For the New York Yankees, August 1 is looking less like the trade deadline and more like a sell-by date. By now, there's little question that selling on the summer market is what they should do.
Rather, a better question is how much they'll be able to sell.
That may be the question the Yankees are asking themselves. They're not approaching August 1 with any positive momentum. A 5-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the Bronx on Saturday afternoon dropped their record to 44-46. They're 9.5 games out of first in the American League East and 5.5 games out in wild-card race.
Of course, the company line has been defiant. Yankees president Randy Levine called talk of the team selling "nonsense" in a late-June press conference. His tune hasn't changed much.
"All the talk of buying or selling is speculation at this point," Levine told Wallace Matthews of ESPN.com on Friday. "There's two weeks to go, and at that time we'll make a decision. You can't make any decisions until you have specific transactions in front of you."
He added: "We believe in this team."
But Levine may not be speaking for the whole brain trust when he says "we." Matthews heard from a source that while Levine and club owner Hal Steinbrenner don't want to give up, general manager Brian Cashman and the rest of the baseball operations department see things differently.
Ownership can believe all it wants, but it seems the front office has been reading the writing on the wall for a while now.
The Yankees are not without their strengths, namely the late-inning relief trio of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, which has been as advertised. But their weaknesses loom larger. They have an offense that ranked 11th in the American League in runs entering Saturday and a starting pitching staff that ranked 11th in ERA. This is not a team that's only one or two pieces away from taking off.
If the Yankees do as they should in the coming weeks, they'll move a couple of pieces. In his latest video report, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports indicates the list begins with Chapman and right fielder Carlos Beltran. To which we say, "Duh and/or hello."
Both Chapman and Beltran will be free agents this offseason, and both have significant trade value. Chapman is still pumping triple-digit fastballs and has a 2.39 ERA with a 40-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26.1 innings. Beltran is fresh off an All-Star berth and is rocking an .872 OPS with 19 homers. This is an arm and a bat that should interest contenders.
But after those two, it gets complicated.
Mark Teixeira and Ivan Nova are the Yankees' other two free-agents-to-be, and neither has much trade value. Teixeira has a bad knee and a .568 OPS. Nova has a 5.18 ERA. The Yankees might be able to move either of them, but not for any helpful talent.
If loading up on helpful talent is what New York's baseball operations department has in mind, it will have to jettison some players it controls beyond 2016. That's a lengthy list, but it's a mixed bag in terms of trade value and trade availability.
The two pieces everyone will want are Miller and Betances, who are controlled through 2018 and 2019, respectively. If the Yankees make them available, they should find some nice prospect packages.
But Rosenthal says they don't want to trade Miller. If that's true, it's hard to imagine them wanting to deal Betances. If there's this much consternation among the Yankees about punting on 2016, they're not going to punt on any future seasons. If they're going to sell, they're probably only going to sell players they think can help them more in trades now than on the field later.
This could mean putting Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and CC Sabathia on the block and see if they can interest any teams looking for a non-rental starter. The Yankees control Pineda and Eovaldi through 2017. And as Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors observed, Sabathia's 2017 option seems likely to vest.
But how much value do these three have? Pineda and Eovaldi both have ERAs over 5.00, and the latter has since been moved to the bullpen. Sabathia was doing well for a while but is now back to looking past his prime with 25 earned runs allowed in his last 28.1 innings.
Rather than real prospects, trades of these three would likely only bring back some payroll relief. And with this winter's free-agent class due to be weak, Andrew Marchand of ESPN.com is right to wonder what the point would be:
The Yankees' other controllable assets are also short on trade value. Brian McCann has solid numbers but also $34 million left on his contract after 2016. Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley also have a fair amount of money left on their deals and don't have solid numbers. Then there's Alex Rodriguez, whose trade value is roughly equivalent to that of your humble narrator.
Once again, deals of any of these guys would probably have to be more about payroll relief than acquiring talent. Since the Yankees would have few free agents to reinvest that money in this winter, they'd have a hard time repairing a broken roster for 2017.
That would be fine if they had it in mind to go for a full-on Chicago Cubs- or Houston Astros-style rebuild. But they clearly don't, nor should they. With a non-terrible farm system—Baseball America ranked it No. 17 at the start of the year—and a good amount of flexibility already lined up for an epic free-agent class in 2018, New York doesn't need to think about starting from scratch.
There will be talk of the Yankees holding a fire sale in the coming weeks, but that's probably not going to happen. Chapman and Beltran are likely goners, but there may not be many takers for their other free-agents-to-be. And since only Miller and Betances have any value among their controllable guys, it won't be surprising if the Yankees hold on to them all and see if they can rebound next season.
There's going to be a sign out front that says, "Sale!" Just don't expect there to also be one that says, "Everything Must Go!"