As the Yankees' clear-cut top prospect, Gary Sanchez's name was at the top of virtually every organizational prospect list out there last winter, and assuming nothing goes awry, Sanchez should be ready to take on big league catching duties within the next year or two. The obvious issue is that the Yankees already have their catcher of the present and future on their roster in Brian McCann, who's under contract through 2018. McCann may not be the Yankees' catcher for all five of those years, but he almost certainly will be for at least the next three -- well past Sanchez's 2015 ETA. Throw in fellow catching prospect John Ryan Murphy, who is all but ready for the show, and Sanchez's future with the Bombers is hazy at best. Sooner or later, the Yankees will dangle Sanchez. It may not happen this season, or even this winter, but it's only a matter of time.
So what kind of return could the Yankees expect? Probably a pretty solid one. Sanchez is a unanimous top-100 prospect who still has all 6+ years of big league service time remaining. Baseball America was particularly high on the 20-year-old, pegging him as the #35 prospect in the game.
To get some idea of what he might bring back, I compiled a list of prospects who were traded within the last five years while ranking between 20th-50th in Baseball America's annual list and tried to imagine what a similar deal might look like in 2014. I left out prospects who were dealt with other big-name players in blockbuster trades -- like when Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, and Reymond Fuentes were packaged for Adrian Gonzalez a couple years back. There are just too many moving parts to analyze in those types of deals, and frankly, I'm not sure the Yankees have the prospects to complement Sanchez in a major package deal anyway.
July 23, 2012: Jacob Turner (#22 prospect) for Anibal Sanchez
This deal wasn't exactly a one-for-one. Technically, Turner was packaged with catcher Rob Brantly and pitcher Brian Flynn in exchange for Sanchez and Omar Infante, but Turner and Sanchez were definitely the headliners of the deal, and the other pieces more or less cancel each other out. Although the Tigers ultimately ended up re-signing Sanchez, he did test the open market the following off-season, making this a straight-up three month rental.
At this point, the Yankees look to be in good shape in terms of rotation depth. David Phelps would be a starter on most teams and Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno could also pass as back-end starters. Still, pitching depth has a habit of disappearing in a hurry, and if two or three of the Yankees' starters were to go down this year, they'd almost certainly try to add an arm for the stretch run.
In 2011, the year before the trade, Anibal Sanchez was worth 3.6 fWAR. Some similar pitchers who are slated to hit free agency next winter include Justin Masterson (3.4 fWAR), and James Shields (4.5 fWAR) -- both arms could become available if their respective teams fall out of the playoff hunt.
January 6, 2012: Anthony Rizzo (#47 prospect) for Andrew Cashner
After a disappointing cup of coffee with San Diego, the Padres dealt first base prospect Anthony Rizzo for the hard-throwing Andrew Cashner, who was on his way back from rotator cuff surgery.
For obvious reasons, a trade like this would be super risky, but if they were to go this route, Patrick Corbin and Jarrod Parker might fit the mold. Both are recovering from Tommy John surgery and are expected to return to the field in the spring of 2015.
December 6, 2010: Brett Lawrie (#40 prospect) for Shaun Marcum
Shaun Marcum's career has been derailed by injuries the last couple of seasons, but three years ago, he was one of the better pitchers in the game. After pitching to a 3.64 ERA over 31 starts in 2010, the 29-year-old was dealt for infield prospect Brett Lawrie. Marcum was in the midst of his arbitration years at the time and still had two years of team control remaining.
The Yankees aren't necessarily in the market for a pitcher, but they also don't have much in terms of starting pitching prospects on the immediate horizon. They might look for another arm to fill out their rotation once Hiroki Kuroda calls it quits -- especially if Michael Pineda winds up flopping this year.
Marcum posted 3.5 fWAR in 2010. Some comparable pitchers with similar contract situations include: Rick Porcello (3.2 fWAR, two years of team control), Jeff Samardzija (2.8 fWAR, two years of control), Travis Wood (2.8 fWAR, three years of control), and Jordan Zimmermann (3.6 fWAR, two years of control). All of these guys are starting to get expensive as they enter into their final arbitration years, so they could find themselves on the block at some point this year.
July 24, 2009: Brett Wallace (#40 prospect) for Matt Holliday
After selecting Wallace in the first round just one year earlier, the Cardinals flipped him for star outfielder Matt Holliday at the 2009 deadline. Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson were also part of the package for Holliday, but Wallace was far and away the best prospect of the trio. Holliday ended up signing with St. Louis long-term, but not before testing the free agent waters the following winter.
There may not be a three or four month rental like Holliday to be had this year. Hanley Ramirez and Max Scherzer are this year's big ticket free agents-to-be, but they play for very good teams, meaning they probably won't be made available this summer.
July 29, 2009: Tim Alderson (Prospect #45) for Freddy Sanchez
Its crazy to think two prospects ranked so closely together and traded at the same time could net such disparate returns. Just four days after the Cardinals turned Wallace into Holliday, the Giants flipped Alderson for blasé second baseman Freddy Sanchez. Although he was in the midst of a decent 2009 season, Sanchez was pretty poor in 2008, hitting just .271/.298/.371. Alderson never amounted to much -- he's still toiling away in the minors at age 25 -- so maybe teams knew something that outside evaluators didn't. Still, a half season of Freddy Sanchez seems like an awfully light return for a top 100 prospect.
At the time of the trade, Freddy Sanchez was a decent player who was coming off of a down year in 2008. Asdrubal Cabrera and Rickie Weeks fit that mold this year. Cabrera's bat took a step back last season, hitting only a meager .242/.299/.402 after very strong 2011 and 2012 campaigns. Similarly, Weeks was was one of the best second basemen in baseball in 2010 and 2011, but tailed off in 2012 and was roughly replacement level last season before tearing his hamstring in August. Neither the Indians nor the Brewers figure to be all that competitive this year, and both have viable in-house replacements in Francisco Lindor and Scooter Gennett respectively, so Cabrera and Weeks are likely to be on the block this summer. But again, I'd hope for a little more in exchange for a blue chip prospect like Sanchez.
Given the lack of talent and durability around the Yankees' infield, there's a good chance they'll be in the market for some infield help this summer. Hopefully they won't need to give up someone of Gary Sanchez's caliber if such a trade did come to pass.