The team performed surprisingly well in the first half of the season, prompting GM Brian Cashman to splurge on some reinforcements.
The Yankees have exercised a lot of caution at the MLB trade deadline in recent years, but they made a return to their aggressive ways this season.
On July 19, the Yankees made a deal with the Chicago White Sox, sending Tyler Clippard and three prospects to the South Side for third baseman Todd Frazier and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. On July 30, they sent a pair of minor leaguers to the Twins for starting pitcher Jaime Garcia. Finally, on July 31 -- the day of the non-waiver trade deadline — the Yankees flipped three prospects in exchange for Sonny Gray, one of the two biggest names to be dealt this year.
Add it up, and the Yankees sacrificed eight young players to reinforce their big-league roster with four live arms and a powerful corner infielder. That's a surprising turnaround for a team that's been so careful in recent years — despite sitting at or above .500 at the All-Star in back-to-back seasons between 2015 and 2016, New York either stood pat or unloaded assets in both years.
But this is a different Yankees team, one with a significantly better chance to make a World Series run. The organization's long-awaited young players — Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino — have reached the major leagues for good and achieved varying levels of stardom. Judge is an MVP candidate, while Severino is one of the league's better young pitchers and Sanchez is a reliable two-way catcher. They've also gotten productive performances out of their more experienced core, with CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro all meeting or exceeding expectations.
The Yankees own a 56-47 record through July 30, giving them a half-game lead over the Red Sox in the American League East. With the Houston Astros looking like the only true juggernaut in the league, general manager Brian Cashman had reason to believe that his team was just a few midseason acquisitions away from being a bona fide World Series contender, and he pulled the trigger.
"We're back to the same old Yankees," said Sabathia, according to Bryan Hoch. "The goal is to win the World Series. We're here now."
The early returns from the summer deals have been encouraging. Robertson and Kahnle have combined to surrender just two runs in 11.1 innings, good for an ERA of 1.62. Frazier has not been as productive, posting a .212/.366/.303 slash line in 11 games, but with a career slugging percentage of .459, the power should come in time.
Garcia and Gray have yet to throw a single pitch in pinstripes, but they should be a nice fit for an overachieving rotation that clearly needed help. Sabathia and rookie Jordan Montgomery were nice first-half surprises, but it wouldn't be too surprising to see one or both fade down the stretch.
Of course, it will be difficult to catch the Astros — no matter how things go over the next two months. Houston has a 68-36 record, the second-best in baseball, and the loss of franchise shortstop Carlos Correa to injury hasn't hurt them much.
But the Yankees have one crucial advantage over the Astros: their bullpen. New York is currently carrying six relievers with an ERA of 3.00 or below, and Aroldis Chapman, the hardest thrower in the game, isn't among them. Shutdown relief pitching is a well-defined path to postseason success, so if these two stacked squads wind up meeting, the Bronx Bombers should have a great chance to pull off the upset.
But first, the Yankees would love to win their division and avoid the sudden death Wild Card Game. They will continue their season on Monday against the Detroit Tigers.