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The Biggest Issues the New York Yankees Must Address at the Trade Deadline

Tyler Duma@@TylerDuma_BRFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2015

New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia, left, reacts after giving up back-to-back home runs to Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, right, during the first inning of the baseball game Sunday, June 7, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

The New York Yankees find themselves in an interesting position as we approach the trade deadline.

The team wasn't exactly expected to compete this year, at least not for a division title. However, after 63 games, the Yankees are just one game back of the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays and firmly in the running for a wild-card spot.

The team needs to keep pace with the rest of the division, and the best way to do so is through the trade market. A number of interesting options are thought to be available come the July 31 trade deadline, including a number of starting pitchers, as well as Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

If the Yankees are serious about competing this year, then they'll have to show a slight change in the direction of their franchise and exhibit a willingness to deal off some of their more highly touted prospects. While the idea of doing that may scare a number of fans who grew fond of their newfound willingness to hold on to, and develop young players, it's important to keep in mind that this team, as presently constituted, has a very limited window to compete within.

So, assuming the Yankees take to the trade market in the coming weeks, here are a few areas the front office should look to improve upon before that July 31 deadline.

Shortstop/Second Base... Or Both

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Let's be frank, the Yankees' middle-infield situation is arguably the least enviable in Major League Baseball.

Consider where each of Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew rank in several key offensive metrics among qualified players at their respective positions—keep in mind, there are only 21 qualified shortstops and 22 qualified second basemen in Major League Baseball.

Didi Gregorius & Stephen Drew w/ MLB Rankings
PlayerG2B3BRBIRAVGOBPSLGWRC+WAR
Didi Gregoriust-17tht-15tht-15tht-20th20th17th16tht-18tht-16th16th
Stephen Drew18th16tht-16tht-16tht-20th23rd22nd16th20th20th
Fangraphs.com

Sure, Drew is the second-leading home run hitter among second basemen, but outside of that, there's nothing to write home about with this duo. In fact, both Gregorius and Drew rank at or near the bottom of each category referenced above.

Meanwhile, look around the division, and it seems as though everyone else is much better offaside from maybe the Tampa Bay Rays.

Stephen Drew ranks as one of the worst position players in all of baseball.
Stephen Drew ranks as one of the worst position players in all of baseball.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Even on the Yankees' own roster, this stands out as arguably the biggest weakness.

Only three of the team's starting position players have a batting average below the .250 mark, those being Gregorius, Drew and Carlos Beltran. Similarly, the same three players sport on-base percentage marks below .300. 

Beltran could probably be replaced slightly easier given the lack of middle-infield depth around the league. That said, Gregorius and Drew have been some of the least productive players in baseball.

In fact, out of 167 qualified big leaguers, Gregorius and Drew rank 154th and 160th, respectively, in wRC+, per Fangraphs.com. In short, the Yankees need something to change with their middle-infield situation.

One More Starter

This idea went from more of a luxury to a bit of a necessity given the recent string of events surrounding the team's starting rotation.

So far this year, the team's rotation has been pretty much what everyone expected it to be, a mix of bad and good. Take a look at the chart below to see how the team's current rotation options have fared through the first 63 games of the season.

New York Yankees Starters - 2015
PlayerGSW-LIPERAWHIPFIPK/9BB/9
Nathan Eovaldi125-169.24.131.544.076.52.5
Michael Pineda127-374.23.741.252.649.41.1
CC Sabathia133-777.05.381.444.357.81.8
Masahiro Tanaka74-243.12.490.882.719.31.5
Adam Warren124-469.03.781.254.545.63.3
Baseball-Reference

It's not bad, but it's not great either. 

Masahiro Tanaka, when healthy, has been downright dominant. Meanwhile, Adam Warren has been outstanding over his last seven starts, lowering his ERA from 4.78 to 3.78 in that time.

However, outside of that, a number of question marks exist.

Who's going to step up and help Tanaka lead the starting rotation?
Who's going to step up and help Tanaka lead the starting rotation?J Pat Carter/Associated Press

CC Sabathia has been beyond hittable, allowing 11.2 hits per-nine, along with an unsightly 1.6 HR/9 ratio. Behind him, Nathan Eovaldi hasn't been what the team hoped he would be, and Michael Pineda has been streaky.

Pineda, in particular, is a troubling case, as his last five starts have been nothing short of awful. Pineda came into his May 15 start with a sparkling 2.72 ERA, but he has since seen that mark balloon out to 3.74 after allowing a whopping 17 earned runs over five starts—28.1 innings pitched.

Maybe the team waits it out with the hope that their five starters can hold down the fort long enough before they have a surplus of options—Ivan Nova is set to return sometime in the very near future. Or, maybe they make a move to put them over the top and set themselves up for immediate success.

According to Fox Sports' Jon Morosi, both the Yankees and Tigers had a scout at Wrigley to check in on Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto.

Jon Morosi @jonmorosi

#Yankees and #Tigers each had a scout at Johnny Cueto's start in Chicago over the weekend. #Reds @FOXSports

George A. King III of the New York Post expanded on those sentiments in his June 14 article. King noted that team scout Jeff Datz was sent to Wrigley Field on Friday (June 12) and Saturday (June 13) to observe right-handers Cueto and Mike Leake.

Both players are slated to hit the open market at the end of the 2015 season, with Leake being easily the more affordable long-term option of the two. That said, Cueto is easily the better option for a team hoping to make, and compete in, the 2015 playoffs.

Getting Cueto, well, that's not going to be cheap. So far, according to King, players like "Ramon Flores, Mason Williams and Bryan Mitchell might be attractive as part of a package."

The Reds are certainly searching for quality over quantity, as a trade of Cueto would signal a full-blown rebuild on their end. Don't take King's words out of context, though, as hoping for the Yankees to deal Flores, Williams and Mitchell, who rank as the team's No. 25, No. 26 and No. 14 prospects, respectively—per MLB.com—for Cueto is nothing short of a pipe dream.

In any event, the fact that the Yankees are checking in on Cueto and Leake shows that they aren't content with their current rotation options. So, it's fair to expect a move on this front.

All stats current through play on Jun 15, 2015 and are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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