The Yankees have fully committed to going for it in 2017. Several days after bringing in reinforcements via a trade with the White Sox, New York has patched a hole in the back of their rotation by acquiring Jaime Garcia from the Twins.
The upshot is simple: Garcia will take Caleb Smith’s spot on the starting staff, shoring up the biggest weakness on the Yankees’ roster. Smith had surrendered six runs in 6.2 innings in a pair of starts. He has flashed the ability to induce whiffs, as he’s struck out 98 batters across 96 innings at Triple-A and the majors, so perhaps he’ll make an interesting bullpen arm at some point.
Garcia’s acquisition would also seem to impact the standing of Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell. Both Cessa and Mitchell represented serviceable rotation depth if needed, but neither has impressed as a starter this year. Neither appears likely to get much of an opportunity in the rotation again this season.
In Garcia, the Yankees are getting an upgrade, albeit a fairly small one. He has maintained a 4.29 ERA and 4.04 FIP, both figures just a bit better than league average. ZiPS projections peg him for a 4.42 ERA and 4.19 FIP the rest of the way. That’s better than the forecast for the likes of Smith and Cessa, and could make the Yankees about a win better the rest of the way.
In that way, this move is logical. The Yankees are a better team with Garcia. They filled their most glaring need, while still remaining in the mix for Sonny Gray as a major splash. Rumor has it rookie Jordan Montgomery could be on an innings limit, so bringing in Garcia improves the Yankees right away while leaving them flexible to do more.
What did it cost to make this improvement? A pair of minor league arms in the form of 21-year-old right-hander Zack Littell and 26-year-old lefty Dietrich Enns. Littell is the bigger name here. He came over last season in a quiet trade with the Mariners that sent out left-hander James Pazos.
Littell was recently ranked as the #22 prospect in the deep Yankees’ system by MLB Pipeline. He dominated in High-A earlier this year, and currently owns a 2.05 ERA and 10.64 K/9 rate at Double-A. Reports have Littell sitting in the 92 mph range on his fastball, with three usable secondary offerings. That’s the sort of solid pitchability that often speaks to a back-end starter, though Littell’s stat-line does seemingly augur more promise than that.
At 26 years old, Enns is the less interesting prospect, though he too has produced shiny results. He’s the owner of a 1.87 ERA in 104.1 career innings at Triple-A, albeit with a lackluster 7.5 K/9 rate. He should serve as fine pitching depth for the Twins, even if his advanced (for a prospect) age limits his upside.
The price of Littell and Enns isn’t overwhelming, but for a rental like Garcia, it should be. In fact, this is where things get a little confusing. The Twins just traded for Garcia six days ago. After a poor showing this week, the Twins quickly pivoted and dealt their newly-acquired veteran for prospects. It’s completely irregular to see a team shift so quickly from buying to selling in the same week, though it does demonstrate some foresight on Minnesota’s part to recognize that they’re probably better off selling this season.
Not only is it extremely strange to see a team buy a veteran rental and then move him a week later, it seems that the Yankees paid a higher price than the Twins did, even though they are technically acquiring Garcia for a shorter time period. The Twins surrendered a lone prospect to the Braves for Garcia, the 19-year-old Huascar Ynoa.
Ynoa is currently in rookie ball, far away from the majors. He has a 5.26 ERA in 25 innings this season. Likewise, he was ranked the #22 prospect in a middling Twins’ system by MLB Pipeline. Ynoa profiles as a worse, farther away prospect than Littell, and the Yankees had to throw in Enns as well to cement the deal. It appears clear that they paid more than the Twins did mere days ago.
Part of this may be due to 40-man roster concerns, as Enns was on the 40-man and Garcia needs a spot, and Littell may have soon required a spot to protect him in the Rule 5 draft. Perhaps the Yankees’ hand was forced due to an incoming roster crunch.
Even so, this trade is more than a little befuddling. After appearing to be on the verge of adding Gray from the Athletics last night, the Yankees have traded for a rental that was only just acquired by his current team, and they did so at a steeper price. This doesn’t preclude them from bringing in Gray too, but it does signal that there is at least some doubt on that front.
At the end of the day, the Yankees got better. Garcia profiles as average, and that’s a real upgrade on what they were trotting out every fifth day. In those terms, this deal fits perfectly with the Yankees’ plans. Everything else about it, though, is just plain weird.