It would not be entirely accurate to call the New York Yankees an underperforming team. The team is flawed in many ways, but has still managed to hang above .500 and within a few games of first place almost all season. After receiving the news that former ace CC Sabathia would likely miss the rest of the year with a knee injury, the Yankees spent the holiday weekend retouching their beat-up roster, first by trading Vidal Nuno for Brandon McCarthy, then by designating Alfonso Soriano for assignment. Even after a pair of significant moves, General Manager Brian Cashman cannot be done tinkering with his team in an effort to drum up some consistency.
The Soriano move may not seem like much, but the former great power hitter has struggled so much, and without any signs of improvement, that removing him from the lineup is addition by subtraction. Soriano has the 17th worst OPS of any player with more than 200 plate appearances, and the second worst on base percentage. Playing Soriano was giving away outs, and the fact that he managed to also accumulate time in the outfield with negative defensive value is a knock against both Joe Girardi and the roster itself. Ichiro Suzuki figures to receive additional playing time, and while he is a long way from his glory days, he is still worth 100 points of on base percentage over Soriano, to go along with much better defense.
Trading for McCarthy is also a straightforward positive for the Yankees. They swapped their worst starter, whose time on the roster was really waning anyway. They got the Diamondbacks to chip in money to cover some of what McCarthy is owed. They also are getting back a pitcher who is immediately better than any internal options for the back of their rotation.
By ERA alone, McCarthy has not been much better than Nuno, but the difference can be found in basically every other measure. McCarthy brings with him vastly better strikeout and walk numbers, better home run numbers, and most importantly much more potential to pitch well than Nuno. McCarthy is suffering some very bad luck in his home run numbers, with way more fly balls ending up as home runs than one would expect–balls in the air are finding the stands at nearly twice his career rate. While better luck would go a long way towards helping his ERA and batting average against, McCarthy is going to run into a problem as a Yankee.
McCarthy is a groundball pitcher who uses an effective sinker to keep the ball down. As a team, the Yankees are not a great defense. They make plays just fine, with an above average fielding percentage that is good, but it is not so good that their lack of range should be ignored. This issue is concentrated in the infield, where Jeter’s poor range has only worsened with age and lower body injuries. Brian Roberts is not his former gold glove self, nor is Mark Teixeira. Over at third, the tandem of Yangervis Solarte and Kelly Johnson have been good, but neither has hit enough to continue to warrant playing time if another option opens up. Thankfully for McCarthy, his strikeout rate is a career best this season, though moving to the American League may cause a dip in that as well. The defense will hurt him at times.
The Yankees still need to make additional maneuvers to continue to contend, and more deals like the McCarthy one are what should be expected of them. It was cheap, improved the team, and cost almost nothing against the future, either monetarily or in prospects. Unless the Yankees want to continue to wait for the Michael Pineda express to finally arrive, they need another option. The M.I.A. right-hander has been throwing for a few weeks and could get back on a mound soon, but has shown that he cannot and should not be relied on definitively. A reunion with Bartolo Colon or AJ Burnett could be in order, or someone like the Twins Kevin Correia if they simply want some innings.
They also cannot continue to operate with three or four holes in the lineup every day. Finding a platoon partner for Kelly Johnson at third, or for Ichiro in the outfield or at DH would be the most economical way to improve the offense. Neither Johnson nor Ichiro suffer from any significant platoon splits themselves, which allows the Yankees to look for players who do not necessarily have to be everyday contributors.
The moves over the weekend are a signal that the Yankees are trying to improve going into the All Star break, which is next week. With that in mind it is a sure thing that the team is not done making moves. Cashman figures to have a busy month as the trade deadline looms at the end of July.
Commentary by Brian Moore