Back in the final moments of the 2014 trade deadline, Brian Cashman swung a deal to acquire Martin Prado from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Peter O’Brien and a player to be named later. At the time the trade made sense because the Yankees were still in the playoff hunt and Prado provided an immediate and significant upgrade to the team’s offense.
At the time the deal made sense for the Yankees because while O’Brien had power, he never walked and had no position to play. So Cashman took a flawed player and got good value for him, and eventually was able to flip Prado for Nathan Eovaldi. After failing to find a position for O’Brien, last week the Diamondbacks designated him for assignment in order to make room for Juan Graterol, who they claimed from the Reds. Now that he’s available though, it makes sense for the Yankees to bring O’Brien back on a minor league deal.
Since 2014, the Yankees have gone through a complete organizational turnaround. No longer are they the impatient, “win now” Yankees of the past. This is now a team that sold off major league assets at the trade deadline to acquire prospects and develop them. They have a plan in place to compete in a few years while their prospect horde develops. The youth movement has begun in the Bronx but is far from over. So why not bring back O’Brien and give him time and see if he can work on his plate discipline?
Right now the Yankees have 37-year-old Matt Holliday on a one-year deal penciled in as their 2017 designated hitter. Even if he has a monster comeback year, because of his age, he’s far from a long-term solution at the position. If the Yankees can bring back O’Brien and let him learn to start walking more at Triple-A, they’d have a cheap and young designated hitter for the foreseeable future. The Holliday signing buys the Yankees at least a year to work with O’Brien and then they’d be able to re-evaluate the situation next year.
In a perfect world, O’Brien could take over as the team’s designated hitter in 2018. But even if needs more time to work on some stuff, the Yankees can find another one-year stopgap at DH for 2018 and then try again. If in a year, they see that O’Brien won’t work for them they can just cut him loose with no risk. It’s not like they have some hot DH prospect in the minors he’d be blocking, if anything, he’d become that hot commodity. Between the majors and Triple-A, O’Brien has hit 56 home runs over the last two years.
In July when the Yankees were debating buying and selling, one of the most obvious fits as trade partners were the Cubs. There were numerous articles and rumors suggesting a Andrew Miller-for-Kyle Schwarber swap. If that ended up happening, the Yankees would have a low-cost power hitting DH in their everyday lineup for a long time. It didn’t happen, but a similar alternative presents itself. Obviously I’m not here saying that O’Brien is going to be Schwarber or even compares, but what I will say is that O’Brien could become the Yankees’ version of Schwarber. A young position-less player with extreme power potential.
As Jeff Sullivan notes, one of the biggest obstacles would be the consistency with which he taps into his power potential. If he can master his craft he can be as dangerous as anyone out there.
If O’Brien can achieve a similar level of consistency, he can be as dangerous a power hitter as anyone. [Giancarlo] Stanton, Bryce Harper, Miguel Sano, Joey Gallo — anyone.
The Yankees would be wise to see if they can get him there. And if it doesn’t work out? That’s okay too, because all it costs is a minor league deal. Minor league deals make sense for pretty much anyone. It doesn’t hurt anyone or anything. O’Brien just makes too much sense for the Yankees to not pursue. In fact, he makes sense for almost any American League team, and it would be a shame if the Yankees balked at the opportunity.