The Yankees could deal surging pitcher for ideal leadoff bat

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals, yankees
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

One of the Yankees‘ biggest struggles this season has come in the form of their offense, which was an area of the team that was heavily questioned entering the regular season.

It felt as if the Yankees didn’t do enough to improve their offense, and while I held confidence that they could be a top 10 group in the league, they instead have been one of the ten worst offenses in all of baseball.

Granted, injuries to Aaron Judge and Harrison Bader, alongside the unexpected regression of Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu, haven’t helped, but this unit needs help. The area they’re struggling the most in is their ability to get on base, something that they could solve this deadline.

One of their biggest areas of weakness, the Yankees’ inability to get traffic on the basepaths, has them last in the entire sport in Plate Appearances with RISP, and their solution could be with a familiar trade partner in the St. Louis Cardinals. The Yankees have pitching talent, and the Cardinals have bats that could become expendable by this deadline.

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Could the Cardinals Move Brendan Donovan?

One of the Cardinals’ biggest strengths, despite a poor start to their season, is their offense and its depth. MVP candidates Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt have hit their stride, and rookie Jordan Walker is one of the most talented young hitters I’ve seen in recent memory.

This isn’t including Nolan Gorman and his 115 wRC+, Dylan Carlson and Lars Nootbaar having solid seasons at the plate, and Paul DeJong reviving his career with 11 HRs and a 111 wRC+ with strong defense at shortstop. As a team, they have a 108 wRC+ even with some injuries and Willson Contreras struggling out of the gate, but their pitching is a real problem.

The Cardinals have a 4.81 ERA from their rotation and a 4.15 ERA from their bullpen, giving them the ninth-worst ERA in all of baseball.

With the emergence of some of their young talent offensively, Brendan Donovan could become an expendable piece for the Cardinals’ lineup. He currently starts at 2B, but with Edman and Gorman, they could get similar offensive value while improving their pitching staff, and he would fit the Yankees’ needs like a glove. As mentioned earlier, the Yankees struggle heavily with getting on base, but Brendan Donovan has a .361 OBP and a 9.9% walk rate, with a 113 wRC+.

With great contact skills (14.8% K%) and being a left-handed bat, the Yankees would get the exact type of leadoff hitter they need, and he would take advantage of the short porch in right field as well.

Donovan has already set a career-high in HRs at seven, doing so in 68 games compared to the 128 last year it took him to hit five. Donovan holds his own against left-handed pitching as well, with a wRC+ of 116 and .405 OBP against southpaws. With +8 DRS and +4 OAA in a little over 200 career innings at 3B, he would serve as a great upgrade at the position over Josh Donaldson as well.

josh donaldson, yankees
Jun 11, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson (28) reacts after hitting a deep fly ball for an out against the Boston Red Sox during the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

With his defensive excellence and contact-oriented bat with occasional power, the Yankees would get the exact type of hitter they need from the left-handed side.

For the Cardinals, they have the offensive firepower and the farm system to replace his bat, but it would have to come for a viable pitching upgrade that can uplift their rotation not just for the present, but the future as well. The Yankees haven’t particularly pitched well outside of Gerrit Cole and the bullpen, but they also have Carlos Rodon and Nestor Cortes on the IL, and their returns could boost the rotation.

Luis Severino‘s struggles are definitely alarming, but if arms like Domingo German can be league-average, Cole-Rodon-Cortes should be enough if they acquire another notable starter at the deadline. Lucas Giolito could be of service to the Yankees, and his 3.54 ERA and previous years of excellence could entice the Yankees, but which arm would entice the Cardinals to part ways with Donovan?

Clarke Schmidt Could Draw Attention This Deadline

Far from a frontline starter, Clarke Schmidt has greatly improved as of late and could benefit from a more pitcher-friendly ballpark that has far easier opponents to take on.

Schmidt often faces the Red Sox, Rays, Orioles, and Blue Jays, lineups that are deep and extremely talented, whereas Schmidt could face off against less skilled batters. Furthermore, Schmidt’s Stuff+ of 108 ranks as one of the best in baseball among starting pitchers, and his upside is clearly there. The Cardinals could view him as a potential #3 starter that they can slot into their rotation for half a decade, and with their excellent defense, Schmidt could see better ERA results.

Schmidt has struggled going multiple times through the order, but with the Cardinals lacking arms that can reliably get swings-and-misses, Schmidt fills a need in their rotation that would allow them to go into the offseason with their sights set on retaining former Yankee Jordan Montgomery and acquiring an ace-caliber starter. They have some solid in-house arms like Miles Mikolas, who isn’t great, but could give them plenty of innings on league-average run prevention, and their offense is good enough to mask what would likely be a slightly above-average pitching staff.

clarke schmidt, yankees
Jun 18, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Clarke Schmidt (36) pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

It would be a tough loss in their rotation, but with the emergence of young arms like Randy Vasquez, it’s not impossible for the Yankees to reprise Schmidt’s role in the rotation.

Add on top of that the fact that he would likely. have been pushed out of the rotation for Cortes and Rodon, and you suddenly understand why Schmidt being dealt wouldn’t have the incredible impact it seems like it would at this moment. Similarly to the offense, the pitching staff is in shambles because of injury, not a lack of talent when healthy, but unlike the lineup, their rotation was expected to be one of the best in baseball.

Add on the depth of their bullpen, and in a playoff setting, their pitching has exactly what it needs, minus some depth to get the job done in October.

Their bullpen is without names like Ian Hamilton and Jonathan Loaisiga, and with Clay Holmes on an absolute tear, the Yankees could add a reliever at the deadline and build a super bullpen to shorten games for the rotation. It’s definitely a gamble, and Schmidt could pan out as a starter with St. Louis, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Yankees would be losers in a deal where they trade him if they get a bat like Donovan.

Where Does Brendan Donovan Fit on the Yankees?

His defensive excellence at third base makes him a great candidate to take over there, but he can also play second base and the corner outfield, making him a solution at whatever position the Yankees momentarily need support at. Donovan’s done an excellent job of moving around the diamond in his career, winning the National League Gold Glove for utility players. As mentioned earlier, Donovan has some of the best contact and discipline tools in baseball. He ranks in the 95th Percentile in Whiff Rate and 79th Percentile in Chase Rate, all while having a hard hit rate above 40%.

The Yankees would instantly make him their everyday leadoff hitter, and he’s perfect for what the Yankees need ahead of Aaron Judge. He sees 3.96 pitches per plate appearance, which is in the top half of the league, and while he isn’t fast, he has a 2.7 BsR this season, making him a strong baserunner. He’d also allow the Yankees to have a lefty-righty-lefty-righty situation with Donovan-Judge-Rizzo-Stanton, and if Stanton and Rizzo can play to the back of their baseball cards, that top of the lineup is a lot more formidable. Harrison Bader and Gleyber Torres have been solid hitters with great contact rates as well.

Could the Yankees find lightning in the bottle with Billy McKinney or Jake Bauers? That still remains to be seen, but with Volpe and the catcher position being lost causes offensively for now, the Yankees having strong offense around those two positions is critical.

I still believe Peraza should be here over Volpe right now, but the Yankees are adamant about doing the wrong thing- I mean about sticking with Volpe for now. Donovan bolsters that top of the lineup and cuts out the deadweight from Donaldson/LeMahieu, though I believe LeMahieu sticks around as a nice backup infielder long-term.

billy mckinney, yankees
Jun 8, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Billy McKinney (57) at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

If you ask me, the lineup they could have just by adding Donovan gives me a lot of confidence that they could put together a consistent offense.

  1. Brendan Donovan 3B
  2. Aaron Judge RF
  3. Anthony Rizzo 1B
  4. Giancarlo Stanton DH
  5. Gleyber Torres 2B
  6. Harrison Bader CF
  7. Billy McKinney LF
  8. Anthony Volpe SS
  9. Jose Trevino C

It’ll come down to the Yankees getting better outcomes from in-house talent and potentially adding another bat, but this could be a team that scores just enough to win games and could get hot at the right time come the postseason.

They’d finally have that combination of power and on-base skills they’ve sorely needed, all while not taking a massive hit to their pitching staff. It would be a move that the Cardinals would have to really like Schmidt to make work, but the Yankees could also dangle an arm like Jhony Brito or a reliever with multiple years of control as well.

If I put together a final package that I think the Cardinals could take, this is what I think it would look like:

  • Clarke Schmidt RHP
  • Juan Carela RHP

Carela has been one of the Yankees’ top arms in High-A Hudson Valley this season, but with him being Rule 5 eligible after this season, the Yankees could lose him for nothing. Juan Carela has an excellent slider with a solid sinker, and he’s due for a Double-A promotion soon with his high strikeout totals and low-3 ERA. Tink Hence is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, but Carela could slot in as one of their better prospects in the farm and could give them a bullpen or rotation option in late 2024 or early 2025. It’s a matter of developing his velocity, but this is a good lottery ticket for STL to take.

Clarke Schmidt’s strong breaking ball offerings and improving cutter and sinker play well to what the Cardinals like, which are groundballs and soft-contact, but he finally adds some swing and miss to their rotation. The Cardinals need to move into an era of striking batters out, and by acquiring these two arms, they’ll do just that.

For the Yankees, Donovan is exactly what they need offensively, and while it’s unclear if the Cardinals would be willing to move him, it wouldn’t hurt to inquire and see if they’d be willing to make another surprising deadline deal.