Where were you in 1992? It’s been 29 years since the New York Yankees’ last sub-.500 season. George H.W. Bush lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton. Mortal Kombat and Aladdin debuted. Hurricane Andrew tore apart South Florida. Jay Leno took over for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Derek Jeter graduated high school and became the sixth overall pick in the MLB draft (current Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin was first).
Since then, the Yankees have only been sellers at the trade deadline once. By the end of July 2016, they were 52-52. They would make a bit of a run in the final two months, finishing 84-78, but still only fourth place in the AL East. GM Brian Cashman made three major trades that year which set the club up nicely for the next several seasons:
Carlos Beltrán to the Texas Rangers for Erik Swanson (also part of the Paxton trade), Dillon Tate (later flipped for Zack Britton), and one other.
Approaching this season’s trade deadline, the Yankees find themselves in a similar predicament. They’re hovering around .500 with the postseason looking more remote every week. Unlike five years ago, Cashman won’t try to move any veterans in July for one simple reason: he can’t.
The Yankees aren’t going into a full tear-down, like the San Diego Padres or Houston Astros of a few years ago, before building back up. They’re not that kind of team, and frankly, the wealthiest, most marketable sports brand in the western hemisphere should never be bad. The 2022 Yankees will have the same goal in Spring Training as they do every other year: to win the World Series.
This roster isn’t unsalvagable. Even at their nadir, they’re at least a .500 club. They ought to be able to rebuild in the offseason. As such, they won’t look to trade players with multiple years of team control remaining. Anyone with an expiring contract can go, but players signed through 2022 and beyond are either: 1) part of the core, or 2) have little trade value.
Here is the list of Yankees who will become free agents at the end of this season:
Like it or not, the 2022 Yankees will look very similar to the 2021 team. Kluber is the only player they could theoretically trade without impacting next season. However, he’s on the 60-day IL with a torn rotator cuff, so he is untradeable.
There is a handful more with player or club options for 2022:
Gardner and Wilson have been various shades of awful. No one is likely to trade for either of them and even if they did, the Yankees certainly wouldn’t recoup a substantial prospect in return. Besides, even if Gardy was hitting .400 and the team was dead last, they’d keep the 14-year veteran around for emotional support.
O’Day missed two months and only just returned to the roster on June 30, but he could be their most valuable trade chip. He may be 38, but he has a low price tag and a track record of success. Still, if he’s the storefront window display, they may as well close up shop.
Looking at players with more than one year remaining more or less rules out all the position players. They’re all untradeable for good reasons (Aaron Judge), for bad reasons (Rougned Odor), or for contract reasons (Giancarlo Stanton). The same goes for the rotation, where Gerrit Cole is signed 2027, Jordan Montgomery and Domingo Germán won’t reach free agency until 2024 and 2025, and Jameson Taillon has very little trade value.
That brings us to the bullpen. Relievers are more fungible even when they’re signed long-term because it’s easier to rebuild a bullpen than other parts of the roster. Of course, that cuts two ways; fungibility lowers their trade value. Chapman and Britton are both signed through 2022. They also have the two highest lefty reliever salaries in MLB (not counting David Price of the Los Angeles Dodgers because he signed his contract as a starter). The club could move either of them later in the month if Chapman rediscovers his fastball command and Britton returns from the IL successfully. However, Cashman will have to swallow a lot of contract if he wants a decent prospect in return.
Arbitration eligible relievers include Chad Green (through 2022), Luis Cessa (through 2023), Wandy Peralta (through 2023), Jonathan Loaisiga (through 2024), and Lucas Luetge (through 2024). Green and Loaisiga look like essential cogs in the bullpen machine beyond this season, so they’re probably not going anywhere. The rest are all unlikely to fetch a major league contributor or near-ready prospect.
Trade Deadline Prediction
There are many similarities between the 2016 and 2021 Yankees, but unless they can drum up a bidding war for O’Day, it should be a much quieter July. They won’t be sellers because they have little to sell. This club is increasingly unlikely to win a championship, so if they decide to buy they probably won’t bother with any one-year rentals either.
Unless they go on a torrid hot streak in the next few weeks, not much is going to happen. They can try to make a big addition, but only for a player signed through at least 2022. We’re just about in “wait ’til next year” mode because 2021 is a washout on the field and at the trade deadline.