The Athletics were already the hottest team in baseball before the weekend series against the Yankees, but if the rest of the baseball world needed validation, a four game sweep of the Bronx Bombers should stamp Oakland as a bona fide contender.
Since June 12, the Athletics have the best record in baseball, having won 24 of 33 games complemented by the best run differential in the American League (and second only to the Pirates). What’s more, the team’s league leading ERA+ of 119 is testament to the number of quality arms on the Oakland pitching staff, so it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that they were able to hold the Yankees to just 10 runs in four games. However, beating the sport’s benchmark team in four straight games is not without significance. If anyone was still sleeping on the Athletics, they certainly got an eye opener this weekend.
Although it’s fair to use the sweep as a litmus test for the Athletics, Yankees’ fans probably shouldn’t overreact to the outcome. After all, with each game decided by one run (the first time in franchise history that the Yankees were swept in four one-run games), the Bronx Bombers weren’t exactly manhandled. Having said that, what few and relatively minor weaknesses the Yankees do have were exposed during the sweep. Does that mean the team should panic and make an ill-advised trade? Of course not, but if Brian Cashman wasn’t exactly sure which area of the team to focus upon at the deadline, the four straight losses to Oakland should have him pointed in the right direction.
There have been several rumors suggesting the Yankees are interested in acquiring another pitcher, but it’s worth noting that the team’s ERA+ is not that far behind the Athletics’. In addition, with the eventual return of Andy Pettitte and even Joba Chamberlain, who has reportedly been throwing 100mph in rehab, reinforcements are already on the way. So, unless a top-line pitcher like Cole Hamels is dangled before their eyes, the Yankees probably don’t need to add a starter or reliever.
As a unit, the Yankees’ offense continues to rank among the league leaders in most categories. However, compared to previous editions, the lineup hasn’t been nearly as potent when it comes to scoring runs. One reason that seems to be the case is because the Yankees have become an offense that is split dependent, a problem exacerbated by the relative weakness of the bench. During the weekend sweep, the Yankees had several situations that called for a pinch hitter, but Joe Girardi’s hands were tied by a lack of depth compounded by Nick Swisher’s injury. Although getting Swisher back will alleviate some of the concern, even with him in the lineup, the Yankees could still use another bat, particularly in the outfield.
Note: Above 100% is above average for offense and below average for pitching.
There are several advantages to acquiring another outfielder. In addition to lengthening the lineup, it would also allow Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez to go back to being the DH platoon. Not only would that improve the defense, but it might also relieve some of the burden placed on Ibanez, who, as the left handed half of the tandem, has probably played more outfield than his 40-year old body can handle. After getting off to a hot start, Ibanez has hit .206/.274/.327 since the start of June, so acquiring another outfielder could wind up having the added benefit of rejuvenating his bat by allowing him to settle in as the DH.
Bolstering the bench would be another derivative benefit of trading for another outfielder. In games when Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, for example, are inserted into the DH slot, the team could wind up with Jones and Ibanez ready to come off the bench. Instead of being at the mercy of the opposing team’s bullpen, as he was this weekend, the added depth would give Girardi more flexibility to create favorable matchups, which, in a close game, could be the difference between winning and losing.
Most would agree that the Yankees could use another outfielder, particularly one capable of playing ever day. The next question becomes who? Justin Upton would clearly rank atop the wish list, but for various reasons, including cost, his acquisition seems improbable. The Phillies’ Shane Victorino would make a nice consolation prize, but the centerfielder reportedly has several suitors, many of whom are more desperate than the Yankees, so the package required in return could also wind up being prohibitive. Second tier starters like Denard Span and platoon types like David DeJesus are also reportedly available, giving Cashman plenty of options to consider. Of course, the devil is in the details, so the Yankee GM’s job will be to weigh the short-term gain against the long-term cost and allocate his resources accordingly.
After a series in which the team’s flaws were highlighted, some may exaggerate the extent of the Yankees’ weaknesses. In reality, however, the Bronx Bombers are team with only minor holes, ones that Brian Cashman could choose to fill in or tip-toe around. If he opts for the former approach, the outfield is where he should start digging. Otherwise, the Yankees will have to tread a little more lightly because even the smallest holes can trip a team up down the stretch and in the postseason.