The Yankees have never sold at the trade deadline in my lifetime, until now. I was born in 1994—I’m young, I know—so for nearly 20 years straight, a winning Yankees team was a given. I, including many other Yankees fans, have been so fortunate that we haven’t had this event until 2016; over two decades of rising revenues, a core four, and a litany of productive free agents have kept the Yankees afloat for so, so long, and the gravy train has finally run out.
This is also the first time, then, that we get to see how Brian Cashman and company deal with a bona fide sell-off, how they can leverage their assets to maximize a return. The results, in this deal in particular, are excellent.
It was obvious since the Aroldis Chapman trade that another team would have to up the ante, so there was no way the Yankees weren’t getting at least a top 25 prospect, and then some. They got that, a top 100 prospect, and a couple of nice toss-in’s, to boot. There are other deals to analyze, of course—the Yankees also traded Carlos Beltran and Ivan Nova at the deadline—but I want to do a deep dive into this Miller deal, because it might be the most important of the bunch.
Clint Frazier, the headliner for this deal, is one of the best outfield prospects in baseball. He is just 21-years-old, and he is already at Triple-A. He reportedly has “80-grade bat speed,” at least according to Eric Longenhagen, and he has average defensive abilities in center field. If things break right, he could be a 20-home run, 20-steals-type center fielder within a year.
Justus Sheffield, who sits at 69th on Baseball America’s rankings and 95th on MLB.com’s list, projects as a middle-of-the-rotation arm or high-leverage reliever, but there’s risk involved. His command is still a major issue, and he’s still sitting at High-A. While Frazier is a nearly finished product, Sheffield has a long way to go.
The two throw-ins of this deal—Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen—are likely future middle relievers, especially the former. Heller can supposedly touch triple-digits, or at least 98 mph by some reports, and Feyereisen has a decent fastball/curve combination that needs some refining.
No matter how you slice this, this is a great return. Miller was fantastic, and I loved him as a player and as a person, but he was just a reliever. If you can net a couple of top 100 prospects, then you do that. The argument against this is that he was under contract for another two seasons after this, so they are making the argument that even if they can contend that soon, they can always sign another reliever. Remember: Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon, and Kenley Jansen all become free agents after this season.
Not only is this just a great return on this deal alone, but it also signaled a complete pivot, that the Yankees were finally going to sell after waffling around .500 for nearly three full seasons. Let’s take stock of where we are.
The Yankees now, after this trade deadline, have about nine prospects you could consider in the top 100, depending on your scouting report: Gary Sanchez, Jorge Mateo, James Kaprielian, Blake Rutherford, Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge, Dillon Tate, Frazier, and Sheffield. This doesn’t even include Greg Bird, Luis Severino, Dellin Betances, and Didi Gregorius, all of whom are young and talented. Welcome to the future: the Yankees have a top-ten farm system in baseball.
Historically there is a weak correlation between top 100 ranking and expected WAR, but there is a correlation nonetheless. Consider this study from Claremont University, where projected rankings averaged the following:
There is a ton of variance here, and I put a million caveats, so just remember this is simply an average. There is a lot of value to be had from nearly eight top 100 prospects, not to mention the contracts of Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, and Carlos Beltran are all set to expire either this year or next. When the next big free agent class hits—and we’re all praying that it does—the Yankees will have youth and a ton of money to spend.
The major worry, of course, is that player development botches. We have seen our fair share of prospects before—Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Jesus Montero, and many, many more—that have imploded or have not lived up to expectations, and the only position players the Yankees have truly developed in recent years are Brett Garnder and Robinson Cano. For starting pitchers, there hasn’t been a truly great one since Andy Pettitte. You can’t escape the fact that the Yankees have a problem developing good players.
That puts fans in a quandary: while we want more prospects, the Yankees as an organization are built for professional, not amateur, player selection and development. We know they can find good major league players, but it’s unclear whether they can produce them internally.
This will be a real test, we know. The Yankees are in full sell-mode, so more prospects are likely on the way. The Yankees have a chance to create a new, youthful core that can jettison them from the malaise since 2013. We will now see the organization put through its first major test of this century, and many fans will wonder how it all turns out.
Can the Yankees truly turn things around in a flash, produce big league regulars from the farm, and spend like the Yankees again? Or are we set for failed prospects, promises, and underwhelming free agent classes for the foreseeable future? Some of that is out of the team’s control, but in time, we will see whether this organization is up to the challenge.