Tonight’s series opener with the Tampa Bay Rays will be the 81st game of the season for the Yankees, which officially means that we’re halfway done with the 2014 season. Time flies, doesn’t it?
The Yankees have had an inauspicious first half, yet remain in the thick of the playoff race — thanks, in large part, to the collective woes of the AL East. At best, they’ll finish the first half three games over .500. At worst, with a loss tonight, they’ll be just one game over and teetering on the edge of mediocrity.
“Up and down,” Joe Girardi said when asked to assess the Yankees’ first half. “We’ve been kind of streaky, like a lot of teams in our division. We’ve had to deal with some injury situations to our pitching staff. We’ve had some people who have really stepped up. We’ve had some people that have had some slow starts, but you look at it 80 games in, and we’re right in the middle of it.”
With the Yankees sitting just two games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays — and two games out of a wild card spot — they have every reason to go for it and be buyers before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline.
GM Brian Cashman made an appearance following Girardi’s pregame press conference, and while he noted that it’s “difficult to acquire anything that’s impactful and significant,” he also made it clear that the Yankees are doing their due diligence.
“I’m ready to rock-and-roll,” Cashman said. “I think certain pieces — and it’s been communicated (that they’re available) if they get what they want, which would be a extreme call — then they’re ready to move sooner than later. For those who want to step up and really pay the price, obviously it’s going to be a higher price.”
What makes pulling off a deal so difficult? Well, it’s quite simple, really. The players that the Yankees covet are also coveted by other teams. In order to get a quality player who is really going to help your big league club, you’re almost certainly going to have to part with a top prospect or two (or three). The player that you acquire might make a minor difference for half of a season, but is it worth it if you have to sacrifice a promising young player who could have a major impact for several years?
Clearly, it’s a delicate and touchy situation for any GM.
“Those are tough conversations to have and they usually hurt a great deal to do so. That’s my experience,” Cashman said. “It gets harder rather than easier, but you’ve got to go through it. You’ve got to figure it out and find ways to get something impactful.”
• Cashman was also asked about whether he’s surprised that the division is so tight at the midway point, which is mostly due to the fact that each team is having its own issues. But Cashman didn’t seem too concerned with any teams outside of the Bronx. “I don’t care about the division. I care about us. So I’m more worried about a lot of the issues we’re trying to deal with,” he said. “I wouldn’t have predicted this on anybody in the division, to be honest. I don’t think anyone would have predicted where they’re at either.”
• Many Yankees fans — and based on the comments that I’ve read, that includes many of you — are concerned about whether rookie sensation Dellin Betances could be on the trade block while his value is at its peak, but Cashman didn’t want to go there. “I wouldn’t say,” Cashman replied. “I wouldn’t say who gets asked a lot about, but I do know we have personnel that are very attractive to other clubs — personnel that I wouldn’t want to part with. So, we’ll go through the walk and see what takes place.”
• Cashman also seemed to focus a lot on getting their injured players back and getting their under-performing players back on track. CC Sabathia (right knee) threw another bullpen session today and has distinguished himself as the pitcher who is closest to a return. “We’ll just take it one step at a time,” Cashman said. “We obviously have to maintain health and we have to bring that pitch count (up). So you’re talking, obviously he has 37 pitches right now. So it’s just going from there, but hopefully he’s on the horizon. We’re in one of those situations where we can’t just think about it until he actually is in that position to come back. So, it’s nice to know that he’s possibly coming sooner than later.”
• Cashman watched CC’s most recent rehab outing on video, and here’s what he took away from it: “I saw in the 35-pitch outing that he had to cover first base and he bounced around extremely well with that. So that was noticeable, more so than anything else. You’re looking at if the knee’s bothering him or what have you, and at least in that outing, he looked like he was jumping around, athletic and he looked healthy based on (the video). He had to cover a ball on the right side, and then he had to cover first base on a bunt or on a ball to the left side of the field. So, he moved really well.”
• When CC is ready to return, has Girardi thought about who will take his spot? I wrote about it last night, but at this point, it may be shifting to the point where Vidal Nuno has a slight edge over the struggling Chase Whitley. Obviously, Girardi didn’t want to name any names quite yet. “I think you wait until you get to that point,” he said. “You also, in a sense, it could be where his day falls the first time out. But I think you wait to see where you are at that point, and I think it’s way too early to make a judgment yet. Hopefully, all of the starters are still healthy. Sometimes that happens, too. I’ll let it play out.”
• As for Michael Pineda, Cashman said that he’s only in the third day of his throwing program and isn’t expected to return until August. It’s going to be another month, at least. He also spoke about reliever Andrew Bailey — remember him? — who the Yankees signed during spring training, despite coming off of surgery for a torn labrum. Cashman described Bailey as, “a longshot,” and said that if he is able to make it back this season, it won’t be until September.
• One of the underachievers who the Yankees are hoping is starting to get it going is Carlos Beltran. He had his best game in about two months last night, going 3 for 4 with a double and a homer. Girardi is hoping this is a sign that he’s ready to heat up. “We know that he’s a good hitter,” he said. “Obviously, he’s had to deal with his stint on the DL, but we believe that he’s going to be a big part of our order going forward, and we need that.”
• Does Girardi think that being limited to DH is negatively affecting Beltran? “I think it’s very different. It’s probably easier physically, but it’s probably tougher mentally, in a sense, because you don’t know what to do with yourself in between at-bats. Where, usually he’d be running in the outfield, and he hasn’t had a lot of practice there,” he said. “He’s never said anything, but it’s an awful lot of time to think in between at-bats. If you’re going well, it’s probably not a problem.”
• Masahiro Tanaka and Betances have been the Yankees’ best pitchers this season, and would probably be 1-2 in the voting if we were deciding on a first-half MVP for the team. But in terms of everyday players, has anyone been more valuable than Mark Teixeira? “Defensively, he’s been playing great, as well,” Girardi said. “It took him some time, but as we said, that last week in spring training, we saw a different guy. We saw him turn it loose, and then he had the hamstring issue that he had to deal with. Then the wrist got a little sore and we had to deal with that, but he’s been really good in those type of spots – RBI spots. He’s a big part of our order.”
• The Yankees have scored at least five runs in two of their last three games, but repeating that feat will be a tall order tonight against Tampa Bay starter Chris Archer, who has been very successful against the Yanks in his brief career. “Well, there’s been some different people in the lineup against him, in a sense,” Girardi said. “We don’t have a ton of at-bats against him, the people who are necessarily going to play today. The young man has a really good arm. He’s got a good slider and a good changeup, and the big thing is, you have to make him throw strikes, and I think you have to stay on his hard stuff, because his fastball is that good.”
• After Whitley only went four innings on Sunday night, are there any bullpen arms who aren’t available tonight? “You know, I’ll have to check with some guys,” Girardi said. “Obviously, Robertson is OK and Warren is OK, Thronton should be OK. I’ll probably have to go without Huff. I’ll have to check with Ramirez and see where Dellin’s at, but our bullpen should be OK.”
Associated Press photos