As the trade deadline approaches, the Yankees will look to be either buyers or stayers. On paper, their roster is excellent, perhaps even championship-caliber, but will they make the move that puts them atop every prognosticator's list as the favorite to win their 27th title?
So far, the Yankees haven't shown much activity, making a minor trade for Eric Hinske, and nothing more. Their name has been mentioned in the Roy Halladay talks, but that remains pure speculation, and they're among approximately 29 other teams interested in his services.
The Red Sox have already made a pair of trades, one minor (Julio Lugo for Chris Duncan) and one semi-major (minor leaguers for Adam LaRoche). Although they also appear rather content with their roster, they have made more noise than their rivals thus far.
They addressed a need at corner-infield-depth by renting LaRoche, a notorious second-half player.
So what will the Yankees do to counter, if anything? What needs do they have, and which players are most attainable?
To be honest, I thought Matt Holliday may have been a good fit for the Yankees. They have a good, but not great, outfield, consisting of Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, and Nick Swisher. They're all good, but none of them really stand out. Damon is the only one of the four that would be a bona fide starter on any major league team.
Holliday put up elite numbers in Colorado's hitter's park, but was merely pedestrian in the pitcher's park in Oakland. The Yankees' new park is very favorable for hitters, and Holliday could have taken full advantage of a new home in New York.
The Yankees probably would not have had to part with too many good prospects, and Holliday would only be a rental for the year, so the experiment need not linger if ineffective.
But Holliday was certainly not a need, and it's not a big deal that the Yankees didn't get him. The point is moot now, anyhow. But I do believe he could have been a nice addition to the lineup.
However, the Yankees do have a far more pressing need in the starting rotation. Their bullpen has settled since Phil Hughes moved there, and while he is going to start eventually, the pen is his home for the time being. However, this leaves a hole in the rotation, which features Sergio Mitre as the fifth starter.
The Yankees do have a solid rotation as-is. CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett make a great two-headed monster at the top, and Andy Pettitte is a serviceable (but not great) No. 3.
Joba Chamberlain has the potential to be brilliant, but his inconsistency has him relegated to the fourth slot. (And no, he's not switching roles with Hughes any time soon.) Mitre may not be so good, but he's the fifth starter, and brilliance isn't expected of him.
The team's great lineup has the potential to back up any of these guys on an off night.
But without Chien Ming Wang (who has been either injured or ineffective), the Yankees' rotation isn't what it was expected to be. Pettitte would be much better as a fourth starter, and Chamberlain would be a superb number five. Mitre was not supposed to be here at all.
One mid-rotation starter could realign the staff so that every pitcher would be great in his role.
Of course, Roy Halladay is the big name being floated out there. Imagine a rotation with Halladay, Sabathia, and Burnett, especially come playoff time. Pettitte, an experienced playoff vet, would be just the fourth in the four-man rotation, and Chamberlain would be another dominating arm in the bullpen. The team would be virtually invincible.
But such dreams are likely unrealistic. The Blue Jays are asking for a massive haul in return for their ace, and no team seems ready to pony up. The Phillies, a likely destination for Halladay, have already backed out, saying the Jays are asking for too much. You know they'd demand even more from a division rival.
Plus, the central figure in any deal would likely be Chamberlain, meaning Mitre would have to remain in the rotation anyway, and the young pitcher's arm would not be available in the pen come playoff time. While Halladay would be welcome in pinstripes, a hole would still remain.
Simply put, I don't envision Halladay coming to the Yankees this season, and I don't think he would solve the Yankees' rotation issue. He'd help, not doubt, but they'd still lack a great top-to-bottom rotation.
The Yankees should instead focus on filling their NEED by trading for a mid-rotation starter and not giving up any major pieces of their current rotation.
One player that should be on their radar is Cliff Lee. He won't be cheap, either, but he won't cost the same as Halladay, and probably wouldn't force them to give up Chamberlain.
Imagine, now, a rotation with Sabathia, Burnett, Lee, and Pettitte in the playoffs, with Chamberlain in the pen. That still instills fear in every opponent's heart, and does not come at the same extreme cost. Lee is a very good starter, a top-two or ace on most teams, and would not only improve the rotation but fill the hole currently occupied by Mitre.
I don't know what it would take to get Lee, and he may cost some good prospects. However, the Yankees won't need to bankrupt the farm to get him (unlike Halladay), so they can still build from within while buying the necessary pieces to win now.
If not Lee, another mid-rotation starter should be acquired. That remains the team's biggest need, and they don't need to give up too many prospects to fill it. Otherwise, the Yankees seem set for the stretch run. They shored up the bench by acquiring Hinske, and otherwise have no serious holes in their lineup or bullpen.
Meanwhile, GM Brian Cashman (and many other GMs) have indicated that July 31 will not be the real deadline. As with every season, trades can still be made for a month after the deadline, provided the players involved have cleared waivers.
However, in the current economic climate, more players will be likely to clear waivers, as teams won't be claiming heavy contract-laden players, no matter their star power. With another month to ponder their placement in the standings, teams will be able to make moves later on in the year this season.
And so, the Yankees may not make a big move by the first deadline. But as they progress, and the need(s) become more glaring, they should still be able to acquire someone helpful.