The Yankees are coming off a huge trade season. The acquisitions of J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn have already paid dividends, helping stabilize a battered rotation. Zach Britton has been uneven in New York, but his addition was certainly made with an eye towards a super bullpen in October, so he has time to make his mark.
The big additions from last year’s trade deadline, though, are almost nowhere to be found. The Yankees brought in David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Sonny Gray last July, and at the moment, Robertson is the only one remaining at his primary position. Kahnle is wallowing in Triple-A, while Gray has been banished to long relief (where he at least impressed in his first outing).
That might lead you to believe that the Yankees are on track to lose last year’s trades in a landslide, but are they? Let’s take a look at the erstwhile Yankee farmhands, and see how the prospects Brian Cashman deemed expendable have done with their new organizations.
Blake Rutherford profiled as the headliner sent back to the White Sox in exchange for Robertson and Kahnle. Rutherford was the Yankees’ first round pick in 2016, and he rated as a consensus top-50 prospect globally after raking in his first brief taste of professional ball.
He slowed down to start 2017, however, and hit just .215 with no home runs after being traded to the White Sox. He fell off Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list prior to 2018, and fell to number 99 on MLB Pipeline’s. Rutherford has at least held it together this year, posting a .305/.353/.449 line as a 21-year-old in High-A.
Rutherford looks more like a good, but not great, prospect after a year in Chicago. He was also sent along with a couple of minor prospects, outfielder Tito Polo and pitcher Ian Clarkin. Both are 23 years old and struggling at Double-A. Polo owns a .650 OPS, and Clarkin has posted a 6.20 ERA. Rutherford is a nice player, but he appears to be the only prospect of note to have exchanged hands in the New York-Chicago deal.
The biggest blockbuster the Yankees made at last year’s deadline was, of course, the trade for Gray. Because of his solid combination of quality performance and team control at the time, he cost the Yankees three prospects in their top ten: infielder Jorge Mateo, outfielder Dustin Fowler, and pitcher James Kaprelian.
The catch was that none of those players really seemed to have a clear place in the Yankees’ plans. Mateo was a middle infielder with a team that already had Didi Gregorius and Gleyber Torres, while Fowler and Kaprelian were both injured at the time of the trade. None of them seemed able to help the Yankees for perhaps a couple years, while Gray looked like an immediate, crucial upgrade.
The same could be said a year later. Mateo ranked in the top 50 of Baseball Prospectus’ and MLB Pipeline’s top 100 lists prior to 2017, but fell into the 70’s on both prior to 2018. The Athletics bumped him up to Triple-A despite struggling after the trade last year, but Mateo has yet to adjust, posting a .233/.282/.359 line. Fowler, who suffered a devastating knee injury in his only big-league appearance with the Yankees, has also had a tough year. He did work his way back to the majors, a legitimate accomplishment, but has a .231/.260/.368 line on the year.
Kaprelian is a bit of a different story. He had just undergone Tommy John surgery when the Yankees traded him, and he has yet to pitch this year, last appearing in a game in 2016. Kaprelian flashed an upper 90’s heater with a wipeout slider with the Yankees, but at this point it’s anyone’s guess when (if?) Kaprelian will ever make the majors. He has elite talent, but has hardly had a chance to use it.
On the whole, the cadre of prospects the Yankees shipped out last year looks worse than it did at the time. Mateo and Fowler’s value has probably dropped due to shaky performance, while Kaprelian’s stock has either held steady or fallen as he’s recovered from surgery. Rutherford may be the one prospect who’s stock has probably leveled off since being shipped out.
So while the fact that Kahnle and Gray have received demotions this year may look ugly, the Yankees’ trade partners in those deals haven’t exactly made out like bandits either. If anything, the Yankees’ trades from last year go to show that for all the analysis and “Winner and Losers” breakdowns we go through each trade season, there are simply tons of different directions a trade can take, especially when dealing with high variance prospects. Cashman and Co. are sharp, but to some extent, every transaction they make is a bit of a roll of the dice.