For the first time in a generation, the Yankees are primed to be sellers at the trade deadline. Barring some miracle in the next week or so, Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman, and possibly others could be on the move. There have also been some, like August Fagerstrom at FanGraphs, who have wondered what a complete teardown might look like.
This might sound shocking to some Yankees fans, but to others, it’s a welcome change instead of pretending to contend with a less-than-stellar club. Even though they won’t be competing, at least there’s a good possibility they’ll get some prospects fans can get excited about. If you think about how quickly this roster can turn over, look at Cot’s breakdown of future salary commitments:
If we consider Masahiro Tanaka’s opt-out as a likely scenario, there is a good chance that only Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Andrew Miller, and Starlin Castro would be under large contracts going into 2018, for a total of just $82.5 million. That is criminally low, meaning that they can both sell this trade deadline and still prime themselves for a contention with an almost entirely new ball club two years from now.
If this team could look quite different in just a year or two, it’s worthy to ask: who deserves to stay? Who should be considered untouchable at this year’s trade deadline because they have a legitimate place on the team going forward, either by youth or by contract? After considering all the players that could go, here are the established players who are left:
If you’re still ambivalent to admit that Tanaka is this team’s ace, consider the following facts. From 2000 to the present among Yankees starters, Tanaka has the lowest ERA-, fifth-lowest FIP-, and seventh-highest RA9-WAR, and he’s already even with Orlando Hernandez. That’s right. Even over that span of time, Tanaka has been the best starter on a per-inning basis, better than Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, CC Sabathia, and Andy Pettitte. There are obvious concerns about his long-term health, and there’s always that scenario where he opts out of his contract, but the Yankees can’t part with their ace if they want to compete any time soon.
According to updated full-season ZiPS projections, Didi Gregorius is on pace to be the best position player on the Yankees. He is projected to finish with a .286/.326/.444 triple slash and 2.9 WAR, and in that case will have amassed nearly six wins since coming to the Yankees. The last time the Yankees saw that type of production from their shortstop over a two-year stretch was 2009-2010, when Derek Jeter hit a collective .301/.372/.416. If you combine the fact that he is still under arbitration, the aforementioned numbers, and the type of talent scarcity at shortstop in general, it’d be foolish to trade such a long-term and valuable piece.
Since his debut, Betances has a 48 ERA- and 48 FIP- over 226.2 innings, which is like the cumulative value of one season of a top-tier, elite starting pitcher. This pick is a bit controversial because a lot of fans do think Betances should go in the right package, but he has enough value and team control to be worth it in the long run. He’s still a reliever, so that always comes with concern, but even if he begins to slow down, Girardi can still use him for multiple-inning outings, and you can keep him out of the closer role to minimize arbitration costs (barring changes to the CBA). Relievers can be a diminishing asset, but so are all pitchers, and Betances can always be traded down the roa, when a more imminent free agency could cause teams to bite. For now, I’ll cling tight.
Whether we like it or not, Ellsbury is not going anywhere. Unless a team is willing to pull a 2012 Dodgers and take on massive salaries for marginal upgrades, few teams would be likely to spring for a center fielder who seems like he’s settling around league average in the later stage of his career. He’s under contract until 2020, or possibly 2021, so we might as well get used to the fact that if this team is successful down the road, they will need to get reasonable production out of Ellsbury to finish off the deal.
It’s too early to tell how many Yankees will be on the move this month. My money is on at least two, but if the market really develops into a seller’s market like many think it will be, the Yankees may have a chance to receive maximum returns for players who won’t command similar returns six months or a year from now.
Considering many of them will be gone anyway after 2017, this could be an intriguing chance to rebuild the club. But no matter what they do, Tanaka, Gregorius, Betances, and Ellsbury will likely be part of the long-term picture whether we like it or not. Turnover could be a feature of this team in the short-term, but at least fans will have a few stalwarts to admire.