It’s hot stove season, and the Yankees have subsequently been mentioned in countless rumors. Outside of their dance with Patrick Corbin, though, most Yankees rumors have pertained to possible trades. They’ve already consummated one major deal, for James Paxton. Rumors regarding trades for Noah Syndergaard, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Paul Goldschmidt, Madison Bumgarner, and more have flown as well.
The Yankees might not cinch another deal as prominent as the one for Paxton, but it’s clear that more big swings are at least being considered. It makes one wonder whether this offseason strategy is the Yankees’ best. Should the Yankees really consider dealing even more from their farm system when the free agent market is still ripe for the picking?
With plenty of big name players still angling for contracts, and with a prospect cache that has thinned a bit over the past year, the Yankees are in position to simply bring in talent using money, not prospects. They would be better off signing impact players on the open market and saving their prospect bullets for in-season trades, rather than deplete their farm now when there are players available for nothing more than dollars.
First, there is the matter of the Yankees’ farm. Consistently considered among the game’s best, New York’s system has sustained losses over the past couple seasons, whether by trades or by promotions. Whereas the Yankees of two years ago could view their system as capable of procuring a superstar in a trade or producing one outright, that potential has diminished. FanGraphs’ updated farm rankings listed New York’s system as middling at best, and that was before Justus Sheffield was shipped to the Mariners.
This is by no means a worrying sign. The Yankees’ farm is thinner because it’s been used to acquire midseason upgrades, like David Robertson, Zach Britton, and J.A. Happ, and because it has produced stars, like Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Gary Sanchez.
Yet it is unquestionably weaker, and that means the Yankees have much less capital to bring in talent via trade. They might still have just enough to acquire a big name like Kluber or Trevor Bauer, but such a deal could leave the system in a nearly dilapidated state.
Admittedly, if the Yankees could somehow pry Kluber loose from Cleveland, he stands out as an exception as the kind of ace they should sell the mortgage for. It would probably require someone like Estevan Florial, plus more prospects, and the acquisition of a big salary like that of Jason Kipnis, but Kluber’s track record probably makes it all worth it.
Failing that, rather than trading for a Bauer or a Madison Bumgarner, they could just re-sign Happ, or sign Dallas Keuchel or Charlie Morton (or they could have grabbed Corbin, but I digress). They could try to tap the trade market for a late-inning reliever, or they could just re-sign David Robertson and sign Adam Ottavino. And while they could have done more to try to get a star hitter like Paul Goldschmidt, they wouldn’t have to sacrifice a single prospect to sign Manny Machado.
This isn’t meant to sound prospect-huggy; the Yankees absolutely should use their farm system to bring in veteran talent. Now just doesn’t seem like the best time to do so. We’ve seen Brian Cashman use the in-season trade market with aplomb the past two years, flipping buckets full of decent but not great prospects for legitimate contributors. The Yankees should enable Cashman to do the same going forward by keeping their powder dry for now.
That means spending money in the interim. The Yankees could put themselves in pole position for the 2019 season by spending some of the oodles of money they have at their disposal to finish filling out the roster. That would leave them with prospect talent still on hand to fill holes that will inevitably spring up as the season progresses. Players will get hurt and needs will emerge, and when they do, it will be useful (if not vital) to have prospects available. If the Yankees just spend right now, their farm will still be able to produce reinforcements in the future. By continuing to trade in the winter, the Yankees could jeopardize their own flexibility during the season.