Could the New York Yankees actually be sellers this year? It’s not something this generation of fans is used to seeing. The Yankees haven’t had a losing season since 1992, but they currently sit in fourth in the AL East at 31-32. It may be too early for them to give up, but if the season to this point is any indication, they will have a hard time keeping up with the Orioles, Red Sox, and Blue Jays as the season wears on.
If the Yankees decide to sell at the trade deadline, what players could interest the Cubs? There has already been lots of discussion about the Cubs’ possible interest in some of the Yankees’ relief pitchers. The Yankees currently have one of the game’s best relief trios in right-hander Dellin Betances and southpaws Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman.
Let’s take a look at each. It’s hard to believe that Chapman is only 28 years old. He’s in first year with the Yankees after six years in Cincinnati and has been one of the game’s elite closers for a long time now. The Cubs already have a pretty good one in Hector Rondon, so given what the Yankees would likely want in return, Chapman likely wouldn’t be a good fit.
The Cubs are already pretty strong from the right side in the bullpen, but Betances would be a good addition to almost any team. His ERA over the past two years has been 1.40 and 1.50 in 174 combined innings, and he has a ridiculously good rate of 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings in his career. Betances hasn’t been quite as dominant so far this year but has still been solid. And while Chapman is scheduled to become a free agent after this year, any team that trades for Betances would have three more years of control.
Then there’s Miller, who fits exactly what the Cubs need most: a left-handed reliever. Miller failed as a starter but has become one of the game’s most dominant relief pitchers. At 31, he is having his best year so far, giving up just three earned runs and striking out 48 batters in 26.2 innings. Miller is signed through 2018 at $9 million per season.
Given that Miller and Betances are signed beyond this year, should the Cubs trade for either, they would have to think of them as part of their long-term future. On the one hand, the Yankees might ask for more in a trade for these two than Chapman, who is a free agent after the season, since the Cubs would be getting more than one year of each. On the other hand, that could bring Miller’s asking price down in particular since he’s still owed a lot of money for a middle reliever. Betances becomes arbitration-eligible for the first time this coming offseason.
One other interesting name: CC Sabathia, who’s pitching as well as he has in years but comes with a $25 million vesting option for next year. He might draw the interest of a contender who’s desperate for starting pitching, but it won’t be the Cubs.
On the offensive side, Brett Gardner seems the most likely player the Cubs would be interested in, as they’ve been linked to Gardner in trade rumors in past seasons. The 32-year-old left fielder has never been a star but is a decent hitter. Two of his biggest assets, speed and defense, have diminished with age. His stolen base totals have been steadily going down; he peaked at 49 in 2011 but stole just 20 bases last year. Meanwhile, his defensive Wins Above Replacement peaked at 3.3 in 2010 and was 1.9 in 2011, but he’s only had one year above 0.2 since (1.1 in 2013).
There really aren’t any other everyday players that the Cubs are likely to show interest in. Carlos Beltran could be an intriguing rent-a-player for a contender. He’s actually having a really good season at age 39 and has a career 1.115 on-base plus slugging percentage in the postseason. Since he plays right field and DH these days, he really wouldn’t help the Cubs.
Most likely possibilities: Should the Yankees continue to struggle keeping pace in the AL East, expect there to be plenty more Chapman/Betances/Miller-to-the-Cubs rumors floating around. Miller would be the perfect fit to fill the Cubs’ biggest need in left-handed relief help, but I don’t like the thought of giving up a potential star player for him. My feeling is that the Cubs’ front office will show the most interest in Miller, but could ultimately decide that the asking price would be too steep. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were willing to give up Jorge Soler for Miller, but I don’t think they would be willing to give up Kyle Schwarber or even Javier Baez – nor should they.
The only other real possibility I see is Gardner. He could be a good addition to the outfield mix, especially if the Cubs end up trading Soler for help elsewhere, but he shouldn’t be considered a big difference maker. I don’t think he’d be enough of an upgrade over current left field options Chris Coghlan and Matt Szczur to give up what the Yankees would likely ask.
Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children. Image source:
Keith Allison – via Wikimedia Commons