Despite spending over $500 million this past winter, the Yankees sit at a modest 37-33 and are in second place in the American League East behind the Toronto Blue Jays (41-32). The Baltimore Orioles are right behind the Yanks at 37-34.
With a seemingly never-ending payroll and a roster loaded with talent, what is holding this team back?
Injuries have plagued the rotation, while underachievers in the lineup are hindering the Bombers' offensive production. If the Yankees intend to be legitimate contenders, these are areas New York will have to address come the trade deadline.
Dealing with the loss of one starting pitcher can be tough. Try losing three.
Ivan Nova was the first Yankees starter to go down after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) back in April. Tommy John surgery ended his season. Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia are on the disabled list as well. Pineda has been sidelined with issues in his upper back, while Sabathia is out with knee inflammation.
The Star-Ledger's Jorge Castillo had a timetable for the two to return:
Joe Girardi ruled out a July return for Michael Pineda and he doesn’t think CC Sabathia will be back before the All-Star break.— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) June 13, 2014
In the meantime, the Yankees have turned to Vidal Nuno, David Phelps and Chase Whitley to fill in for their trio of injured pitchers. The three have given New York mixed results.
Nuno has struggled the most out of all of them. With a 1-3 record and a 5.90 ERA, the 26-year-old is likely to be the first pitcher booted from the rotation. Nuno's most recent start ended after just three innings following a shellacking by the Oakland Athletics. He surrendered eight earned runs.
Phelps, while impressive at times, has been inconsistent on the hill, as shown by his last two starts. His June 13 start saw him shut out Oakland over 6.2 innings. He allowed just two hits.
His performance against the Kansas City Royals a week before was a different story, however. Phelps took the loss, allowing seven earned runs. He now holds a 2-4 record and 4.32 ERA in 17 appearances, eight of which were starts.
Whitley, meanwhile, has been a pleasant surprise, keeping the Yankees in every game he has pitched. In seven starts, he is 3-0, has allowed no more than three earned runs and currently boasts a 2.56 ERA.
In addition to these three "replacement pitchers," the Yankees have Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda. Tanaka has been outstanding. He leads the majors in wins with 11, and his 1.99 ERA leads the American League. Kuroda, on the other hand, has been up and down this year. He is 4-5 and has a 4.32 ERA, so the Yankees have just two pitchers performing with any consistency.
That is not good for a team with playoff aspirations.
With Nova done for the year and Pineda and Sabathia question marks even once they return, the Yankees will be looking to add a pitcher come the trade deadline.
The Chicago Cubs could provide a solution to the Yankees' problem. In fact, they might have four. According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, the Cubbies are listening to offers on starters Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta and Edwin Jackson:
Sources: Cubs telling teams they are willing to listen to offers for starting pitchers Samardzija, Hammel, E. Jackson and Arrieta. (more)— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) June 16, 2014
Cubs not planning to *trade* all 4, but they want to see what market values are for each and then decide on course. Due diligence.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) June 16, 2014
With a 2.60 ERA in 15 starts, Samardzija is the clear prize to obtain in the Cubs' rotation. USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported that the Yankees are in fact in on the ace, along with several other teams:
The question is this: Do the Yankees have the trade chips necessary to compete with those other teams?
The answer may be no considering that Samardzija will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, targets come the deadline. The other three members of Chicago's rotation could be more realistic fits for the Yankees given New York's lack of prospects.
Of those three, Hammel is the best choice, as he is enjoying something of a career year. He is 6-4, but his current 3.02 ERA would easily be a career high. Hammel, who was with the Orioles, has experience pitching in the AL East too. A free agent after the season, he would be a cheap, low-risk, high-reward pickup for the Yankees.
Other possible targets to keep an eye on are Kyle Kendrick of the Philadelphia Phillies, the Colorado Rockies' Jorge De La Rosa and the Arizona Diamondbacks' Brandon McCarthy. As is always the case, the Yankees have shown interest in Cliff Lee, but The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo (h/t Matt Riegler of Sports Rumor Alert) is reporting that Lee's injury status will keep him from being traded until after the deadline.
One look at this lineup on paper, and one would think that the Yankees are among baseball's best in every offensive category.
However, that is not the case. According to FanGraphs, the Yankees are lagging behind most teams when it comes to major stats. The Yankees are 21st in runs scored (285), 21st in home runs (57), 21st in RBI (266) and 15th in batting average (.254). Mark Teixeira leads the team with 11 homers.
The amount of run production has been disappointing thus far.
Not all of the Yankees are hitting poorly. Speedsters Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, along with Teixeira and rookie Yangervis Solarte, are leading the way offensively. Derek Jeter is batting a respectable .273 but does not have much else to show statistically.
However, several Yankees are performing far below expectations, including Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano.
McCann has been especially disappointing after signing a five-year, $85 million contract in the offseason. With a .226 average and just eight home runs and 33 runs driven in, the catcher has not been the middle-of-the-order threat the Yankees were hoping for. McCann has just a .286 OBP as well.
Beltran has not exactly been good, either. The only reason to give him any slack at this point is because he has been battling an elbow injury. Still, a .219 average is not respectable or expected from a player of Beltran's caliber. With six homers and 18 RBI, he is not hitting for power, either.
After a monstrous second half with the Yankees following a trade from the Cubs last season, Soriano's numbers are now no better than those of McCann and Beltran. He is batting .229 with six homers and 23 RBI. However, the real problem with Soriano is how often he is striking out. In 205 at-bats, he has punched out 64 times, yet he has only drawn six walks on the season.
Brian Roberts, despite being healthy for the first time in years, has been bad as well. The second baseman has been given plenty of playing time, but he has little to show for it. In 61 games, Roberts has two homers, 14 RBI and a .231 average.
With the majority of the lineup making so much money, there are few players that the Yankees can actually bench or move. Two spots where they can make a move are second base and designated hitter.
Soriano has gotten most of the DH duties, so if the Yankees were trying to bring in a new one, it would make sense for that player to be an outfielder.
Bleacher Report's Scott Miller recently wrote that trading Matt Kemp could save the Los Angeles Dodgers' season, but Yankees fans should not hold their breath on that one. Pitching is the priority for New York, and the team may not even have the prospects to get a top-of-the-line starter as it is. The Yankees will certainly have a hard time putting together a worthy package for Kemp. In addition, Kemp is owed an absurd amount of money over the next few years.
If the Dodgers decide to go in a different direction, Andre Ethier could be a possible target for the Yanks.
Looking at some more under-the-radar players, the San Diego Padres' Seth Smith and Minnesota Twins' Josh Willingham would be upgrades over Soriano's bat in the lineup. Plus, they would allow Beltran more time as the DH.
Smith has put together a strong season for the Padres so far. A corner outfielder, the left-handed hitter is batting .286 with 15 doubles, six homers, 21 RBI and a .392 OBP in his first year in San Diego.
Willingham would provide more pop from the right side. In just 29 games, the slugger has five home runs and has driven in 19 runs. Back in February, Derek Wetmore of 1500ESPN.com wrote that the Twins should trade Willingham because the team was unlikely to compete in 2014 and that his power made him a valuable asset.
Another option for the outfield is minor leaguer Ramon Flores. Flores earned a promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this year after an impressive 2013 campaign. He is currently batting .261 with 16 doubles, five homers and 19 RBI.
As mentioned, a change could come at second as well, and it would probably be more welcomed considering Soriano is more likely to turn things around than Roberts is.
Prospect Rob Refsnyder was tearing it up at Double-A Trenton, batting .342, but he has struggled since being promoted to Triple-A, meaning the Yankees would be better off looking elsewhere for a new second baseman. The kid still needs time to develop.
One player that could make a huge impact is Philadelphia's Chase Utley. Utley is having a great year for the struggling Phillies, batting .302 with 24 doubles, five homers and 33 RBI. It is unlikely the Phillies will make him available at the deadline. However, rumors of Utley to the Yankees have already gained traction on the Twittersphere:
Other infielders sure to gauge interest prior to the deadline that could be a fit in New York are the Diamondbacks' Aaron Hill and Miami Marlins' Rafael Furcal. The Marlins' Casey McGehee could also work, but a return to the Yankees would likely mean moving Solarte from third to second.
There you have it. The problems the Yankees have are evident, but they're not impossible to fix. The team has some resources to make a few moves and add impact players, something it must do in order to keep itself in contention.
Expect the Yankees to be serious buyers as July 31 approaches.
All stats were obtained via Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted and are accurate as of the end of play on June 18, 2014.
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