The Yankees have completed the second year of their post-“rebuild” phase. I use the word “rebuild” very lightly here, as all the Yankees actually did in 2016 transaction-wise was trade top-end relievers for blue-chip prospects and let Gary Sanchez play for two months. Then again, it’s unmistakably true that the Yankees have undergone a shift in organizational direction since 2016, electing to strengthen their major league roster by focusing on player development and loading up on prospects rather than simply outspending the competition in free agency.
It’s safe to say that the early returns of the Yankees’ rebuild phase have been nothing short of outstanding. The team that was once desperate for young talent is now swimming in it. Since 2016, the Yankees have produced legitimate ROY candidates every year, with Gary Sanchez missing out in a controversial decision in 2016, Aaron Judge running away with the award in 2017, and Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres earning respectable second and third-place finishes in 2018. I haven’t even mentioned the Yankees’ young arms, but you get the idea. The recent influx of young talent on this Yankees team is truly a marvel.
Of course, the flip side of this influx is that the Yankees’ once-heralded farm system is no longer as deep or impressive as before. No farm system in baseball is good enough to graduate the likes of Torres and Andujar in a single season and remain among the top tier.
Yet the Yankees’ farm system is also far from barren, at least in a comparative sense. According to FanGraphs’ recent post-2018 farm system rankings, the Yankees’ pipeline features 31 prospects with a Future Value (FV) grade of 40 or higher, which is tied with Baltimore and Detroit for sixth-most in the majors. Granted, 22 of those 31 prospects are 40 FV players, defined as likely bench players. Still, the Yankees’ system features three top-100 prospects at the top in Justus Sheffield, Albert Abreu and Estevan Florial - not bad at all for a farm that just graduated the bulk of its touted products.
The Yankees’ prospect situation looks even better when compared to their eternal foes, the Boston Red Sox. The defending World Champions (excuse me while I go rinse my mouth after saying that) have a grand total of just 20 prospects with a FV mark over 40 (3rd fewest in the majors), with no prospects graded as a 45 FV or higher. Barring unforeseen breakouts - which admittedly do happen - it seems like Boston’s farm is set to produce nothing but role players and bench dudes for the immediate future.
Granted, that doesn’t mean that the Red Sox are being poorly run. I mean, we are talking about a team that just won the World Series (blech) after winning the AL East three years in a row in the regular season (barf). Their farm is barren because they’ve graduated their top prospects to the majors, much like the Yankees have. With a young core of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Rodriguez and more, the Red Sox don’t need continuous reinforcements from the farm to sustain their success.
However, there’s another reason for the tumbleweeds blowing through the Boston’s system. The Red Sox, particularly under Dave Dombrowski’s direction, have been more willing than the Yankees to exchange their prospects for immediate major league value. The Chris Sale trade was the paramount example of such bold decision-making. Boston acquired their current uber-ace by sending over a four-prospect package headlined by then-consensus number one overall prospect Yoan Moncada and flame-throwing RHP Michael Kopech. It was a hefty price to pay, but the returns have been fantastic too. Boston’s system is as close as it gets to empty now, but it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t put to good use.
So, the Yankees have a much better farm system than the Red Sox at the moment. That’s great, and it bodes well for the Yankees’ mid-term outlook. However, the point isn’t to maintain a steady flow of prospects. The point is to maximize the team’s chances of winning a World Series, which the Red Sox did by developing homegrown talent but also by leveraging their prospect depth to acquire major league talent. The Yankees have matched the Red Sox in terms of development, but their transactions have been fewer in number and smaller in scope. It might be time for the Yankees to be a bit bolder in dealing their prospects. Having a better farm system is a good thing only if you plan to utilize it at the right time.