It will happen this offseason: the Yankees will make a move that involves a player or players that do not seem very appealing at first. The first reaction of many fans will be to judge the deal as insignificant, with few taking the time to learn the details of those involved. Brian Cashman and the front office have pulled off these trades effectively over the last few season and provided the Yankees with tremendous production.
Justin Wilson was a key piece of the Yankees bullpen during their run to the 2015 Wild Card game. He looked like a find for Brian Cashman and highlighted his ability to build a strong bullpen year-in and year-put. When he was traded after the season, the two pieces that returned to the Yankees were described as rotation depth.
One of those pieces, Chad Green, has blossomed into one of the better relievers in baseball, producing three straight seasons from 2017-2019 better than Wilson’s best year of 1.5 WAR. Wilson has never duplicated his success from 2015, and the Yankees pulled off a strong under the radar move yielding a cornerstone of their bullpen.
Greg Bird emerged from the Yankees system with the plate discipline and swing built for Yankee Stadium. He arrived in 2015 and looked like a player who would lock down the corner of the Yankees’ infield for a decade to come. Constant injuries derailed Bird, but his presence and electric spring training performances kept the Yankees from seriously addressing the position.
Players like Chris Carter, Tyler Austin, Ji-Man Choi and Garrett Cooper all received looks at the position, but were unable to lock down the position. In the summer of 2018, however, the Yankees traded two relief pitchers to St. Louis for player unknown to all but the most die-hard baseball fans, Luke Voit.
The reactions from Yankee fans were mild but he has since proved to be one of the most prolific bats in the American League, providing the Yankees with 3.5 WAR in 174 games since coming to the Yankees. What looked like a stopgap measure to many Yankees fans proved to be a franchise-altering trade, as the Yankees no longer had to chase production from their first base position. It is also worth noting that players like Choi and Cooper have become solid major leaguers that the Yankees had identified, perhaps before they were ready to contribute regularly.
A former top prospect, Aaron Hicks struggled with injuries and underperformance during his time with the Twins. In what was a controversial trade to some at the time, the Yankees sent young backup catcher John Ryan Murphy to the Twins for Hicks. After a slow 2016 with the Yankees, Hicks has produced 10.6 WAR over the last four seasons. John Ryan Murphy played just 26 major league games for the Twins.
When the Yankees came back against a talented Cleveland team in the 2017 American League Division Series, Gio Urshela was on the other side of the field playing third base in several of the games. The next season he was gone from Cleveland, and available from the Toronto Blue Jays for just cash considerations.
Urshela began working on tweaking his swing when he arrived with the organization. Things really clicked as he arrived in spring training the next year. When injuries struck the Yankees in early 2019, Urshela hit the majors, giving the Yankees 4.7 WAR in 2019-2020.
Mike Tauchman came on board for the Yankees late in spring training 2019 as Aaron Hicks battled injuries that would affect him for a long stretch of the season. Acquired for Double-A relief pitcher Phillip Diehl, Tauchman became an essential component of the Yankees, helping them win the American League East in 2019. Bouncing between Triple-A and the majors during his last season with minor league options he provided them with 2.6 of WAR in just 87 games.
A quick look around the field on any given day will show a Yankee roster lined with reclamation projects and players who reached the majors with near zero fanfare. Brian Cashman and his staff have routinely identified under utilized players and acquired them at a net gain for the organization. While fans will always be looking for the Yankees to acquire familiar names during free agency and through trades, it is sometimes the under the radar trades that will have the biggest impacts. The Yankees front office has proven adept at these types of trades, and have likely already identified their next group of players they hope to bring in for next season.