A lot of Yankees are potentially on the trading block right now. MLB Trade Rumors summarizes:
"New York has a vast array of potential deadline movers, including superstar relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, right fielder and designated hitter Carlos Beltran, and starters CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi. Of those six, only Chapman and Beltran are on expiring contracts.
Catcher Brian McCann and left fielder Brett Gardner, two other prominent Yankees veterans, make up the team’s primary leadership core and might not go anywhere as a result, per Rosenthal. McCann has a no-trade clause to boot, so he’d have the power to block any deal."
Who is missing? Masahiro Tanaka. Other than the impending free agents, trading Tanaka should be a no-brainer. Here's why:
Tanaka has the option to opt out of the final 3 years and $66 million on his contract after next season. He will be 29 years old. Tanaka will almost certainly opt out and earn a much larger contract if he is healthy. If he is injured, he will almost certainly not opt out, and the Yankees will be stuck with the downside of the contract for three years.
So, we have two scenarios. In the scenario where Tanaka is healthy and/or good, he leaves after the 2017 season. If the Yankees choose to sell, they are acknowledging that they are not built to win the 2016. No significant help is coming out of the 2016-17 free agent market. So, the Yankees aren't in a position to take advantage of even an ace-like Tanaka year and a half. Maybe they sell him during the offseason. Maybe they choose to sell at next year's trade deadline. Either way, his value is lower than it is now.
In the other scenario, where Tanaka is either very bad or more likely hurt, the Yankees only get to take the downside. The Yankees might be big players in the 2017-18 mega free agent market. If Tanaka chooses not to opt-out, they will have $22 million less to spend on Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, or Clayton Kershaw. Maybe Tanaka is on the DL for Tommy John, maybe he's just bad.
Tanaka's contract is a ticking time bomb with no upside for the Yankees. Get rid of it now.
The Return Will Be Huge
Masahiro Tanaka has been worth 3.0 fWAR so far this season, which is good for second best in the American League. That's better than Chris Sale (2.6 fWAR), David Price (2.5 fWAR), and a number of other brand-name pitchers playing well. He would instantly become the best pitcher on the trade market.
Every team who is buying at the trade deadline would be interested in Tanaka. The Rangers starting pitching has a 4.73 FIP. The Orioles, Red Sox, Royals, Mariners, Pirates and Tigers all badly need starting pitching. Even teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Indians, Giants, and Mets would be much better with Tanaka starting for them in the playoffs.
What kind of return could we expect? Unlike the Yankees, any team that expects to contend over the next season and a half can benefit tremendously from Tanaka's upside. Drew Pomeranz, who has an inconsistent track record at best, just commanded Anderson Espinoza, who is one of the best pitching prospects in the game. The Yankees could undoubtedly get more from Tanaka than they could from Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, or Carlos Beltran
The Rebuild Badly Needs a Jump Start
Judging by some of the media reports I've seen coming out of the Yankee front office, some higher ups in the organization are frankly delusional. The Yankees are a mess right now. The roster is aging, lacks any real high-end position player talent, and the farm system is middle of the pack at best. Short of expanding the payroll to $300m+, the Yankees need to take drastic action to rebuild.
Just how bad is it? The Yankees didn't place a single player on Dave Cameron's top-50 players by trade value. After a strong start to the season, the Yankee farm system has limped along lately. Jorge Mateo is stuck in a horrible slump. James Kaprielan is MIA. Aaron Judge's season has been mixed at best. Gary Sanchez has had a strong season, but he's been injured. Rob Refsnyder looks like a bench player. They're not the Angels, but the Yankees aren't exactly hitting straight flushes lower down in the organization.
Masahiro Tanaka is the best trade chip they've had since Robinson Cano's pre-free agency trade deadline. He is probably the best trade chip they will have for at least two seasons. Trading him (along with everything else that isn't nailed down) represents an opportunity for the Yankees bring fresh talent into this organization. If they play their cards right, they could have a top-5 farm system two weeks from now.
Bottom Line: What is the Alternative?
I don't want the Yankees to do an Astros/Cubs rebuild. I'm not sure I could watch that for multiple years. However, I also don't want them to become the Anaheim Angels. The Angels have been plugging along with a barely viable roster full of bad aging veterans, failed or injured prospects, and Mike Trout for half a decade now. What do they have to show for it? A few 80-something win seasons, and not a lot of bright light in the future.
I haven't heard a plausible story of where the Yankees go from here without hard-selling. No one thinks they will be good in 2017. Everyone thinks they will have a lot of money to spend in the mega free agent class after that. The Yankees could kludge along with an okay .500ish team for the next year and a half, add a couple of mid-20s superstars, and put together a decent 2018 playoff team. But is that really better than trying to build a dynasty?
How do the Yankees assemble a team over the next few years that can compete with the Rangers, Red Sox, Astros, and Indians? Those teams are young, elite, and all may only be at the beginning of their runs. These are teams that are so stacked that they can't find playing time for Alex Bregman, Joey Gallo, Jurickson Profar, Clint Frazier, Andrew Benintendi, Blake Swihart, and others. 32 year-old veterans and a great bullpen aren't going to cut it right now.