Monday, June 15, 2015

Yankees can maintain first-place without drastic measures

The New York Yankees lost two of three games to the Baltimore Orioles in Camden Yards this weekend and looked terrible in the losses. They fought their way through the finale, escaping with a victory to maintain a lone percentage point lead in the American League East standings.

The Tampa Bay Rays won’t go away, the Orioles are playing better (winners of six straight before Sunday’s loss) and the Toronto Blue Jays are destroying everyone in their path having won 11 straight games. The AL East might not be the best division in the game, but each club outside of the Boston Red Sox, seems to be in a position grab the crown.

What do the Yankees have to do to stay atop the division?

Improve the defense

The Yankees have had a rough time playing crisp baseball for extended periods. They’ve won more games because one or two facets are superior, rather than games in which they were solid all over the field.

Their defense has been the biggest disappointment in my view. The fielding, especially in the infield, was supposed to be a huge advantage this season. Chase Headley has the yips and Didi Gregorius, who can be flashy, isn't nearly as steady as he was advertised. The right side of the infield, with Stephen Drew and Mark Teixeira has been very good defensively.

In the outfield, Carlos Beltran is a detriment. He’s been subject to defensive replacements all season and might be replaced by Garrett Jones for the next two days because of Miami’s expansive ballpark. Beltran cannot cover any ground and has seemingly forgotten how to play the field when he actually gets to a ball.

Trust the young guns

This nonsense of locating and inserting scrap-heap pitchers who couldn’t survive elsewhere needs to stop. The likes of Esmil Rogers, Chris Martin and now Sergio Santos filling roster spots is not how the club should handle the bullpen going forward.

Once Adam Warren moves to the bullpen, assuming no one is hurt before Ivan Nova returns to the rotation, Martin and Santos should be on an incredibly short leash. Hopefully Rogers denies his assignment and leaves New York.

With pitchers like Jacob Lindgren, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow all ready to contribute, the Yankees should fill those last couple of spots in the bullpen with whatever combination of them works best. Rotate the action among them until they find the player ready to take control. Maybe they even look to Luis Severino as a bullpen option as I mentioned here last week.

By the time Andrew Miller returns, the bullpen should be a strength once again.

Be wary of trade rentals

Trade season is arriving and the Yankees are reportedly scouting players like Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, each of whom is a free agent after this season. Cueto would certainly cost serious prospects and Leake might require a decent haul himself.

The Yankees should step gingerly in these types of trades. They have done a respectable job in recent years shoring up parts of their farm system. Trading away pieces – potential big league building blocks for that matter – for a half-season rental might not be the wisest decision.

The Yankees might be best served to stay within the system to fill perceived voids. The Yankees’ main personnel weaknesses (CC Sabathia and Beltran come to mind), are unmovable without a huge financial loss because of their contracts. The Yanks are stuck with these guys.

Would the Yankees be willing to ship Nathan Eovaldi back to the National League? Maybe. But that would indicate they felt they made a mistake, and honestly I feel he needs more time to hone his game. I bet they do too.

Provided there is not a substantial player lost for the remainder of the season, the Yankees should avoid trade rentals where losing top prospects is required.

Time to trust youth with at-bats

Finally, and we’ve seen some of this already with Jacoby Ellsbury out, the Yankees need to move past retreads for bench roles. Brendan Ryan and Chris Young are roster spots being wasted. Ship them both if possible and whatever they bring back is gravy. The Yankees should consider keeping a young outfielder on the bench when Jacoby Ellsbury returns.

Moving Young is a little harder as the Yankees only have Tyler Austin on the 40-man roster in the outfield hitting from the right side. Garrett Jones, a lefty hitter, seems to be a necessity from the perspective of his ability to play first base as insurance for any injury to Teixeira. Right-handed hitting Jose Pirela could handle a corner spot and might be a better pinch-hitting option than Young going forward as well.

Aaron Judge is in Double-A and performing well, but it’s a long shot that the Yankees would call him up this soon. The rest of the Double-A outfielders all hit left-handed.

Maybe the Yankees bring up Rob Refsnyder to play second and Drew can be used as a defensive replacement in tight games and a sound bench player. Drew is every bit of the glove that Ryan is and at least he has some pop in his bat to go with the sub .200 average the club will get either way.

Even if the Yanks platoon Drew and Refsnyder there is a chance for better overall production from second base. If Refsnyder only played against lefty pitching, it might ease his presumed defensive issues.

The point here is to get some of the young position players some meaningful at-bats, especially those who have seemingly reached their peaks at Triple-A.

Wrapping up

The Yankees have played extremely streaky baseball all season. That’s going to need to end. Winning six out of every 10 games going forward should be enough to win this division, but the club cannot afford lengthy losing streaks. The Yanks do not need to become overly aggressive in the trade market to do so. The club simply has to tighten up on defense, remain healthy once Nova, Miller and Ellsbury return, and then have faith in their current minor league players on both sides of the ball over veterans who provide little upside.

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Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.