The Yankees, fresh off an underwhelming 2021 season, have made no secret that they are looking to improve prior to the 2022 campaign. That pursuit of talent includes, obviously, free agency, wherein New York is expected to be a major player for a top-of-the-market shortstop. Corey Seager and Carlos Correa seem to be the two names with the most traction at this point.
The trade market is another avenue Brian Cashman can (and probably will, in one form or another) explore to upgrade the Yankees roster. Shortstop is not the only position where the Yankees could use reinforcements. Center field, first base, and starting pitcher are all positions that have been brought up in recent days and weeks.
On Thursday, various baseball writers tweeted that Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds’ name has emerged as a trade target, with the Yankees as a possible suitor. According to Jon Heyman, Pittsburgh’s asking price for Reynolds is “astronomical.”
It should be. He’s a 26-year old switch-hitter coming off a season where he posted a .912 OPS. He put up a .911 OPS against righties and a .915 OPS against lefties. In the field, according to Baseball Savant, he was 9 Outs Above Average in 2021. Overall, his percentile rankings show a lot of red. In just over 1200 career at bats, Reynolds has compiled 10.6 bWAR (a number that factors in his abominable, COVID-shortened 2020 campaign). There is a lot to like about Reynolds.
In short, Reynolds is exactly the type of player that should have the Yankees (and every other team, but I don’t care about them) lining up to let the Pirates look through their prospect menu. And I mean the entire menu. Yes. Jasson Dominguez would not be “untouchable” in a hypothetical deal for Reynolds. Nor would Anthony Volpe.
There are a few reasons that the Yankees should (admittedly, I don’t think they WILL) be open to trading anyone in the system for elite MLB talent like Reynolds.
First and foremost, players like Reynolds are what teams hope their prospects turn into. If your hope is that a prospect like Dominguez or Volpe will make it to the big leagues and become a perennial All-Star, then intuitively, it makes sense to trade those prospects for actual All-Stars. Especially ones who are under team control for several more years, who play an up-the-middle position, and whose ability to switch-hit counters any platoon advantage.
Second, New York’s very best prospects are not close to The Show. According to MLB.com, the Yankees currently have 2 of the top 17 prospects in all of baseball - Volpe at #15 and Dominguez at #17. But neither of them taken a single at bat above A ball, with Volpe making it to High-A in 2021 and Dominguez honing his craft at Low-A. MLB projects Volpe to make it to the Bronx in 2023, with Dominguez to follow a year later.
This matters for a couple of reasons. First, the Yankees are not a team that should be overly concerned with building a window of contention years down the road, especially since they’re already made heavy investments in the current roster, see: Cole, Gerrit; Stanton, Giancarlo; and any possible extension for Judge, Aaron. They also have the financial wherewithal to make necessary improvements years down the road. Second, the jump from Single-A to Double-A has tarnished the shine of many a prospect. The trade value on Volpe and Dominguez may never be higher than it is now, before they ascend any further up the ladder.
The final reason I argue New York should have a cold-eyed approach to dealing its elite prospects is, well... there’s a pretty disturbing recent record of injury, underperformance, stagnation, and regression once Baby Bombers hit the Big Apple (Judge notwithstanding). Since 2015, Greg Bird, Gary Sánchez, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andújar, and Clint Frazier have all graduated from a pretty robust farm system.
Injuries derailed Bird’s career, and he just spent his age-29 season toiling for the Colorado Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate. The Kraken exploded onto the scene and has put up a few excellent seasons, but he has posted an OPS+ under 100 in three of the past four campaigns. There might still be hope for Gleyber, as his bat came alive at the end of 2021 after the Yankees moved him back to second base. Andújar and Frazier, though, sadly seem to be on the Bird track, with repeated injuries hampering their development.
I’m not arguing the Yankees should have traded all of the above while they were prospects. But when a player like Reynolds becomes available in trade, that is the time to maximize the value of your blue-chippers and turn them into an elite, controllable, young asset whose major league performance is almost exactly what you hope for from the prospect(s) you dealt away.
It is not just Bryan Reynolds. MLB’s 2021 WAR leaderboard is littered with elite young players. Many of them could well become available on the trade market the way Reynolds apparently has. Admittedly, I do not know exactly what a trade for Reynolds would look like. And obviously, if the Pirates demands become exorbitant, there is a time to walk away from any deal.
But for a player like Reynolds, who could patrol center field and hit at the top of the Yankees order for years to come, no one in the farm system should be off-limits. Ultimately, Reynolds is exactly the type of player organizations hope their prospects turn into. And while there is always risk involved in bringing a player into a new organization, established young stars like Reynolds have a pedigree of professional success that prospects cannot match.