Questions by the boatload emerged over the last month that could dictate the course the Yankees’ season takes over the second half, but one matters above all others:
How bold will Brian Cashman be at the trade deadline?
“Not very” was how he made it sound on Sunday when he declared the Yankees will be “careful buyers,” and now we have an idea of what that means, as Cashman passed on Jose Quintana, the White Sox lefty who was traded to the Cubs on Thursday.
In giving up Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease as part of a four-player package for Quintana, the Cubs dealt highly rated prospects who would be roughly the equivalent of the Yankees trading Blake Rutherford and Justus Sheffield.
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Jimenez is a 20-year-old power-hitting outfielder in Class A minors with a very high ceiling, ranked as the No. 7 prospect overall in Baseball America’s recent mid-season rankings. And Cease is a 21-year-old righthander in low Class A, No. 83 overall in those same rankings.
You could substitute Clint Frazier for Rutherford, except he’s much closer to the big leagues than Jimenez — or Rutherford. And baseball executives believe the White Sox were more interested in Chance Adams than Sheffield among Yankee pitching prospects.
In any case, much like the Cubs, the Yankees have the prospect depth to make such a deal and still have plenty of good, young players. The difference is the Cubs have already won a World Series with their core of young position-player talent that is more established at the big-league level.
So should the Yankees have made such a deal? A month ago I would have said yes, when they were rolling along in first place, and it appeared someone like Quintana would have given them a great chance of holding off the Red Sox to win the AL East.
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Now they have major issues in both the starting rotation and the bullpen. Dellin Betances only raised more concerns about his control with his shaky inning in the All-Star Game, and Masahiro Tanaka’s clunker in the final game before the break against the Brewers again made you wonder why he can’t sustain dominance this season.
No less significant, Frazier became the latest Baby Bomber to make a big splash when he hit two home runs against the Brewers, including a walk-off shot, and you can see how his “legendary bat speed,” as Cashman has called it, could translate at the big-league level.
Between that and knowing how high scouts are on Rutherford, the left-handed hitting outfielder who was the Yankees’ first-round draft choice last year, I would have passed on Quintana at this price as well.
As an exec from another team said, “Quintana is a solid starter, but some of his value is in him having a very affordable contract (for the next three seasons). I think the Yankees are in a position where they can aim higher if they wait until the off-season.”
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It doesn’t mean Cashman won’t be out there trying to make deals, of course. In fact, on Thursday he dealt lefthanded pitching prospect Tyler Webb to the Brewers for right-handed-hitting first baseman Garrett Cooper, who is having a big year at Triple-A Colorado Springs (high altitude), hitting .366 with 10 home runs.
Cooper, 26, isn’t considered a blue-chip prospect, but he could fit nicely for the moment in a platoon at first base with Ji-Man Choi.
As for landing a top starting pitcher, Quintana was the one guy everyone was sure would be traded. It remains to be seen whether the A’s will deal Sonny Gray or the Pirates will trade Gerrit Cole, but both have been nagged by injuries and/or inconsistency.
The problem for Cashman is that without significant help for both the starting rotation and the bullpen, and perhaps first base as well, the Yankees are looking more like the 84-85 win team I expected than the surprise juggernaut they appeared to be early.
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Perhaps Chance Adams will fill one of those roles. He continues to dominate hitters at Triple-A, holding opposing hitters to a .167 batting average, but he does have problems with walks at times, and he is also likely to run into an innings-limit issue by September.
In any case, these Yankees still have time to convince Cashman they’re worth a major investment, especially since the second half opens with a showdown against the Red Sox in Boston.
It was just over a month ago, after all, that they took control of the AL East race by running their arch-rivals out of the Bronx with routs of 8-0 and 9-1 to take the last two games of a three-game series.
In fact, the Yanks have owned the Sox this season, winning four of five games by a combined score of 28-6.
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But my how things have changed as the Yanks have slid backward, going 7-18, while the Sox have surged into first place by 3 1/2 games, with starting pitching that is starting to look formidable.
Which, of course, makes for an intriguing start to the second half, as the Yankees invade Boston for four games in three days and trading season is now officially open.
So far it appears, as he said, Cashman will make deals with more than just this season in mind.
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