The New York Yankees, despite a plethora of injuries and ragtag group of over-the-hill veterans, are still in the thick of the American League East playoff picture. Shocking as this may be, it's what we've come to expect from the Yankees. The team wins—period.
General manager Brian Cashman will be faced with a difficult decision come this July 31 trade deadline, though. Cashman could choose to go for it all by selling the farm away for proven talent, he could choose to sell-off whatever veterans he can to recoup prospects or he could simply choose to stand pat and do nothing. Technically all teams can do this, but a team like the Yankees is actually in a reasonable position to do all three.
Many good players are available, but his team has some surprisingly good prospects stowed deep within the minor league system. It may be a few more seasons until they're ready, but a vast majority of them stand to make an impact at the big league level. Cashman's job will be to weigh the potential losses with the immediate gains—a decision I'm glad I don't have to make myself.
To figure out the best course of action for his team, here's the step-by-step blueprint Cashman should follow.
Step 1: Buy, Sell, or Stay-Put?
Cashman will obviously need to determine what type of general manager he wants to be on July 31 (and the days leading up to it). There are only three options, but choosing between the three will be extremely difficult. First off, Cashman has to realize that he doesn't have to make a move just for the sake of saying he did something.
Those are the kinds of deals that can come back to bite teams in the long run. If Cashman wants to make moves, he needs to be committed to improving his team.
He, and the upper brass of the team, will need to discuss what role the team will play in the feeding frenzy that is July 31. If the team is still a few games over .500 by that time, then the front office may choose to go for it all.
I would not personally do this, as I'm of the belief that it's about that time for the Yankees to start a semi-rebuilding phase. They've been burned by veterans recently and have young talent on the way. Why not stock up the system even more?
The Baltimore Orioles did it, the Rays did it, heck, even the Houston Astros have a promising future (in a few years, of course). The Yankees need to build up the system in order to get back to the promised land. They can't do it with a decimated roster filled with aging veterans.
Should Cashman & Co. choose otherwise, though, here's what should happen next.
Step 2: What type of talent are we willing to trade?
The Yankees have both major leaguers and prospects that could be available at the deadline. In terms of major leaguers, both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain are without contracts for next season. If the Yankees wish to sell (or go for big-time talent), both could be gone at the deadline.
In terms of prospects, Cashman will have to determine just how deep he's willing to delve into the system. Will he be willing to give up top position players like Tyler Austin, Gary Sanchez or Mason Williams? What about pitchers Jose Campos, Jose Ramirez and Mark Montgomery?
There's no doubt that these players would be attractive pieces to opposing teams, but trading them could be a huge mistake.
Instead, Cashman could dangle guys like Angelo Gumbs, Nik Turley, Addison Maruszak or Corban Joseph (just to name a few). They all have potential, but aren't "locks" like the aforementioned prospects. Trading them would be much less of a risk.
Establishing what type of talent he's willing to trade will help Cashman to decide just how much of a buyer he's willing to be.
Step 3: What are our biggest areas of need?
It's obvious that starting pitching isn't a huge issue, while the relief corps aren't exactly a gaping hole either. Cashman needs offense for his team to be successful, but even that's too broad of a scope. Where do the Yankees need offense?
Cashman could look to first base, third base or catcher for help. Third base seems covered with Alex Rodriguez's impending return, but the Biogensis suspension (if any) could potentially come at any time. This gives Cashman an excuse to acquire a third baseman, should he choose to.
At first base, Mark Teixeira's season-ending surgery and Lyle Overbay's lack of offensive pop create an obvious hole. Matt Adams could potentially be had for from the St. Louis Cardinals, but that would require a pretty penny from Cashman—a price that can only be determined by Cashman's decision during "Step 2."
Chris Stewart has been solid behind the dish, but he's already played much more than he's accustomed to. This makes him a candidate to break-down. Austin Romine has been terrible with the bat, so acquiring a catcher to push Stewart into a reserve role and Romine back to the minors would be optimal.
Step 4: Who do we target?
Now the fun part begins.
Adams has already been mentioned at first base. Justin Morneau, Paul Konerko and Kendrys Morales could likely be had for much less, though. They aren't as young and talented as a guy like Adams, but they all work as half-season stopgaps—exactly what the Yankees need.
Over at third, Aramis Ramirez of the Milwaukee Brewers can pretty much be ruled out given his most recent trip to the disabled list. The last thing the Yankees want to do is acquire another injury risk. Michael Young can likely be had from the Philadelphia Phillies, but he hasn't really shown much this season. I'm not sure he would be a vast improvement over a healthy Jayson Nix. Even Alberto Callaspo of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim wouldn't be that much better.
Given the lack of available talent at third, Cashman should cross that need off the list. He'll deal with A-Rod (for now).
In terms of available catchers, not many come to mind. Brian McCann could be had, but the Atlanta Braves could ask for a ton in return. Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies and Dioner Navarro of the Chicago Cubs could be made available, but Navarro isn't worth any sort of talented prospect. Chooch may fit-in with the team, but Francisco Cervelli's healthy return could impact what type of player Cashman seeks for behind the dish.
Given the available talent, going after a first baseman that can hit would appear to be Cashman's best option.
Step 5: So where do we go from here?
Before making any moves, Cashman needs to think about the future. He needs to ponder the status of his team before, and after, any potential deals, as dealing away the wrong prospects or bringing in the wrong contracts could handcuff the Yankees moving forward—it's happened all too often before.
The temptation of acquiring big-name guys at the deadline could lead Cashman to act quickly, but a smart GM takes the time to think out all the consequences before pulling the trigger. Dealing away the farm for a guy that can only help now, while the team is close to a rebuilding stage may not be a great decision.
Cashman really needs to think long and hard about his team before making any decisions at all—even if it means passing up on acquiring top talent.