Most of us are familiar with the saying, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes,” a phrase attributed to Benjamin Franklin.
Everything about that, however, is wrong. For starters, while Franklin famously used this phrase in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789, the line has its origins — at least, as far as we can tell — in Christopher Bullock’s 1716 play The Cobbler of Preston. More importantly — and more relevantly, I might add — the quote leaves out of one modern life’s other certainties: Clint Frazier trade rumors.
It has seemed that, ever since Clint Frazier donned the Yankees uniform for the first time, he has been involved in trade rumors, and 2019 is no exception. Reporters have noted that teams have had scouts in attendance to watch Clint Frazier in the hopes that the Yankees use him as a trade chip to acquire a front-end starting pitcher.
It’s easy to understand why teams might be looking to receive a trade package centered around the 24-year-old. He’s a young corner outfielder who won’t hit arbitration until 2021, and is under team control until 2024. Frazier has shown flashes of elite potential with the bat that made him the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft. Additionally, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge are locked up long-term, and top prospect Estevan Florial is waiting in the wings. It would seem that the path to regular playing time for the Hawkeye of the Yankees outfield would be elsewhere.
While I cannot speak for the future, making Frazier available this summer would be a mistake.
If Frazier is considered redundant long-term due to the presence of Stanton and Judge, then their lack of presence in the lineup this season makes him equally as vital. In fact, although Baseball-Reference does not list Frazier as a “starter,” this is entirely due to the fact that he has split time between left field, right field, and the DH spot, as he has more total at-bats than the listed “starter” at each position. He has hit everywhere in the lineup from third to ninth, spending most of that time in the middle of the order. And most importantly, he has produced — while a post-injury slump has taken the shine off his stats somewhat, he boasts a .258/.289/.517 season line, good for a 108 OPS+. While his OBP is on the low side, driven mostly by a measly 4.7 BB%, he makes elite contact (at 12.5%, his barrel % is more than twice the league average of 6.2%), and his Statcast numbers praise everything except his walk rate.
That said, the Yankees have floated Frazier in trade talks for top starters before, and could still do so again. Contending teams, however, do not generally trade from within their starting lineup mid-season, even to fill an important hole. That only tends to happen when just the right combination of circumstances occur. For example, the Red Sox traded Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 because an Achilles injury prevented him from playing every day, an abysmally atrocious defense, his impending free agency, and an ability to simultaneously acquire Orlando Cabrera — a Gold Glover — from the Montreal Expos. Given Frazier’s role on the team, a blockbuster of similar grandeur would need to occur, albeit likely a less complicated one.
We know that Brian Cashman will almost certainly start looking at the trade market to bolster the injury-depleted rotation as the summer starts to kick in. The question becomes, then, whether a trade centered around Frazier would bring more value to the 2019 Yankees than keeping the popular young outfielder.
Ultimately, depriving the Yankees of a core component of the starting lineup would be a major risk, particularly given the numerous injuries the team has undergone. For the summer at least, keeping Clint in pinstripes will likely do far more good to the team than trading him would.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the Indians drafted Clint Frazier in 2015. Frazier was selected in 2013.