The best teams have to do the most work at the baseball trading date. This seems counterintuitive as the best teams tend to have the fewest needs. But when a team is really good, the hardest part is over: you know you’re going to play in October. Trades are about increasing your odds once you get there.
“Teams are trying to make a move that has an impact,” Yankees backup Aroldis Chapman said through an interpreter Monday, recalling his trade with the Chicago Cubs in 2016. “When I got there — where was that team and where the team was headed – they felt like they had a real shot at winning.”
The Cubs had the best record in baseball when they acquired Chapman in a trade with the Yankees. They estimated that Chapman would increase their odds of winning the World Series by 5 percent – actually a big number for a single player. With Chapman scoring all but one of their postseason wins, the Cubs won it all.
The Yankees of 2022 know where they are and where they want to go. They reach the 6 p.m. Tuesday close with the best record in the American League – they were up 69-34 before Monday’s game against the Seattle Mariners – and four new players to help when it matters most.
On Monday, they made two deals, acquiring starter Frankie Montas and assist Lou Trivino from the Oakland Athletics and assist Scott Effross from the Chicago Cubs. Last week they got left fielder Andrew Benintendi from the Kansas City Royals. Overall, the Yankees gave up eight prospects, including seven pitchers. Only one, JP Sears, has played in the majors.
Two of the pitchers general manager Brian Cashman sent to Oakland were in the Yankees’ top 10 according to MLB.com — Ken Waldichuk (fifth) and Luis Medina (10th). However, Montas is under team control until next season, giving the Yankees the kind of top-level starter that could have an outsized impact in a postseason series.
“He’s got the full arsenal and guns and stuff that you look for in top caliber pitchers,” manager Aaron Boone said. “And he’s gone out there and proven that over the last few years that he’s such a pitcher caliber.”
Right-hander Montas, 29, was banned for 80 games in 2019 after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. He struggled over the next year but has a 3.30 earned running average in 51 starts over the past two seasons, with a mix of power pitches (96 mph fastball plus sliders and splitters) making him effective against both lefties. and right handed.
Effross, 28, isn’t a tough pitcher but has a similar range of throws to handle racquets from either side. A right-handed sidearmer with fastball, slider, and changeup, he’s the kind of reliever who tends to get a lot of work in the modern, bullpen-heavy postseason.
“In a perfect world, you want to create versatility — whether it’s different looks, whether it’s guys who are really adept at getting right-handers for certain parts of the order, whether it’s guys who’re really adept at getting left-handers to get if it’s like a mix of that,” Boone said. “Sometimes different perspectives and different things are beneficial. We think Scott is doing a lot of that.”
Effross, who has a 2.66 ERA in 44 innings, has been far more effective this season than Trivino, who has a 6.47 ERA in 32 innings. But the Yankees attribute much of that to bad luck, and Trivino is averaging 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings — a better strikeout rate than any of his new teammates.
Add those three arms to Benintendi — a solid left fielder with plate discipline hitting contact — and a pattern emerges. These are players with the skills to make the difference in short runs against good teams.
There are a few reasons for concern. Montas had a shoulder infection in early July and needed a cortisone shot; He rested for two and a half weeks and has since made two starts for three innings and five innings.
The Yankees have another starter, Luis Severino, out with a shoulder problem of his own. He played catch on Monday which is encouraging but far from a game.
“He gave me the thumbs up,” Boone said. “Good start to the throwing progression.”
Even so, the Yankees placed Severino on Monday’s 60-day injured list, meaning he won’t be able to be activated until mid-September. Now they have his replacement, with bullpen reinforcements and also a new left fielder. It’s an impressive haul for a team seeking its first championship since 2009 – a team that had to be aggressive and acted that way.