New York Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman orchestrated a blockbuster deal by sending closer Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs. He should undoubtedly remain in sell now mode.
Knowing a suspension for domestic abuse allegations was looming, the Cincinnati Reds were aggressive in their attempts to offload closer Aroldis Chapman, whose propensity for touching 100 MPH on the radar gun with his fastball grew into the stuff of legend.
Hogtied as they were, the Reds, alas, sold low, with little understanding as to how severely Major League Baseball would punish their star reliever. In that vein, they agreed last December to send Chapman to the New York Yankees for a package of low to mid-level tiered prospects, including right-handed pitchers Caleb Cotham and Rookie Davis, and infielders Eric Jagielo and Tony Renda.
Within eight months’ time, Cashman, whose Yankees were rumored to be sellers at a the trade deadline for the first time since 1991, was able to trade Chapman, who, after serving a 30-game suspension, posted a 3-0 record, 20 saves (in 21 opportunities), 2.01 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 44 strikeouts in 33.1 innings, to a contender in the form of the Chicago Cubs, a World Series hopeful, for a bevy of top notch minor leaguers, including shortstop Gleyber Torres, the Cubs’ number one rated prospect and fifteenth rated prospect in all of baseball, outfielder Billy McKinney, the 88th best prospect in the majors, reliever Adam Warren, whom the Yankees initially shipped to Chicago in order to receive second baseman Starlin Castro, and outfielder Rashad Crawford.
The yield on the Chapman deal has yet to prove its worth, but the way by which Cashman was able to fleece the Reds for his services and push him on the Cubs, desperate for a World Series title, for a chance to resign him in the offseason is nothing short of brilliant, one of the best moves of the general manager’s career. Imagine what more he could accomplish with less than a week remaining before the trade deadline?
At present, the Yankees, 8-2 in their last ten games, find themselves at 52-48, 6.5 games behind the AL East leading Baltimore Orioles, 4.5 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the second wild card spot. Of late, they fared best against first place teams like the San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles, and Texas Rangers. This season has further seen the likes of the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals and popular World Series pick Houston Astros play to middling results, with surprising campaigns managed by the Cleveland Indians, the Orioles, and the Texas Rangers, all of whom respectively lead their divisions.
That said, these turn of events is a mere mirage for the Yankees and their slim hopes of a playoff berth.
Despite October baseball being within striking distance for New York with less than a week away from the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline, the Yankees, who have already fathomed what Cashman was capable of with the Chapman deal, should be looking to part with more pieces with the organization’s sights set on grander aspirations not in 2017, but in 2018.
Presently, the Yanks are behind not only Toronto, but also Houston, who just welcomed, on Monday, top prospect Alex Bregman to its already high-octane, young core, and the Detroit Tigers, for that coveted second wild card spot.
According to Baseball Reference, New York ranks near the bottom of the American League in nearly every major offensive category. Their top two players in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) are not everyday players, but pitchers, one, a reliever, including ace Masahiro Tanaka (3.3) and newly reformed closer Andrew Miller (2.2), whom the Yankees should strongly consider trading, with the Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants, and Cleveland Indians looking to equal Theo Epstein’s decision to bolster Chicago’s bullpen with the addition of Chapman for a World Series run.
The Indians, playing in a city flying high over the Cavaliers’ most recent championship, could parlay these spirits into a deal for Andrew Miller that would galvanize their hold on the AL Central and potentially push them to their first World Series appearance since 1997. Cashman should very much hold out for the best possible deal for Miller, and Cleveland, with their share of profound prospects, especially in the outfield, could be the exact trading partner the Yankees are seeking.
To those crying “foul” over the Yankees already trading for positions (i.e. Gleyber Torres) for which they already have stud players seated before them (such as Didi and Jorge Mateo), having depth, even with what the Indians can provide in the outfield, and flexibility in the trade market provides the Yankees avenues they have not fathomed since Brian Cashman took over as general manager. A deep farm system, with options to trade prospects, including a diminishing payroll, with Teixeira, CC, and A-Rod coming off the books by the end of 2017, puts New York in an enviable position, one by which they can compete with youth and star power garnered in the free agent market.
Aside from Didi Gregorius and Carlos Beltran, another player who would fit seamlessly with a contender, the current Yankees’ offense is abysmal, boasting a collection of regular, everyday players hitting below the Mendoza line (Mark Teixeira, at .190, and fourth outfielder Aaron Hicks, at .192) or just barely above it (designated hitter Alex Rodriguez at .206, despite his trek toward 700 homers).
This season, only three players have managed an OPS+ over 100 (100 is considered the mark of an average player in MLB): Didi (110), catcher Brian McCann (104) and Beltran (139), the latter of whom leads New York in hits (104), doubles (21, tied with Didi), homers (21), RBI (62), batting average (.309), total bases (188), and OPS (.904), enticing numbers for a veteran player with a tremendous playoff pedigree who is still in search of his first World Series ring, one, it can be assured, he will not earn in pinstripes.
Aside from Tanaka’s continued brilliance as ace of an otherwise ho-hum Yankee rotation, the Yanks maintain no other starter worthy of sustaining a lengthy postseason run, even if the staff remains anchored by a tremendous relief corps in Miller and Dellin Betances, the former of whom could land a package of prospects even grander than what Chapman warranted, especially as teams draw closer to the deadline.
In that regard, desperation can work to Cashman and the Yankees’ advantage.
Clearly, Miller and Beltran will command the most attention as the trade deadline approaches, but the Yankees must not stop there: Cashman should look to entertain offers for starters Nathan Eovaldi and Ivan Nova, and pursue trades for Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, with the promise to pay the bulk of the latter’s salary.
Quite frankly, for as long as A-Rod and CC Sabathia, who has yielded promising results in 2016 after his rehabilitation from alcohol abuse, are on the payroll (through 2017), the Yankees cannot truly consider themselves contenders, especially since so many young players will finally get their chance in pinstripes in A-Rod and CC’s final contract year: Greg Bird, who will replace Teixeira at first base, although he will do so a year removed from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder, and Aaron Judge, who is set to replace Carlos Beltran upon his departure, either this season or the next, with the potential to groom catcher Gary Sanchez beneath Brian McCann.
Should the Yankees embrace patience and growing pains in 2017 and continue to bolster their farm system through trades in 2016 with their sights on what projects to be a bright future, they stand to return to the postseason landscape with a vengeance in 2018.
Already set with their infield up the middle—behind Starlin Castro and Didi, the Yankees have shortstop Jorge Mateo, who has been given some work at the single A level at second base, and the newly acquired Gleyber Torres, who replaced Mateo as the top prospect in the organization—the Yankees should have a strong outfield with the likes of Judge, the newly acquired Billy McKinney (now the Yankees’ fifth-best prospect in their system), and Dustin Fowler looking to stake their claim on the corner outfield positions, especially if Cashman aims to trade Gardner in the next two years. Never mind that Bird and Sanchez look to fortify their claim to first base and catcher respectively, more so if Cashman can find the right deal for Brian McCann to exit New York. There is also potential for Luis Severino to reclaim his 2015 form and battle Tanaka for the ace spot in the rotation.
None of this takes into account what more Cashman could bring aboard as he holds teams hostage prior to this year’s deadline, with Beltran and Miller as tremendous assets that provide Cashman better leverage pieces than most GMs can boast around Major League Baseball.
Now, having built the organization back to prominence through the farm system, the Yankees could continue to build the club via free agency in the 2017 offseason, with Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel (although currently in contract negotiations with Houston), Andrew McCutchen, Jose Fernandez, and even Andrew Miller, whom New York can reclaim, becoming free agents, just in time for what aims to be a stellar 2018 campaign built upon the promise of youth and star power.
Essentially, the Yankees are becoming a hybrid of what has worked for various franchises newly infused with a youth movement, witnessed through the likes of the Houston Astros, the Kansas City Royals, and even the rival Boston Red Sox, while still taking a page from their own textbook by being able to build a championship contender via free agency.
That said, the optimism remains tempered if Brian Cashman fails to resist the desires of president Randy Levine and the Steinbrenner family and hold on to Beltran and Miller with tenuous hopes for what would be, at best, a one-and-done appearance in the upcoming playoffs.
Here is hoping the Chapman deal is the impetus of better things yet to be realized in the Bronx.