With about a third of the season gone, we have a pretty good feel for the strengths and weaknesses of the Yankees.
So let's have some fun and identify some potential trade targets -- and of course that means relief help ... lots of it.
Clearly the strength of this team is its lineup. The Yankees are getting pretty solid production throughout and there isn't much that needs to be done. With Xavier Nady expected to return from the DL fairly soon, don't look for the Yankees to make a move for a big bat unless there is a major injury or someone is willing to just give them a good, young center fielder -- and I don't see the Indians parting with Grady Sizemore any time soon.
The rotation figures to be set with six starters, but if Chien-Ming Wang doesn't get himself straightened out and Andy Pettitte continues to show a little age, the Yankees could find themselves having a need because of the innings limits on Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. So, we'll hold off on assessing those potential trade targets until we get a better feel for how this all shakes out.
But the most obvious, glaring weakness, the No. 1 most pressing need is to fix the bullpen. Yes, Brian Bruney's return today -- assuming he stays healthy for the rest of the year -- figures to be a big boost. And yes, eventually Joba will return to his relief role once he runs up against his innings limit.
But, let's be honest, the Yankees need at least one more arm.
Now, let's try to be a little realistic. Teams aren't going to just give the Yankees their top-notch, young, inexpensive relievers. The Yankees are going to have to try to take advantage of the poor economy that will force teams to unload high-priced veterans, guys who are arbitration eligible or guys set to hit free agency.
That might mean taking on an onerous contract, but with the Red Sox bullpen being so strong, at least the Yankees might not have to worry about a bidding war.
So here are some of the top potential targets:
RHP Houston Street, Rockies
The Rockies acquired Street in the deal that sent Matt Holliday to the A's. The 28-year-old right-handed closer is expected to be one of the top players available on the trade market ... assuming the Rockies are out of the race. Colorado has won 11 straight and is 3-1/2 games out of the wild card, though the chances of catching the Dodgers in the NL West appear slim. If the Rockies do trade Street, they will be looking for a lot of prospects. Street (1-1, 3.00 ERA, 13 saves) is on a one-year, $4.5 million deal and there will be several contenders interested. For the Yankees, he'd be a setup man, of course, but he has pitched and thrived in the AL for Oakland and has been a setup man in the past. The only question is how well he'd handle New York.
RHP Heath Bell, Padres
Bell, 31, is not a guy who is going to overwhelm you with his stuff. The Mets were so unimpressed with him that they traded him and Royce Ring to the Padres for some bats and balls ... OK, OK, actually it was Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson, but you get the point. The thing is, he just gets the job done. As Trevor Hoffman's setup man in 2007-08, he pitched 171-2/3 innings in 155 games, going 12-10 with two saves, a 2.73 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and 173 strikeouts. This season as the Padres closer, he's 2-1 with 1.32 ERA and 18 saves in 19 opportunities. Though he's making only $1.25 million this season, the Padres would be willing to give him up for some quality prospects. The danger here is the potential to make a Jeff Bagwell for Larry Anderson-type deal.
RHP Rafael Betancourt, Indians
The Indians got off to a horrid start and are 29-36, last in the AL Central, six games behind the first-place Tigers. The grumbling out of Cleveland is that if the Indians don't get it going and fall out of contention, management will become sellers to reduce payroll. Betancourt, 34, would be an attractive chip. Though he's currently on the DL with a groin strain, he has been one of the better setup men in the AL for a number of years. The Indians wouldn't mind unloading him because, though he's making a reasonable $3.35 million, he can become a free agent after the season, unless his $5.45 million option is picked up. He' 1-1 with a 3.71 ERA this season. The Indians could also look to unload righthanders Matt Herges, 39, and Luis Vizcaino, 34, who had a good season with the Yankees in '07, but wasn't re-signed because he wanted a two-year deal. Both are free agents after the season.
RHP Scott Linebrink, White Sox
The White Sox are 4-1/2 games back in the AL Central, but if they should fall out of contention, they could look to get out from under the four-year, $19 million contract they gave Linebrink, 32, prior to the '08 season. Linebrink, like Betancourt, has been one of the better setup men in the league and he's pitching well this season, going 2-4, with s 2.42 ERA in 22-1/3 innings in 23 games. But he's due $5 million next season and $5.5 million in '11. The White Sox could also look to unload Octavio Dotel, 35, who appears to be much healthier than he was with the Yankees in '06. He's 1-2 with a 2.88 ERA in 28 games this season, but is making $6 million and will be a free agent after the season.
RHP Miguel Batista, Mariners
Batista has been a major bust for the Mariners, who signed to a three-year, $25 million contract before the '07 season to be a starter. Batista, 38, is making $9 million in the final year of that contract ... and has been pitching out of the bullpen, where he's been decent, going 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA in 23 games, but vastly overpaid. The Mariners also have David Aardsma, who has emerged as their closer and is have a very good season, going 2-2 with a 1.78 ERA and 11 saves in 12 chances. He's not making much money, but the Mariners would be willing to part with him for the right price. Given Aardsma's his struggles with the Red Sox last season (4-2, 5.55 ERA, 1.73 WHIP), he might not be a good fit for New York.
RHP Francisco Cordero, Reds
The Reds were expected by many to have a breakout year and so far, and they haven't disappointed, going 31-31, three games behind the first-place Brewers in the NL Central. But if they hit a rough patch and fall out of the race, they might consider making their closer available for a trade. Cordero, 34, is 0-2 with a 2.00 ERA and 15 saves in 16 opportunities, but he has a hefty contract. He signed a four-year, $46 million contract before 2008, and is due to make $12 million in each of 2010 and 2011 with an option for 2012 at $12 million. One concern with him would be his ability to handle the eighth inning. Some closers just can't adjust to that role (see Gagne, Eric and Putz, J.J. ) and I suspect Cordero would struggle, too.
Two final guys I'm hesitant to mention are Orioles closer George Sherrill and Danys Baez. Sherrill, the 32-year-old lefthander, is similar to Bell in that his stuff isn't electric, but he's still very effective. He saved 31 last year and has 12 saves in 14 chances with a 2.55 ERA this season. He's also pretty inexpensive at $2.75 million. Baez, a 31-year-old righthander who is making $5.5 million in the final year of a three-year deal, is having a solid season at 3-1 with a 3.31 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 21 games. The problem is Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who has a tendency to pull out of deals at the last minute.
Of course trades are never easy to make. Sometimes teams just don't have the right parts to swing a deal and we haven't even addressed whom or what the Yankees would have to give up. But it sure is fun to speculate about a deal.
So let's hear it. I'm sure there are guys out there that I haven't mentioned. Maybe there's someone on this list you really want. I want to know who you think Cashman and the Yankees should pursue.