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Yanks eye first base, pitching improvements

Cashman looks to target areas of need without harming future runs
MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- The problem areas are not where general manager Brian Cashman would have expected them, but they exist -- most notably at first base, but also in the starting rotation and the bullpen. As such, the Yankees expect to be cautious buyers as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches.

First base was supposed to be an area where the Yankees could crow about depth, but Greg Bird, Chris Carter -- who was released Monday -- and Tyler Austin have all been unable to stake a claim to the position. Ji-Man Choi became the seventh Yanks player to start a game at first base this season, but after the Yankees traded for Triple-A All-Star Garrett Cooper on Thursday, Choi will not necessarily be the last.

NEW YORK -- The problem areas are not where general manager Brian Cashman would have expected them, but they exist -- most notably at first base, but also in the starting rotation and the bullpen. As such, the Yankees expect to be cautious buyers as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches.

First base was supposed to be an area where the Yankees could crow about depth, but Greg Bird, Chris Carter -- who was released Monday -- and Tyler Austin have all been unable to stake a claim to the position. Ji-Man Choi became the seventh Yanks player to start a game at first base this season, but after the Yankees traded for Triple-A All-Star Garrett Cooper on Thursday, Choi will not necessarily be the last.

"So far, I can tell you the sticker prices are pretty high," Cashman told the YES Network on Sunday. "I'd like to think our fan base would be happy that we're saying no to a lot of things that are currently being presented to us. But you keep working through it."

Video: MIL@NYY: Choi hammers a two-run jack to right field

Should the Yankees seek a more established first baseman, the Athletics' Yonder Alonso, the Marlins' Justin Bour and the Mets' Lucas Duda have been floated as possible trade targets. Jason Vargas of the Royals fits the bill as a potential rotation upgrade who wouldn't require nearly as significant of a prospect haul. Brad Hand of the Padres offers an appealing bullpen option.

:: 2017 Midterm Report: Complete coverage ::

Trade scenario
MLB.com's Mark Feinsand recently suggested that the Mets should ship Duda to the Yanks for catcher Austin Romine, and at the very least, the idea is in the right ballpark. Duda's left-handed bat could provide presence, with hope continuing to fade that Bird will be an impact player in 2017.

What are they playing for?
The oft-repeated phrase from the fourth floor of George M. Steinbrenner Field continues to be "championship-caliber." Cashman said that he saw this roster as at least an American League Wild Card contender if everything broke right, and so the focus should be on getting to a playoff series while not mortgaging its chances for 2018 and '19.

The road ahead
The Yankees have 14 games remaining with the Red Sox, seven of which will be played in the Bronx. They also host the Rays for seven games at Yankee Stadium, where they have played their best this season. An 11-game trip out of the break to Boston, Minnesota and Seattle will provide an instant test.

Video: NYY@CWS: Sanchez plates two on double to take lead

Key player
It's almost too simple to put Aaron Judge's name here, so let's go this way -- with teams learning the hard way that they must adjust their game plan for Judge, it is imperative that Gary Sanchez (or whoever bats behind Judge) must make pitchers pay for not giving the Yanks' best player a chance to hurt them.

Prospects to watch
No. 2 prospect Clint Frazier is already getting his first taste of the Majors, while Yanks people believe that No. 7 prospect Chance Adams can make an impact this year. No. 9 prospect Miguel Andujar was sent down to play third base regularly, but no one has forgotten about his terrific debut. No. 12 prospect Domingo Acevedo throws over 100 mph and could be a bullpen force late in the season.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees