Yankees’ storylines to watch in the second half
There are 74 games remaining in the regular season, but the Yankees’ second-half course could be shaped within these next two weeks.
With the clock ticking toward the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline, it’s a critical hour for the fourth-place, .500 club in the Bronx. Here’s a look at what to watch for in the second half:
BUY OR SELL: Trading off Yankees assets in midseason to fuel someone else’s pennant drive has never occurred on general manager Brian Cashman’s watch. They’ve never finished below .500 in the wild card era, so there is always the incentive to go for it.
On June 20, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said he felt the Yanks would be “right smack in the middle of it come the end of July.” How he defines being in it to win it will directly impact Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran, the two most marketable Yankees whose contracts expire at year’s end.
“As a manager, you’re always looking to fight for a shot,” Joe Girardi said, advocating his position. “I can express my opinion (to management). I don’t do it publicly. But you always want a shot.”
A-ROD’S ROLE: Alex Rodriguez exited the first half as a bench player, making as many starts on the last 10-game road trip – one – as backup infielder Ronald Torreyes. But A-Rod also departed with a somewhat defiant statement: “My time will come. I’ll be ready when they call my name.”
For now, that call is only coming when the Yankees face a lefty starter. And going forward, there’s incentive to free up the designated hitter spot to afford Carlos Beltran more at-bats and to provide a break for Mark Teixeira.
Rodriguez turns 41 on July 27 and he’ll make $20 million in 2017, the final year of his contract. He’s also stuck on 695 homers and would be due another $6 million from the Yanks if he reaches Babe Ruth at 714. You wonder if it gets to the point where the Yanks would cut ties before next spring training.
THE ROTATION: The Yankees might want to build in an extra day of rest for Masahiro Tanaka on more occasions. In eight starts this year, Tanaka is 1-2 with a 5.33 ERA on normal rest. But with one added day of rest, Tanaka is 4-0 with a 1.05 ERA. However, the club isn’t likely to employ a sixth starter; they barely have five now.
Nathan Eovaldi was bumped to the bullpen and it’s undecided how long he’ll stay there, though his fastball-splitter should play better in relief. And the Yanks have had difficulty bridging games to their end-game trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. But is Chad Green a better rotation option than Eovaldi?
Green could transition to the Adam Warren swingman role, and Bryan Mitchell (foot) might return before September to bolster that area. But that won’t matter if Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova and Eovaldi continue to pitch to a 5.00 ERA and CC Sabathia’s chronic right knee impacts his performance.
REF’s ROLE: Rob Refsnyder has made 14 starts at first base, six starts at right field and three starts at second base and he’s hitting enough to stick around in a variety of roles. With Aaron Hicks batting .197 in 75 games, Refsnyder started three games in right field during last weekend’s series at Cleveland. And he’s become the regular sub at first for Teixeira, who requires every third or fourth day off to manage his problematic right knee.
ON THE FARM: Down at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Luis Severino is 5-1 with a 3.00 ERA in nine starts since being demoted after seven Yankees starts (0-6, 7.46 ERA). But Severino is still “working to get back to where he was” last summer with the Yanks, Cashman said. “He’s not there yet.”
First baseman Greg Bird, who had offseason right shoulder surgery, is not a candidate to return this season.
After a hot June, slugging outfielder Aaron Judge is sidelined for up to four weeks with a sprained knee, though the Yanks already seemed inclined to finish his development at Class AAA in 2016. But catcher Gary Sanchez should at least return by September.