COMMENTARY | The beleaguered New York Yankees have gotten just enough from their no-name replacements to remain in the playoff hunt. That's why they need to trade disappointing pitchers Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain and get whatever useful pieces they can in return.
At the All-Star break, the Yankees sat in fourth place in the division but only six games back of first place and three games out of the playoffs. While their strong bullpen has kept them competitive, the offense had scored just 373 runs at the break, the worst mark in the division and lowest total of any AL team with a winning record.
Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis are effectively done for the season, leaving the roster decimated at corner infield. Francisco Cervelli's injury has made the already-thin catching position an automatic out in the lineup.
The Yankees' offensive production has been woeful for much of the season. In a three-game stretch from July 7-9, Yankees pitching yielded only 10 runs, but the offense scored just three runs over those three losses.
The no-longer Bronx Bombers need more starting-caliber infielders that can hit, and they actually have the pitching needed to acquire it before the deadline. More importantly, there is a trade market for both pitchers, so the Yanks must seize the opportunity to turn almost nothing into something.
On July 10, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted that one AL executive told him, "Yanks aggressively pushing Joba, Hughes. Joba could happen soon to NL team."
The Philadelphia Phillies have played .500 ball through the break, sitting 6.5 games back in their division and five games back of a playoff spot, and project as the best trade partner.
As reported by Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, "National League sources say the Phillies are amenable to dealing Michael Young and have expressed interest in Joba Chamberlain, a salary-dump swap that would save Philadelphia roughly $7 million. The sources also say Carlos Ruiz can be had before the deadline, too."
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports speculated that Chase Utley would make a sensible trade chip as well. Although Rosenthal cited a source saying the Phils are not in on Joba, Hughes could still fit as a replacement for John Lannan in the rotation, or even as a bullpen arm.
Other teams are interested as well. According to George King and Dan Martin of the New York Post, the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants have dispatched scouts to watch Joba's appearances. Heyman reports the Los Angeles Angels are interested in Hughes.
On the face of it, a trade with the Phillies for one or two of their graying veterans would be the best match for the Yankees. Young would give them a veteran hitter who can play both third base and first. Ruiz can catch and is coming off a stellar 2012 (16 HRs in 372 ABs with an impressive .325/.394/.540 slash).
Landing Young and Ruiz would perfectly address their needs in the infield and at the dish, and the Yankees already have the pitching to replace Hughes and Chamberlain.
In 2009, either Hughes or Chamberlain would easily have landed the Yankees a starter on the level of Cliff Lee in a trade. But it's 2013, and the Yanks would be lucky to receive a banged up, overpaid veteran in return for each.
Of course, the Yankees have been beset by injuries. Aside from losing Tex, Youk, and Cervelli, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter came off the DL and promptly returned to it. Thankfully, the sorely needed Eduardo Nunez has returned from his prolonged DL stint. There's also some guy named Alex Rodriguez striking out in the minors. You know, the one Raul Ibanez used to hit for?
The Yankees have essentially fielded a Triple-A lineup, and fans have suffered through Austin Romine, Travis Ishikawa, Luis Cruz, David Adams, and Alberto Gonzalez as starters. The team used 44 players by the break, a stunning total for a roster that accommodates 25 at a time, and they're still in need of more reliable batters.
Swapping pitching for hitting is the move to make.
Chamberlain increasingly seems like another player who simply will not succeed in New York. A change of scenery to the Senior Circuit could revitalize his career and give the Yankees a sorely needed asset in return.
Recall that in 2007, Chamberlain seemed the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera. The late call-up struck out 34 in 24 IPs with a tiny 0.38 ERA. Then the Cleveland Indians summoned midges from Lake Erie and ruined Joba's career with a hard-luck postseason loss.
It's been all downhill from there. Through 23.1 IPs in 2013, Chamberlain boasts a 5.40 ERA and 1.80 WHIP. The lone bright spot is his 9.6 Ks per 9.
Phil Hughes has been a mixed bag, but it's not the best idea to have a fly-ball pitcher starting every five days when you play home games at a launching pad with a short porch.
Like Joba, Hughes' best days as a Yankee are behind him. In the world championship campaign of 2009, Hughes was electric coming mostly out of the bullpen, posting an 8-3 record with 96 Ks in 86 IPs. But he has never fulfilled his potential as a starter over the long term.
Neither of the Yankees' formerly promising prospects fit with their plans for the future, and both will be free agents this offseason. In light of their insistence on getting under the $189 million luxury tax threshold, the Yanks will have to turn toward younger starters like Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Jose Campos (essentially in that order). Meanwhile, Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne have already stepped up in the bullpen.
If New York can exchange either Hughes or Chamberlain to improve the team now, general manger Brian Cashman must make that move, even if it means eating a few million bucks in salary. Dealing both would be twice as nice if that yields improvements to the current lineup.
Sean Hojnacki is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. His writings have also appeared on The Classical and Salon.com. He's on Twitter too. He lives in Jersey City, NJ with his wife and a cat named after Melky Cabrera.
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- Joba Chamberlain
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