NEW YORK -- After an exhilarating and exasperating opening act, the New York Yankees will quickly decide what type of team they have and what general manager Brian Cashman should do as the trade deadline approaches.
The Yankees (45-41) begin the second half with an 11-game road trip. They have four in Boston against the first-place Red Sox, whom they currently trail by 3½ games, before going to Minnesota to play the Twins, whom they lead in the wild-card race by a single game. They finish the trip with a visit to Seattle for a reunion with an old friend, All-Star Game MVP Robinson Cano.
Is the season on the brink? The Yankees ended the first half losing 18 of 25. If they don’t play better, this year could go downhill quickly. On the other hand, if they play reasonably well -- even 5-6 -- on this upcoming stretch, they could right their ship. A little hot streak to begin the final 76 games, and maybe Cashman can say, "Let's go for it."
"It is an important road trip, but it's not the end-of-the-world road trip," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
With Matt Holliday, Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks returning after the All-Star break, or shortly thereafter, the Yankees figure to improve even without a trade. Cashman said his plan for the Yankees is to be "careful buyers."
The Bombers gave up their bounty of Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Beltran, Ivan Nova and Brian McCann starting last July. That helped create a farm system that allows Cashman to shop in any aisle on the trade market this year and beyond. He should be careful -- and maybe even look to be both a buyer and a seller -- if he can.
Let's assess three critical areas before the first pitch of the second half:
Coming into spring training, did you have Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery as the Yankees' most reliable starters by the halfway point? This is good news long-term, but for this year, it is dampened by the rest of the staff. The Yankees need to fortify.
Masahiro Tanaka, as inconsistent as he has been, is not going anywhere. He will stay in the rotation, and his opt-out for after the season is becoming increasingly irrelevant. If Tanaka were pitching like he did last season, the Yankees may be in first place in the division.
CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda, both free agents at the end of the year, are question marks, but for different reasons. Sabathia has been good, for the most part, when healthy. He's a wild card, but one the Yankees must play. Pineda, on the other hand, should be available in a deal. His market value isn't great, but if you can flip him for a semi-useful part, it might be worth it, as the Yankees seem unlikely to re-sign him.
If Cashman wants to add a top-of-the-trade-market starter, he has the goods to get it done, with premium talent on the farm.
Chapman and Dellin Betances have not fully lived up to the hype, though Betances is an All-Star for the fourth time in four years. They'll remain in their roles, but getting the ball to them is where the Yankees need a Band-Aid.
The Yankees act as if Gleyber Torres might not have come up this year anyway. But if he had continued to improve -- as he was before he needed surgery on his non-throwing elbow -- he would have been in pinstripes this season.
Torres would likely have skipped around the diamond, playing third, second and a little short. He would have given the team a boost of energy and, more importantly, another good player. Now, that's wait-'til-next-year stuff.
If the Yankees were to add someone in a trade, a first baseman, like the Braves’ Matt Adams, might make some sense. He's having a nice year and might only cost one top prospect. This, of course, is going on the assumption Greg Bird won't be able to return this year.
On the flip side, it might be worth seeing if there's a market for Chase Headley. He wouldn't garner much in return, and the Yankees might have to eat some of his salary, but think about this: How much worse or better would the Yankees be if Ronald Torreyes played every day at third?
Plus, if Torres comes back strong, he could be able to man third by this time -- or earlier -- next year.
The rest of the lineup is pretty much set. The Yankees could look into dealing Brett Gardner, though they much prefer to get rid of Jacoby Ellsbury, who, after this season, still has another three years on his seven-year, $153 million deal.
In other words, they'll only be able to trade Ellsbury if the other team is unloading an equally bad contract or if they eat a ton of money.
That's where the Yankees stand right now. Let's see how the road trip goes.