The Yankees have a number of questions to address during the offseason, with many of them revolving around what to do with players who are competing for a spot in the starting lineup. With the emergence of Gary Sanchez, at-bats might be hard to come by for Brian McCann. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury also have several outfielders in Double-A and Triple-A who are eying their spots. Then there is somewhat of a logjam at first base, with Greg Bird, Rob Refsnyder, and Tyler Austin all competing for the job.
With so many players who are destined to end up on the bench, it is understandably tempting to call for the Yankees to just cut their losses and trade players like McCann and Gardner. But in recent history, when the Yankees have made trades that may have been at least partially motivated by a lack of space, it hasn't ended well.
One such example might be the trade that sent Martin Prado and David Phelps to the Marlins for Nathan Eovaldi and pitching prospect Domingo German. Prado was acquired at the 2014 trade deadline from the Diamondbacks, and had a .316/.336/.541 slash line in 37 games with the Yankees. Obviously, no one expected him to maintain an .877 OPS, but he was still under contract for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. With Chase Headley's contract, his job at the hot corner was far from guaranteed, though he could have played second base as well.
Over the last two seasons, Prado has amassed 6.4 fWAR. Depressingly enough, this total would lead Yankees position players during the same timeframe. Meanwhile, Eovaldi showed plenty of promise, but is currently sidelined after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery. Domingo German also underwent Tommy John surgery, and ended the 2016 season with High-A Tampa. After developing a cutter, David Phelps has become a valuable weapon as a reliever, with a 2.28 ERA in 64 appearances, five of which were starts.
Another example is the trade that sent Eduardo Nunez to the Twins for pitching prospect Miguel Sulbaran. Entering the 2014 season, Yangervis Solarte tore it up in spring training, edging Nunez out for the final spot on the roster. Once considered Derek Jeter's successor, Nunez was jettisoned off to Minnesota for Sulbaran, who had a 4.44 ERA at Double-A and Triple-A this year. Meanwhile, Nunez has had a breakout season, with 16 home runs and 40 stolen bases for the Twins and Giants.
Obviously, these trades come with several caveats. The Yankees legitimately expected Nathan Eovaldi to become a frontline starter. There was also little to no indication that David Phelps would be as good as he was this year. Finally, Eduardo Nunez was coming off a 2013 campaign which saw him post -1.2 fWAR, and the Yankees certainly gave him plenty of chances to succeed beforehand.
The point is that even when trading from a position of strength, there is still plenty of risk involved. It is something to consider when deciding what to do with someone like Brian McCann, as other teams would be well aware of the Yankees wanting to move him, and could use it as leverage. The new faces in the Yankees organization will undoubtedly challenge the veterans for playing time, but that alone should not be enough to warrant a trade.