a habit of strong second half stats and even stronger postseason success. Beltran will be valuable to someone as a rental before the trade deadline and even for the Yankees, they can plug in Hicks or promote Aaron Judge or keep Rob Refsnyder in right field and form a platoon to make up for Beltran. He’s expendable now and worthless later so the Yankees would be wise to try to get a desperation prospect out of a team for Beltran’s services before the deadline, even if it means giving extra looks to some of its own youth.