This already was a trade deadline in which the Yankees were walking a tightrope while juggling flaming axes.
Were they real contenders or not? If the plan was to go for it — and that was the strategy heading into the All-Star break — would Hal Steinbrenner allow the club to exceed the $210 million luxury tax payroll to upgrade; if not, the pool of talent to pick from would shrink unless Brian Cashman could move salary and/or give up more prospect capital to get a trade partner to eat money.
Should a team that was eight games out of first and 4.5 out of the second wild card only make trades that center on adding players with control beyond this year, since this season was looking so bleak?
And that was bleak in an era B.C. — before COVID ravaged the Yankee roster.
The timing — never good, of course — could hardly be worse for baseball matters, since the six players will miss, at minimum, a chunk of games between now and the July 30 non-waiver trade deadline. And all but Wandy Peralta fill roles that are, at least, important.
Since the ownership meeting wrapped on June 3 with the issuing of a memo that there would be greater enforcement of pitchers using illegal sticky substances, the Yankees’ two best pitchers have been Nestor Cortes Jr. (0.82 ERA since then) and Jonathan Loaisiga (1.96). The ERA of all other Yankee pitchers in this period is 5.49. Cortes and Loaisiga tested positive, though Loaisiga is the one positive among the Yankees whose clock to be quarantined at least 10 days began last week while the Yankees were in Houston.
The Yanks are not blessed with many good all-around players. Aaron Judge and Gio Urshela are probably the best combining both sides of the ball. Now Judge and Urshela also have tested positive for the virus. Without a mitigating factor such as a false positive or the presence of antibodies (which Urshela could have after saying earlier this season that he tested positive for COVID in the offseason), the duo will be out until, at minimum, next weekend. Kyle Higashioka, who is the security blanket personal catcher for the only trustworthy Yankee starter, Gerrit Cole, also would be absent for at least that period.
That leaves the Yankees having to replace a lot of vital personnel in a period in which they play exclusively AL East-leading Boston, NL East-contending Philadelphia and AL wild card-leading Tampa Bay before July 30.
The Yanks do not want to sell. They might not have much to attract suitors, especially if they never consider moving Judge and/or that is off the table now. Perhaps if Zack Britton, off the injured list to begin the second half, shows health and results in the short run, his pedigree will win out for an interested team. Luke Voit makes sense in a few locales, including Oakland and Milwaukee. Would the Yankees deal Gleyber Torres at low value? Is the concession speech to maximize a return on Chad Green, who is a free agent after next season?
The Yankees likely will see in the short term if a renovated roster can find an underdog spirit and do enough, especially against the Red Sox, to keep the Yankees on the buy side of the deadline equation. But there were many complicating issues already, including limited signs through the first half that this team was a consistent high-end contender.
And the second half begins with a makeshift roster that just might be pushing the Yankees toward having to alter their strategy.