The Yankees’ farm system renaissance has been a resounding success. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino are each in their own franchise players. Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres were revealed last week to have finished second and third, respectively, in the AL Rookie of the Year vote. The rebuild of a tattered organization is almost complete.
Now comes the hard part for Brian Cashman. Some prospects will never pan out, and the toughest call to make overseeing a farm system is when to cash in your chips, giving up future possible wins for more-certain present wins. On Monday, Cashman made his first big bet, giving up top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield for Seattle Mariners ace James Paxton.
This is a difficult moment for a franchise. Sometimes dealing your best trade chip results in an overwhelming success. The Red Sox gave up the best prospect in all of baseball for Chris Sale two years ago. Now Sale is as dangerous as ever — if a little more fragile or worn down than we thought — and Yoan Moncada is struggling to get off the ground at all on Chicago’s South Side.
Across town, the Cubs dealt Torres and Eloy Jimenez for Aroldis Chapman and Jose Quintana in successive years. Chapman got them a ring, and that was probably worth it. In strict value terms, however, both deals probably haven’t worked out the way Theo Epstein was hoping.
Now, the same lens will be applied to James Paxton. Over the past two years, Paxton has struck out more batters than Jacob deGrom, Luis Severino and Justin Verlander. He’s walked fewer batters than Patrick Corbin, Aaron Nola and Geritt Cole. He has a no-hitter to his name, and comes with two more years of control.
The Yankees are speeding toward big free agency periods for Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius, and it won’t be long before the expensive arbitration periods for Severino, Judge and Sanchez. The team may never be better positioned with its mix of talent and economics than it will be in 2019, and Paxton is one more helpful piece.
The major blow with losing Sheffield is the opportunity cost. Trading your best pitching prospect to Seattle means you can’t trade him to Cleveland, or some other team looking to jettison a top-of-rotation arm. This, in turn, means Cashman probably doesn’t have the pieces for another major trade, and should probably turn to free agency to fill the one remaining hole in the Yankees’ rotation.
Meanwhile, best of luck to Justus Sheffield in Seattle, and welcome to the Bronx, James Paxton. Only time will tell if Cashman made a bet more akin to Dave Dombrowski or Theo Epstein.