The New York Yankees have been the model of inconsistency in 2016, putting them in limbo with regard to how they will handle the trade deadline and adversely affecting their chances of reaching the postseason.
I have described this Yankees team as resembling Jekyll & Hyde and a yo-yo. The second half of the season can change that, but it will require a convincing turnaround within the first few weeks of returning to the diamond. If not, an overhaul of the roster would be in order.
It is hard to say what is more important for the Yankees as the second half begins -- strong starting pitching, improved offense, revamped middle relief or concentrating on the future. In my view, it has to be a combination of the four factors. That's not a cop out or a way to avoid selecting just one, but rather the stark reality.
Not one of the Yankees' on-field facets was strong for an extended period during the first half. Instead, a fabulous back end of the bullpen was the glue that sometimes coincided with a hot streak from another part of the club. Due to the uneven performance, the future is a place to resort.
The trio at the back end of the bullpen -- Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman -- could very well be broken up shortly after teams get back on the field from the All-Star break. That's because two of the Yankees' best trade chips represent the eighth and ninth inning in Miller and Chapman. If one or both are traded, it presents another reason why the other areas of the game need to improve. In my view, Chapman remaining on the club through the rest of the season would be a mistake.
While it might not be more important than hitting or middle relief, success begins with starting pitching. The Yankees will not climb in the standings without at least three of their starters turning in strong efforts in a resounding majority of the time the rest of this summer. Further, the other two hurlers in the rotation, whoever they may be, cannot pack it in. The No. 4 and No. 5 starters have to keep the team in games they pitch and hope to steal some wins along the way.
Masahiro Tanaka has been very good, but he'll have to finish out the season strong. Tanaka has yet to make more than 24 starts in an MLB season, but he has a chance to do so this year (he's made 18 starts so far). If Tanaka can stay healthy and maintain his solid performance, he will solidify his role as staff ace. After Tanaka, the questions only mount.
CC Sabathia was on a tear, but in his last three starts has looked like the pitcher many wanted the Yankees to dump last season. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi never pitch well at the same time (go ahead, look it up) and Ivan Nova doesn't deserve a rotation spot in my opinion. That said, what are the options within the organization?
The Yankees could bring back Luis Severino or Chad Green to see if they are viable options going forward. The organization has some other nice arms in Dietrich Enns and Jordan Montgomery, but they're unproven. In my mind, the Yankees need to utilize position player prospects to seize a controllable MLB starter either during the trade deadline period or in the offseason.
Another area that needs addressing in the second half is middle relief. When the starters have been unable to build their own bridge to "No Runs DMC," middle relievers have not picked up the slack. The club has already used 14 middle relievers and I do not trust anyone on the current roster. To be honest, I do not believe the Yankees trust any of them, either.
One option going forward is to continue rotating relievers in and out until a few stick and consistently retire major league hitters. Alternatively, the Yankees could use some of their trade chips to bring in a reliever who can help the back end of the bullpen. The middle relief situation grows in importance if the Yankees indeed trade Chapman and/or Miller.
Finally, and maybe most surprisingly, the offense has been a collective disaster. One season after scoring the second-most runs in baseball, the Yankees find themselves at the bottom of the rankings in the same category. They have two batters who have been consistently good -- Carlos Beltran and Didi Gregorius -- while the rest of the group has had some strong streaks, most of them have been unsustainable.
Most notable, in my opinion, is there has not been a collective surge of offense. They have had games in which they scored a high number of runs, but they have done nothing to demonstrate they can dominate for weeks on end.
The Yankees have given a part-time spot to Rob Refsnyder in an attempt to ignite the offense, and while he's been good, they need more. The question is how will they get it?
The table-setters, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner (or Gardner/Ellsbury as Yankees manager Joe Girardi had them set at the end of the first half) have also failed to feed off each other. Seldom has the pair put pressure on opponents in the same game, as they were able to at the beginning of last season. Whichever way they are employed, it is imperative they be at the top of their games in the second half.
The Yankees are receiving poor at-bats from Mark Teixeira (.588 OPS) and Alex Rodriguez (.642 OPS), and until a recent surge, the same can be said about Brian McCann. I wrote recently that the club should strongly consider moving on from the dead weight Teixeira and Rodriguez represent and give full-time shots to Refsnyder as well as Gary Sanchez. The club could also consider bringing up Aaron Judge (currently on the disabled list with a bruised knee) to play right field if Beltran is traded.
Toward the bottom of the order, Starlin Castro has been a disappointment since a strong first month, while Chase Headley has been hitting well after a dismal first month-plus of the season. It is difficult to ascertain where they will finish the season, but if Castro does not improve and Headley falls back, it could aid in the club failing to score enough runs.
If the Yankees do not make some changes with the offense, I'm not sure they can climb over the teams ahead of them. The problem is I do not see them as being buyers for MLB-ready players who can make an immediate impact with the bat. I'm also not convinced the club will be so drastic as to rid themselves of Teixeira and Rodriguez. However, I feel comfortable suggesting we will see much of the same with the status quo.
The second half does not always begin with a clean slate. The Yankees have not made any significant changes, but with a rough schedule to start the second half (a homestand against the Red Sox, Orioles and Giants, followed by a three-game road series in Houston), they will be in a different spot come July 27.
At that point (if not sooner, should they lose 5-of-6 to start the second half for example) the Yankees baseball operations department and ownership will hopefully agree on the course of action to take. Their current differing opinions represent a big fork in the road for the Yankees.
The baseball ops group and ownership must be on the same page, because whatever decisions they make this month will have a big effect on 2017 and beyond.