The Gerrit Cole sweepstakes are indeed over. Despite the fact that the Yankees finished a close second, the Bombers are without a great (depending on your perspective) starter. This may upset a few fans, and may delight some (also depending on your prospect-hugging perspective), but it is now the new reality.
The most interesting nugget to come from the fallout of this trade was reported on yesterday by our own Caitlin Rogers, via ESPN:
“..sources familiar with the discussions told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick that New York held the line on including prospects Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, Estevan Florial or Miguel Andujar in any trade, so the Pirates had to shift their attention to other potential targets.”
It was reported that the Yankees were willing to cough up Clint Frazier or Chance Adams, but not both, and it was Andujar, not Frazier, that held up the deal.
I wrote about Frazier’s standing in the organization, which came down to the fact that—and this trade solidifies this—the Yankees see Frazier as a high-risk, high-reward prospect in an outfield already crowded with studs. The Pirates thought similarly:
The #Pirates front office valued Clint Frazier of the #Yankees over any of the players they received from the #Astros but they liked the overall package they got from Houston better. Also, Yanks last offer was 3 prospects. #QuantityoverQuality a factor #Astros— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) January 14, 2018
In the end, the Yankees saw a high-profile prospect that was absolutely expendable, and the Pirates saw a package that had a seemingly higher floor.
The more interesting implication, though, comes down to Miguel Andujar. Andujar was always kind of the black sheep of the Yankees’ great farm system, never truly fitting into the upper crust as far as trade negotiations went. But with Chase Headley and Starlin Castro home in different organizations, and a third base position open with Gleyber Torres eyeing second, the calculus has changed.
This could mean that Andujar has a higher floor than Frazier, or is a better overall prospect, or it could have to do with the aforementioned positional need. Regardless, the fact is that the Yankees see Andujar as the player they are willing to bet on come Opening Day, barring some unexpected trade with sizable monetary manipulation.
The primary effect of that is clear, which is that the Yankees see Andujar as the starting third baseman out of camp, and that it is his job to win. While he was never as flashy as the top prospects, there are scouts that see the ability:
Opp team scout said he felt Andujar's promotion to Triple-A was "too fast," but ultimately "he's got the tools to be a major league regular"— Erik Boland (@eboland11) June 28, 2017
Wilson Karaman of Baseball Prospectus similarly praised him back in September:
“Honestly, he’s a guy where I still feel pretty good about my eval from a couple years ago, at least on the offensive side. He went through some growing pains in his first go at AA, where he got out of his natural swing and got into his head as the season wore on. But I feel like this season was a good one for him, because it (hopefully) taught him that he doesn’t need to sell out for power to get to a decent amount of it. The swing’s pretty when he stays within his mechanics, and I expect a solid hitter with solid power (along with the newfound defensive versatility).”
Now, on to the secondary effect, and the reason for this piece. Andujar will absolutely get his shot, but right down the road is the prospect of Manny Machado as well. Machado will be one of the crown jewels of the 2019 free agent class, and the prospect of a union has checked off a variety of boxes: positional need, Machado’s reported interest in New York, and the Yankees’ ability to stay under the luxury tax this year.
The organization will have a decision to make, and I suppose it only becomes difficult if Andujar storms out of the gate. If he is serviceable, essentially a similar value to what Headley would have been, then you could look at something like six-to-ten wins of value over the course of his contract. Well, if he rakes, maybe that needle moves so the valuation is double that. If the latter is the case, and with Torres on board, does that change things? Does that make the Yankees look to Bryce Harper or others with their newfound dollars?
It’s an interesting question, and given Brian Cashman’s clear signaling with this trade, it could very well be one of the more interesting arcs of the 2018 season. Does Andujar stick, and if so, enough to block a potential Machado? If I were to guess, his median projection even by scouts’ standards would make him good enough for 2018, but not good enough to block a potential star. However, if the Baby Bombers have taught us anything over the past two years, it’s that they can prove us wrong in a matter of months.