How the Yankees can fix their nightmare 2023 season at the deadline

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Detroit Tigers
Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Entering a series against the Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim, the Yankees are 50-44 and in last place in the American League East. Things don’t look good for the New York Yankees right now, who dropped two of three to the Colorado Rockies despite holding a 3-1 and then a 7-5 lead late in the game. That being said, in my genius, I’ve concocted the perfect fix for the Yankees’ struggles, with only a little wiggle room for chaos.

The Yankees are a team with a lack of continuity, consistent on-base skills, and base running competency, but with some key tweaks, the Yankees could suddenly be a well-rounded offense again. They have the superstar hitter they need, they have the foundation of a great pitching staff, and they have the prospects to turn this seagarvson around.

As I write this article, the Yankees are in last place, but if they make these changes, they’ll propel themselves into legitimate World Series contenders with an extremely bright future. It’s not just about competing now for this team but setting your team up to also have a shot at competing for years to come.

One of the Best Fits on the Market For The Outfield

There just aren’t many fits like this one on the market, as we open this up with the Yankees turning their sights to Chicago for Cody Bellinger. I’m operating under the notion that the Yankees do not get Juan Soto or Shohei Ohtani, which isn’t impossible but hasn’t been confirmed as realistic. Bellinger has put together a great season thus far, rocking an OPS of .882 and hitting over .300 while slugging over .500, one of just six players in all of baseball (min. 200 PA) to do so.

A well-balanced hitter, Bellinger provides power (12 HRs in 56 games) and contact skills that the Yankees could certainly use. He has elite batted ball sprays that allow him to overperform bottom-of-the-barrel exit velocity numbers, as he pulls most of his barrels and flyballs while getting more sweet spots on said flyballs. By avoiding getting underneath the ball and getting sweet spots over a third of the time a ball is put in play, he sets himself to have an extremely balanced approach at the dish.

Being a left-handed hitter as well, Bellinger can really do damage with that porch in RF, where he’ll have a chance to hit with his fellow 2017 Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge. He also happens to be an excellent defensive outfielder, and the Yankees could use him in all three outfield spots and even 1B. If the Yankees run into serious issues with Rizzo, you could slide Joe/Bauers in LF and Bellinger at first to keep the Yankees functional offensively.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Chicago Cubs
Jul 14, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs center fielder Cody Bellinger (24) hits a home run against the Boston Red Sox during the sixth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

A gifted athlete, Bellinger also has +1 Runner Runs on Statcast and +2.3 BsR on FanGraphs, which, when paired with 75th Percentile Sprint Speed, can lead to plenty of steals and creative base running plays. The Yankees rank in the bottom of the league in Statcast’s Runner Runs while ranking bottom 10 in FanGraphs’ BsR. Adding someone who can contribute to the speed, defense, power, and on-base departments is a must-have from the left-handed side, and Bellinger can be the Yankees’ long-term solution in CF as well.

The Yankees have both Everson Pereira and Jasson Dominguez, but if Bellinger is a proven talent at the position, the Yankees could make him their permanent CF. According to Statcast, he’s one of the best defensive CF in baseball, and while Harrison Bader has electric moments, his inconsistent bat and injuries make his future in NY murky. Using the Andrew Benintendi contract as a model here, the Yankees could make Bellinger a four-year $75 million offer, with a fifth-year mutual option.

If he’s capable of being a 115-120 OPS+ bat, Bellinger might be one of the best buys the Yankees make in a very long time. Similar to when the Yankees acquired Anthony Rizzo, it just felt like they had to have him back. He’s only 28, he’s a great athlete, and he’s won a World Series with a big market team. The Yankees are the perfect fit for Cody Bellinger, and he’s the perfect fit for them.

I won’t deep dive too much here, especially since I wrote an entire piece discussing the value Bellinger could provide for the Yankees yesterday.

Yankees trade RHP Clayton Beeter, RHP Juan Carela, and 3B Tyler Hardman for OF Cody Bellinger.

Finding the Yankees’ Missing Piece in the Rotation

You can pencil in Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodon at the top of your rotation, with Cortes-German-Schmidt filling out the backend of that rotation. Could the Yankees go out and acquire a big-time starter to help them bolster a rotation lacking a true Game 3 starter? The Yankees would make a lot of sense with LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, who could be on the trade market as he has an impending opt-out he should use with the season he’s having.

In the middle of a career-best season, Rodriguez boasts a command-first arsenal that has excelled all season, generating strikeouts and attacking batters. While he doesn’t have the elite-level stuff, you’re accustomed to seeing with pitchers running a sub-3 ERA and strikeout rate north of 25%, he possesses a deceptive arsenal that makes him a pain for opposing batters to deal with. His lines rank with some of the best in baseball, with his diverse pitch mix allowing him to find plenty of success.

Against righties, Rodriguez relies on his four-seamer, cutter, and changeup, with the four-seamer and cutter being his most effective weapons. With a combined +9.2 Run-Value and sub-.280 wOBA, these pitches have strong results against opposite-handed foes, and they play different roles in his arsenal. His four-seam fastball is a great strikeout pitch against right-handed batters, as they whiff 24.2% of the time against the pitch with a 29.5% K%.

Rodriguez only has a 73 Stuff+ on his four-seam fastball, as the vertical life of the pitch is lacking, and it doesn’t have abnormal horizontal movement either. For all intents and purposes, this is an extremely generic four-seam fastball. He doesn’t get the elite extension, doesn’t generate elite velocity, nor does he have a funky arm angle that would make him more deceptive, and yet somehow, his four-seam fastball is one of the best in baseball.

Among all pitchers in baseball, Eduardo Rodriguez has the 28th-best four-seamer in terms of Run-Value (7.2), and with a mere .287 wOBA allowed, batters are struggling to get out in front of the pitch due to the excellence of his secondary offerings. His cutter is the next pitch we see him feature plenty, with the pitch serving as a way to generate called strikes and awkward swings.

He’ll backdoor it or jam a hitter with it, and right-handed hitters really struggle with the pitch. His 30.7% Called Strike + Whiff% is remarkable, and righties specifically really struggle to pull his cutter in the air, as they pull just 10.5% of their line drives and flyballs against the pitch. Strong directional sprays can allow this pitch to overperform its xwOBA (.330), and its lack of horizontal movement makes it hard to sit fastball or cutter.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Detroit Tigers pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez (57) throws a pitch against the Oakland Athletics during the third inning at Comerica Park in Detroit on Wednesday, July 5, 2023.

His changeup has underperformed this year, but it still gets swings and misses due to its vertical separation off of the fastball, and his slider and sinker are strong weapons he can use against left-handed batters. They grade out as his best against left-handed batters in Run Value, and neither has a wOBA above .200 against same-handed foes. Tough on lefties, Rodriguez may lack the overpowering stuff of an ace, but he certainly possesses the production and makeup to be a top-three starter in a playoff rotation.

It’s not as if we haven’t seen great seasons from Rodriguez in the past, who posted a 128 ERA+ in 2019 and showed off elite strikeout-to-walk numbers in 2021, but poor BABIP luck and bad defense at key positions with the 2021 Red Sox-led to a bad ERA. 2022 was a weird season where Rodriguez was on-and-off the active roster due to personal issues he was dealing with, but when we look under the hood of what we have in 2019, 2021, and 2023, it’s one of the American League’s top arms.

With a 123 ERA+ and 26.1% K% in those three seasons (opted out of the 2020 season), Rodriguez is someone who definitely has the stretches of success, and he’s been a relied-upon member of a World Series rotation in the past. Posting a 3.82 ERA in 129.2 IP for the 2018 Red Sox, he’ll be asked to be the Yankees’ three starter (unless Cortes rebounds), and I believe the reliability and strong command compliment the high volatility of the Yankees’ rotation, and they’ll love adding him to their rotation.

Yankees trade SS Trey Sweeney, RHP Jhony Brito, and RHP Brendan Beck for LHP Eduardo Rodriguez.

Clearing up the Rotation and Adding a Bat for the Future

With the Yankees adding Eduardo Rodriguez, they have seven starting pitchers on this hypothetical roster. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it does feel as if it would be a bit redundant. The Yankees have seen Harrison Bader struggle to get on base, and with two rookies and their catchers at the bottom of the lineup, can they really support another below-average bat in the lineup?

Bader inherently provides value with his glove, but a 90 wRC+ and .274 OBP aren’t getting the job done. The Yankees could parlay the value they have in young starter Clarke Schmidt and turn him into an outfielder that could help this team long-term. Dylan Carlson doesn’t have incredible stats, but he’s one of the better outfielders in the league at his age, and his balanced approach at the dish could make him highly valuable to the Yankees.

A switch-hitter, Carlson possesses the strong hit tools and .350 OBP the Yankees are looking to have at the top of their lineup and deepen a team that desperately needs it. With a 108 wRC+, the Yankees could see his production improve in New York, where the short porch in RF could allow him to drive the baseball into the stands for HRs.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs, dylan carlson, yankees
May 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Dylan Carlson (3) hits an RBI-single against the Chicago Cubs during the second inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Carlson’s been excellent since returning from an injury in June, posting a 146 wRC+ and .432 OBP in 26 games and showing off an excellent plate discipline to go alongside his great contact skills. Carlson chased at just 21.3% of pitches in that timespan, lowering his swinging strike rate to 8.1% as well. He’s struggled against RHP in his career (91 wRC+), but this year he has a .320 xwOBA compared to a .301 wOBA, and he still runs strong walk and strikeout numbers against them.

His issue stems from pulled contact in the air against RHP, as he’s struggled to get his bat out in front from the left-handed side and drive the ball consistently to right field. Perhaps the short porch in RF can entice him, and for all of the things the Yankees struggle with, pulling flyballs is not one of those things. His plus speed and sure glove in the outfield are welcome as well, and with Carlson not turning 25 until mid-October, he could become part of a new core in New York.

Carlson had been underperforming really enticing quality of contact numbers with a .338 xwOBA and 35.1% Sweet Spot%, and if he makes even a little bit of progress in New York, he’ll become one of the better outfielders in the game. He’s a 2.5-3 WAR player with upside, and the Yankees could add him and make a pretty vaunted lineup, depending on the situation. He’s a fundamentally very sound player who can reliably lead off games for the Yankees and in a sense, plays extremely similarly to Andrew Benintendi.

Yankees trade RHP Clarke Schmidt for OF Dylan Carlson.

Saying Goodbye to Beloved Utility Piece

The last piece to this puzzle is figuring out whether Jake Bauers, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, or Harrison Bader should be traded to make room for Carlson/Bellinger on the position player side of things. Bauers is the platoon for righties in some spots, so that’s an automatic no, and Bader’s ability to provide excellent defense in CF is a must with Aaron Judge recovering from a toe injury and likely needing more time at DH, opening the door for Stanton to play some RF.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa has served a wonderful role for the Yankees, doing absolutely everything he can to get himself in the lineup and help the team. The issue? He’s just not a reliable option in the outfield. His jumps and arm strength are great, and while I trust him in CF and RF, he’s a -3 OAA defender in LF and has struggled with reads and throws out there. He can also handle the middle infield and hot corner well, so there’s inherent value in his game, so the Yankees could find a suitor for him.

MLB: Texas Rangers at New York Yankees
Jun 23, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; A ball drops in front of New York Yankees center fielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa (12) allowing a run to score in the fourth inning against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Could the Yankees send over Isiah Kiner-Falefa for a reliever? The Yankees could move him to Miami, where the Marlins have struggled to get consistent defensive play from their centerfielders, and in return, they could take on the project of Dylan Floro. While Floro doesn’t blow you away with high-octane stuff, he possesses a strong sinker that generates 17 inches of arm-side run, and the sink on the pitch makes it a strong groundball option.

He possesses a 116 Stuff+ on that sinker, and paired with a slider that generates a 123 Stuff+ slider, he’s a nightmare for right-handed hitters. The issue comes against left-handed hitters, where his four-seam fastball struggles to play up in the zone due to poor vertical movement, but his great changeup could be the key to the problem. While a 99 Stuff+ seems pretty rough, the average Stuff+ for a changeup is 87.2, with and it does get over 10″ of vertical separation off the four-seamer.

Floro’s groundball-centric approach and solid arsenal should play well, and this move could be like the Lou Trivino one, with the Yankees banking on his stuff and groundball rates over the poor ERA and results on the season. For Miami, they’re able to move off of a struggling veteran on an expiring contract, and with how deep their pitching staff is, it doesn’t feel like a relatively important loss for them, especially with the value IKF can provide for a Miami team that looks playoff-bound.

Yankees trade UTL Isiah Kiner-Falefa and C Kyle Higashioka for RHP Dylan Floro.

Final Roster and Lineups

The Yankees would have made four total trades, a realistic number when considering their track record with trades in recent years. When looking at the final roster, we’re going to include injured players that we expect to return, such as Nestor Cortes, Aaron Judge, and Jonathan Loaisiaga, and with that out of the way, here’s the final product:

For the rotation, you’d go with Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodon, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nestor Cortes, and Domingo German. If help is needed in terms of a sixth starter, Luis Severino is available, or you could use Randy Vasquez. Yes, Severino would be in the bullpen in this scenario, as hopefully, his stuff plays better in a reliever’s workload, similar to how he transitioned into a reliever in 2016 temporarily after struggling as a starter.

As for the main lineup, you’d have this to throw out on a nightly basis:

  1. Dylan Carlson LF
  2. Aaron Judge RF
  3. Cody Bellinger CF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton DH
  5. Anthony Rizzo 1B
  6. Gleyber Torres 2B
  7. Anthony Volpe SS
  8. Oswald Peraza 3B
  9. Ben Rortvedt/Jose Trevino C

Now, you may have noticed that Kyle Higashioka was traded for Dylan Floro and isn’t on the roster, and that’s because he and Trevino aren’t a great pairing fit-wise. Sure, it’s given the Yankees one of the best defensive duos in the league behind the dish, but Ben Rortvedt is also a strong defender and has good splits against RHP. He’s hitting .309 in Triple-A with a .947 OPS against RHP with a 126 wRC+ as a whole on the season.

Jose Trevino has a career 96 wRC+ vs LHP with a .338 xwOBA since joining the Yankees against southpaws with six HRs in 110 at-bats. If you can get a 90-95 wRC+ out of Trevino against LHP and Rortvedt gets similar production against RHP, the Yankees can remain a stout defensive unit while also improving their offense at the position, and that’s being extremely conservative here.

Carlson’s plate discipline and patience make him a great top-of-the-order bat, with Judge obviously providing a monumental lift here. Bellinger-Stanton-Rizzo is your middle of the lineup, hoping that the two veteran bats step up after weeks of futility. Gleyber Torres has posted a solid 110 wRC+, there’s not much to dislike from him as a sixth hitter at all.

Can Anthony Volpe find some form of consistency? If possible, he’ll be a strong seven-hitter, and Oswald Peraza’s strong eye at the plate, alongside his speed and defense, make him an extremely valuable player to have at the bottom of the order. If the Yankees face a tough right-handed pitcher, there are ways to make this lineup even more dangerous.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees, jake bauers
Jul 5, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees left fielder Jake Bauers (61) reacts during the fourth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Bellinger has a solid glove at 1B, and if the Yankees are not getting results from Rizzo, they could always plug him in at 1B and put Judge in CF, Carlson in LF, and either Jake Bauers or Giancarlo Stanton at RF, with the other serving as the DH. Bauers absolutely demolishes right-handed pitching but struggles against lefties, so if a left-handed pitcher is on the mound, Harrison Bader has a career 123 wRC+ against LHP (225 in 2023) and can allow Stanton or Judge to DH while he and Carlson patrol CF and LF respectively.

Harrison Bader is a great situational player, and having him off the bench to pinch-hit in big spots against left-handed pitching, come in as a defensive replacement, or run the bases, he’ll serve an extremely valuable role on the team and still get some at-bats. This creates a sense of urgency, with the Yankees now having the ability to limit the playing time for veterans struggling on the team. Stanton isn’t safe from this either, if he stumbles more and Rizzo/Bader pick it up, Bauers and Bader will gladly go for those reps.

Getting versatile athletes, the Yankees can choose to extend Bellinger at the end of the season, and they’ll also have a tough choice to make on Eduardo Rodriguez, who can opt out of his contract and likely will. The pitching staff is deeper, with five starters that can compete and pitch deep into games and a bullpen that’s rebooted and reloaded to mitigate some of the fatigue we’re seeing.

If you keep Bellinger around long-term, suddenly, the Yankees have a core they can assemble of young talent. Carlson is 24, Peraza is 23, Volpe is 22, and Rortvedt is 25, with guys like Cody Bellinger (28) and Gleyber Torres (26) serving as younger leaders on the team with years of experience in the regular season and postseason. LeMahieu can serve as a utility infielder and late-game substitution at 1B/2B/3B whenever.

dj lemahieu, yankees
Apr 22, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees pinch hitter DJ LeMahieu (26) celebrates after hitting a game-winning RBI single in the ninth inning to defeat the Toronto Blue Jays 3-2 at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Losing Clarke Schmidt is tough, but Domingo German is a comparable pitcher, and they have arms like Will Warren in Triple-A, who could factor into the rotation alongside Vasquez in 2024. Richard Fitts and Chase Hampton have dominated Double-A this season, and 2022 2nd Round Pick Drew Thorpe might be the best pitcher in all of High-A.

Having Cole-Rodon-Cortes-German locked in for next year as well creates some continuity, and that restructuring of the roster should help this team win not just in 2023 but in the near future as well. They’d also go from the AL’s fourth-oldest position player group to the 15th-oldest (28.2), and that’s without the potential for names like Jasson Dominguez (20), Everson Pereira (22), and Austin Wells (24) to come up and make an impact.

Without touching the farm’s best pieces, we’ve changed the outlook of this team dramatically, and even if they don’t make the postseason with this roster, they’ve at least put the foundation in place to go out and win in 2024.

Follow me @RyanGarciaESM and let me know what you would grade this trade deadline as.

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