It seems that almost every winter, Brian Cashman’s Yankees are active on the trade market. Last year, the team bought low on Jameson Taillon, who had missed most of 2019 and all of 2020. Two years prior, they reeled in James Paxton from Seattle and shipped out Sonny Gray. The 2017-2018 winter was highlighted by the blockbuster deal for Giancarlo Stanton, which saw the Yankees jettison Starlin Castro to Miami, although it also included smaller deals that sent Chase Headley back to San Diego and brought Brandon Drury to the Bronx from Arizona.
The safe bet says the same thing will be true this winter. Indeed, rumors have already linked the Yankees to Oakland first baseman Matt Olson, Pittsburgh outfielder Bryan Reynolds, and Cincinnati starter Luis Castillo. Additionally, we all know that Cashman is always willing to jump on a player that unexpectedly becomes available at a good price.
To get something, however, you have to give something, and while the price tag for these types of players will certainly involve high-level prospects, the Yankees might look to trade from the 40-man roster in order to free up some room on the roster and clear some salary. Which players might be on the block? Let’s break down some of the more likely candidates, and why other teams may or may not be interested in them.
Once upon a time, Miguel Andújar was one of the brightest young stars in the game. The runner-up for the 2018 Rookie of the Year Award absolutely raked as a rookie, slashing .297/.328/.527 (130 OPS+) with 27 home runs and 47 doubles (tied for third in baseball with Mookie Betts). After missing most of the 2019 season with a partial glenoid labrum tear in his right shoulder, he lost the starting third base job to Gio Urshela, prompting him to learn to play left field and first base in the hopes of finding a route to playing time. Over the last two years, however, he has struggled to find his groove at the plate — he has an 80 OPS+ in 66 games — while struggling defensively both at third base (-3 Outs Above Average, -4 Defensive Runs Saved) and in left field (-4 OAA, -2 DRS).
Out of all the players that the Yankees might trade, Miggy probably has the least trade value. For starters, his atrocious defense makes him better suited as a designated hitter, which (for the time being) limits his market to just the 14 other AL teams. The only problem, however, is that he has not hit well enough to be a full-time DH. At this point in time, he’s more likely to be a non-tender candidate than a legitimate trade piece, although it wouldn’t be too surprising if a rebuilding AL team opted to take a flier on him in the off chance he can rediscover his stroke. Since he’s entering his first year of arbitration this winter and won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season, the team that can get Andújar’s bat on track will have a young, middle-of-the-order bat with extensive team control.
Coming into the season, Clint Frazier was the Yankees starting left fielder — everybody hoped that he would build on his breakout 2020 campaign, which saw him slash .267/.394/.511 (a 150 OPS+) and finish as a finalist for a Gold Glove Award. 2021 proved to be a disaster, however, as he lost his left field job with poor play at the plate (76 OPS+) and in the field (-9 OAA), before ending up on the injured list with something that was initially diagnosed as vertigo and which put his MLB future in question.
In many ways, Frazier is a more extreme version of Andújar. The talent is there, and if Frazier can unleash that potential, he could be a veritable star in this league for years to come. But will he even be able to get on the field again? Cashman said, “There’s a lot of expectation and optimism that what transpired will not be an issue as he enters next season,” but until we see him back on the field it’s going to be hard to know for sure. Ultimately, Frazier, who is entering his second year of arbitration and will be eligible for free agency after the 2024 season (he has four years of arbitration), will not be headlining any deals, but could find himself as an attractive secondary piece, pending his medicals.
Luke Voit’s Yankees career has been a rollercoaster, to say the least. He exploded onto the scene after being the throw-in when the Yankees traded Chasen Shreve to the St. Louis Cardinals, hitting 14 home runs and posting a 193 OPS+ in 39 games. Voit opened the 2019 season as the Yankees’ cleanup hitter, and for the first three months of the season he picked up right where he left off, slashing .280/.393/.509 and blasting 17 home runs in 78 games before hitting the injured list after the first London game.
He would slash .250/.364/.407 and hit just four home runs in 41 games the rest of the way, and he would be left off the ALCS roster after not appearing in the ALDS. Following offseason surgery, Voit returned to form in 2020, leading the league with 22 home runs in the abbreviated season, earning him a top-10 finish in the AL MVP vote. He then began the 2021 season on the shelf, rehabbing from late-March surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. This was the first of four IL stints this year, including one for an oblique injury in May and two for knee problems in July and September. When he was on the field, he struggled, but a 21-game stretch from July 3rd to August 21st in which he posted a .250/.364/.407 slash line boosted his final stat line.
The decision to trade for Anthony Rizzo at the deadline revealed a lack of trust in Voit’s ability to stay healthy and produce down the stretch, and the team’s reported interest in either trading for Olson or bringing Rizzo back suggests that the team is ready to move on from him. It’s a very different scenario from their attitude following the 2019 season, when they (wisely) declined Edwin Encarnación’s team option and let him walk.
Entering his second year of arbitration and a free agent after the 2024 season, Voit could be a very attractive trade target. He’s an especially good fit for American League teams (assuming no universal DH), as his weak defense at first base (-22 OAA, -25 DRS over his career) makes him better suited for at least a part-time DH role, but if he hits like he did in 2018 and 2020, teams will be more than happy to live with that defense.
Arguably the most valuable trade piece that the Yankees have, in my opinion, is third baseman Gio Urshela. In 2019 and 2020, he was veritably one of the best third baseman in the league: his 132 wRC+ was fourth among third baseman with at least 600 plate appearances, behind only Alex Bregman, Anthony Rendon, and Justin Turner; his .311 xBA in 2020, in fact, was in the 97th percentile of all of baseball. It looked like Urshela was going to become one of the league’s star third basemen.
Then 2021 happened, and Urshela’s future has been thrust into question. Strictly speaking, he wasn’t bad — his .267/.301/.419 slash line gave him a 96 OPS+, slightly below league-average. But third basemen tend to hit better than league average: that OPS+ ranked 21st among third basemen with more than 400 plate appearances in 2021, according to FanGraphs, and he was worth only 1.0 fWAR and just 0.6 bWAR. His Statcast data does not suggest that this was a fluke, either, driven in large part due to a 2.5 mph drop in exit velocity and an average launch angle in the groundball range (7.5 degrees).
So why do I think he could be the Yankees’ most valuable trade piece, despite all this? Urshela firmly established that he can play an adequate shortstop at the major league level; in fact, Statcast prefers him as a shortstop, as he accumulated 0 OAA at the position, compared to his -5 at the hot corner. A third baseman just one year removed from being one of the best in the league who can play shortstop in a pinch is immensely valuable. Worst-case scenario, you have a corner infielder who can play shortstop — in itself a very valuable skill — with some pop in his bat. Best-case scenario, you have one of the better infielders in the game under team control for the next two seasons.
All this said, I do not expect the Yankees give up Urshela. But as I said at the beginning, you have to give up something to get something, and there’s a way to find a role for Urshela on most teams in the league. For this reason, he could find himself as one of the core pieces in a blockbuster trade this winter.