Playing-wise, the Yankees had a great April where they finished four games over .500 and two games ahead in the AL East. Health-wise, the Yankees didn’t have as much luck. Ivan Nova‘s season is officially over after he underwent Tommy John surgery last week, and then Michael Pineda endured a 10 games suspension and a lat strain that’ll sideline him for at least a month. Not only has this left the Yankees with a rotation with Vidal Nuno and David Phelps manning two spots, but it’s forced the Yankees to call up Preston Claiborne, Bruce Billings, Matt Daley, Cesar Cabral, Chris Leroux, and Shane Greene.
Meanwhile, the infield has performed slightly better than expected. Mark Teixeira was injured for a chunk of the month of April, but he’s returned swinging a surprisingly hot bat. Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts somehow remained healthy, Yangervis Solarte maintained an impressive batting line (.303/.404/.461), and Kelly Johnson showed a ton of versatility around the diamond. Even with the positive infield news, this doesn’t discount that the Yankees still lack middle infield depth. Brian Roberts and Derek Jeter just aren’t hitting that well, and there’s of course that risk of injury as the season lengthens.
In the month of May, the Yankees will face the Rays, Angels, Brewers, Mets, Pirates, Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals, and Twins. Though this group of teams was less impressive at the start of the season, only the Cubs are the only real weak team now. Even the Mets, White Sox, and Twins have played incredibly well so far. There’s a tough schedule ahead for the Yankees, and waiting on Pineda’s return, for Girardi to find lightning in a bottle in the bullpen, or for an aging middle infielder to start hitting could be detrimental to their AL East lead.
This is far from a doom and gloom posts about how this team won’t be competitive after some injuries and regression, but it seems inevitable that the Yankees will have to answer to their lack of depth in the rotation, bullpen, and infield at some point. What’s holding them back right now is their unwillingness to spend money and organizational talent. Perhaps the asking prices are too high, but for a team that could win it all, players that put them over the top are well worth overpaying.
One trade that still makes sense for both parties is Aaron Hill of the Diamondbacks. I speculated on Hill after the Yankees lost out on Cano, and Moshe Mandel brought him up again yesterday. The Diamondbacks are already thirteen games under .500 with hardly any positives in sight. Hill is also tied for the highest paid player on the Diamondbacks with Martin Prado, making $11 million in 2014, and $12 million a year through the end of 2016. Hill is also expendable with Didi Gregorius down in Triple-A Reno and Chris Owings in the Major Leagues.
Hill missed half of the 2013 season after fracturing his hand on a hit by pitch. But his health in general has been very good for a middle infielder, and outside of last year’s hand injury, Hill was only on the disabled list three other times, twice for hamstring soreness and once for a concussion. Over his ten year career, Hill owns a .273/.328/.434 slash, but over the last three years with the Diamondbacks, Hill is batting .293/.353/.491 in 1,161 plate appearances. Hill is certainly a right-handed pull hitter, which isn’t optimal for Yankee Stadium, but his ability to walk and avoid strikeouts fits well into the Yankees’ approach. Yankee Stadium has also been kinder to right-handed batters compared to Chase Field, and the entire AL East is much easier to hit in than the NL West. Finally, his defense is considered average to above average, and it’s probably not much of an upgrade from Brian Roberts’s glove.
Pitching-wise, the Diamondbacks don’t have much to offer in the way of starting pitching, as they have the worst rotation in baseball at the moment. Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy could conceivably be upgrades over Vidal Nuno and David Phelps. Cahill, who’s struggled with walks and BABIP thus far in 2014, is at least showing is typically high ground ball rate and an extremely high K/9 rate. His velocity is also slightly up, which is interesting since pitchers are usually working back their strength in the month of April. Though Cahill owns a 7.09 ERA, his 4.22 FIP is right in line with his career. McCarthy’s peripheral stats also look good, as he’s posted an 8.20 K/9 and a 2.17 BB/9 in the early season with a solid 55.0% ground ball rate. His biggest issue has been home runs, which has pushed his 5.54 ERA far ahead of his 4.47 FIP. Both pitchers could bounce back very soon, though it’s debatable what kind of upgrade they’d offer over Phelps and Nuno.
There are other pitching options out there, and of course Cliff Lee‘s name has come up. While he’d be a perfect fit for the club, I’m not sure how willing the Yankees are to take on his $25 million in 2015 and $27.5 million option in 2016. The Phillies also own a .500 record at the moment, so a Cliff Lee trade would probably have to happen closer to the trade deadline. Another starter upgrade would be Jeff Samardzija, who’s undoubtedly available at the moment and pitching well after giving up just nine earned runs in 41.0 innings pitched.
With other AL East teams showing weakness, the Yankees should try to fix their depth problems early. This season is shaping up well so far, but the club is far from a lock in their extremely competitive division. The organization has a chance to run away with the title in 2014, and in those types of years, a team should be willing to trade prospects for players that will put them over the top. The sooner the Yankees get better, the more games they’ll win. With a trade looking inevitable, there’s little reason to delay improvement.