The Yankees return from the All-Star break with seemingly as many questions as they had when the season began. The backbone to current queries leads back to the same theme: Will the Yankees sacrifice their recent roster construction methodology in an effort to make a run at the postseason? Each facet could use reinforcements, but which ones the club will seek to fill are undetermined.
The Yankees, the second highest scoring team in the American League, begin the second half with two of their regulars, second baseman Starlin Castro and designated hitter Matt Holliday, due back in the lineup at some point in the four-game series against Boston. Their returns will surely help lengthen the lineup being held up by Aaron Judge. The team will still be short Aaron Hicks, but the most glaring offensive weakness remains first base.
The Yankees have had seven players start a game at first base this season, including Greg Bird, who the club believed would be their long-term option at the position. Bird may still be the future at first, but the short-term outlook is muddled to the point that the Yankees have been linked to players outside the organization in recent weeks.
The Yankees have checked in on Marlins first baseman Justin Bour, but that type of move would indicate Bird is not part of the future plan unless a switch to designated hitter is in store for one of the players, as Bour is also a left-handed hitter who would come with control through the 2020 season. The Yankees would have to pay plenty in prospect value for Bour, who is in the midst of a career season including an appearance in the Home Run Derby.
Other impact controllable players the Yankees could look at include White Sox slugger Jose Abreu (free agent after 2019 season), the Braves' Matt Adams (free agent after 2018 season) and the Giants' Brandon Belt (under contract through 2021 for $64 million). However, the best bet would be the Yankees settling on a rental first baseman IF they deem Bird unable to come back to the club at full strength this season. On that front, the Yankees could look to players like Oakland's Yonder Alonso or the Mets' Lucas Duda.
This is another area of need, but one that seems unlikely to be filled by trade, unless it is a rental to replace a yet-to-be injured pitcher. The controllable starting pitcher market, which better suits the Yankees, projects to be well beyond what the team desires to spend in prospects, especially after the haul the White Sox received for Jose Quintana.
As such, the Yankees will rely on Jordan Montgomery, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka to carry the load. As described in the first-half wrap-up, the biggest issue with the current rotation is that none of the members has demonstrated the ability to maintain consistent production expected of a No. 1 starter.
Expecting better performances from Sabathia, Severino and Montgomery is unfair, as they've produced fine overall efforts. The Yankees might end up being "stuck" with Tanaka, who has the ability to opt-out of his contract at the end of the season, because of his poor performance. One scenario might involve Pineda, a free agent at the end of the season, to be traded for whatever prospects he can attain, which would allow the Yankees to bring up a pitcher like Chance Adams from Triple-A.
A once strong facet of the club, Yankees relievers hit a brick wall in mid-June, the no-doubt biggest reason the team went into a 7-18 free-fall leading to the All-Star break.
Using minor leaguers to cover relief issues will no longer work if the Yankees hope to make the playoffs. That said, the Yankees absolutely cannot go after rental relievers. If the Yanks can nail down a reliever like Brad Hand, Sean Doolittle or Justin Wilson (all lefties), then it makes sense as they continue to build for a solid future.
If the Yankees are able to secure such a reliever, it should mark the end of the Tyler Clippard era. Adding one of those pitchers to the duo of Adam Warren and Chad Green would stabilize the club's middle relief.
The last bullpen question revolves around Dellin Betances' mechanical issues and Aroldis Chapman's inconsistencies. Betances' implosion in his last seven appearances is a major concern and Chapman has not looked nearly as dominant this season. Simply put, any chance the Yankees have to reach the playoffs is reliant on a strong bullpen.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi is at a crossroads in his Yankees tenure. If he cannot show the ability to fully trust younger players over veterans, he might not be the man for the job going forward. Girardi has improved in this department (e.g. pushing Hicks into daily starts), but still lacks it in others (continuously turning to Clippard).
The most important person in the organization is general manager Brian Cashman. This roster has become Cashman's baby, and he'll have numerous decisions to make before the trade deadline. Cashman has already stated that the team will be "cautious buyers." While it is hard to envision that changing to aggressive buyers, it is not so difficult to see a complete U-turn to sellers.
Expect Cashman to make nondescript moves to aid an upcoming 40-man roster crunch and if he trades any top-15 prospects, it's almost a certainty the player coming to New York will be young, controllable and possess significant upside.
The Yankees enjoyed a strong opening to the season, then fell apart as position player injuries mounted and the pitching staff failed to compensate. If the team is to improve in the second half, it'll have to score runs at the same pace while getting more consistent results from the pitching staff. It's dubious to expect wholesale roster changes, but without a couple, whether organizational call-ups or trades, the Yankees will remain a team hanging on the edge of a wild-card berth.