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The Yankees’ still-developing deadline

Five months after a slew of win-now trades, the Yankees’ remaining summer acquisitions could still play a big role in 2023.

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Frankie Montas fires a pitch against the Brewers in Milwaukee this September.
Frankie Montas fires a pitch against the Brewers in Milwaukee this September.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees’ 2022 season was a rollercoaster. There was no shortage of headlines, from Aaron Judge’s home run chase to Joey Gallo’s grievances, to a historically excellent start and an equally dreadful trade-deadline-fueled August. Though they ended the season on a 20-11 run, restoring hopes of playoff glory, it was only to have expectations dashed with a resounding sweep defeat at the hands of their playoff-nemesis Astros. As a result, their mid-summer transactions may haunt them for years to come.

After the Bombers’ early-season success, fans hardly expected an ALCS sweep. Since the move to a 162-game schedule in 1962, the 2001 Mariners hold the record for single-season wins (116) and winning percentage (.716). The Yankees were on pace to best that total through early July, holding a .718 winning percentage as late as July 9, when they were 61–24, and they reached their high-water mark in projected wins, at 104.8, the day prior in FanGraphs’ forecast. But they went 8–11 the rest of the month and then 10–18 in August, causing their projected win total and championship odds to fall far more than any other playoff team through the remainder of the season.

The August disaster was due in part to the Yankees’ trade deadline dealings. For starters, fresh off moving Luis Severino to the 60-day IL against his wishes, the Yankees dealt the reliable Jordan Montgomery in exchange for injured center fielder Harrison Bader. Bader went on to spend all of August on the shelf, Montgomery posted a 1.76/2.20/2.84 ERA/FIP/xFIP in 30.2 August innings, and Frankie Montas, Monty’s replacement, was good (or bad) for a -0.1 WAR across 25.2 August innings of 7.01 ERA/5.37 FIP ball. All in all, the Yankees’ deadline acquisitions posted 0.7 WAR in August while their subtractions netted 1.6, to say nothing of the minor league prospects that were dealt away.

The Yankees did turn things around after that dreadful August, but their deadline additions only garnered 0.4 more WAR while their subtractions accrued 0.9. Their most productive addition, Andrew Benintendi, went down with a wrist injury Sept. 2, and their big-ticket acquisition Montas went down with a shoulder issue Sept. 16. Perhaps more shockingly, Montas was just as productive as JP Sears, the least-heralded of the prospects the A’s received in return for him.

Yankees Trade Deadline Additions

Name August WAR Augst PA/IP Total NYY WAR Total NYY PA/IP
Name August WAR Augst PA/IP Total NYY WAR Total NYY PA/IP
Andrew Benintendi 0.6 113 0.7 114
Scott Effross 0.1 8.1 0.1 12.2
Lou Trivino 0.1 11.0 0.2 21.2
Harrison Bader DNP 0 -0.1 49
Frankie Montas -0.1 25.2 0.1 39.2
How the Yankees’ midseason acquisitions contributed to their August collapse and ensuing rebound.

Yankees Trade Deadline Subtractions

Name August WAR August PA/IP Total ROS WAR Total ROS PA/IP
Name August WAR August PA/IP Total ROS WAR Total ROS PA/IP
Jordan Montgomery 1 30.2 1.4 63.2
Joey Gallo 0.4 59 0.3 137
JP Sears 0.2 21.1 0.1 48
Ken Waldichuk DNP 0 0.3 34.2
Hayden Wesneski DNP 0 0.7 33
Players the Yankees gave up to win-now in 2022.

Of course, regular season WAR doesn’t tell the whole story. Despite losing 1.4 WAR at the deadline, the Yankees still won their division handily. And while the Montgomery-Bader swap was unexpected and the risky move cost the Yankees down the regular season stretch, come October, fans would be singing a different tune. Bader swatted five homers in 35 postseason trips to the plate, ultimately slashing .333/.429/.833. Montgomery only tossed 2.2 innings for the Cardinals in their Wild Card Series defeat, and though the Yankees still could have used him instead of Jameson Taillon (who only lasted 4.1 innings in an ALDS Game 5 defeat) as a fourth starter, it would be hard to argue anything Montgomery could have contributed in that capacity would have topped Bader’s performance.

In other words, giving up Monty for Bader could certainly still end up a win: the Yankees have shored up their rotation sans Monty, Bader will be entering the 2023 season healthy, and Montgomery and Bader each only have one year left on their deals. For that last year, FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projects Bader will notch 3 WAR and Montgomery will net 2.5. The bigger question going forward is how the Montas trade will play out. He too has only one year remaining before free agency, but the A’s received four Yankees prospects. Most of that value will likely be tied up in former Yankees’ top pitching prospect Ken Waldichuk.

Waldichuk could pay dividends for the A’s as soon as this year. He mowed down upper-minors hitting last year, racking up 137 strikeouts against only 36 walks in 95 innings, marks that justified his 2.84 ERA. His late-season cameo in the majors was less inspiring, but he’s only 24. While Depth Charts sees Montas bouncing back to the tune of 2.3 WAR in 2023, it also predicts 1.3 WAR from Waldichuk in just 118 innings, as well as 0.9 from swingman Sears. Looking just to next year, 2.3 to 2.2 is pretty much a wash, and on the whole, the deadline players that will factor into 2023 for the Yankees project very similarly to the ones that they could have held onto:

Yankees’ Deadline Additions, 2023 Projections

Name 2023 WAR 2023 PA/IP
Name 2023 WAR 2023 PA/IP
Harrison Bader 3.0 560
Frankie Montas 2.3 154
Lou Trivino 0.1 62
Projections via FanGraph’s Depth Charts.

Yankees’ Deadline Subtractions, 2023 Projections

Name 2023 WAR 2023 PA/IP
Name 2023 WAR 2023 PA/IP
Jordan Montgomery 2.5 176
Ken Waldichuk 1.3 118
JP Sears 0.9 86
Hayden Wesneski 0.4 56
Projections via FanGraphs’ Depth Charts.

So even if their July/August 2022 trades cost them through the rest of the 2020’s, at least their additions project for 0.3 more WAR than their subtractions in 2023. Of course, projections are subject to variance — the numbers I listed are just the 50th percentile, or median outcomes. There’s still a wide range of other possible worlds; there’s one in which Montas returns to top form and helps the Yanks to November 2023 glory, making the sacrifice of potential late-2020s workhorse Waldichuk worth it. There are also plenty of worlds in which both are busts. Yet the biggest wildcard of all might be Hayden Wesneski.

Wesneski’s 2022 big-league cameo was much more impressive than Waldichuk’s. While he wasn’t overpowering in Triple-A, tossing 110.1 innings of 3.95-ERA ball, he was lights out for the Cubs down the stretch after being traded for Scott Effoross, yielding just a 2.18 ERA in 33 innings. His 3.32 SIERA pegs his skills at more than a run higher, but even a mid-to-low 3’s ERA starter would be a huge get for the Cubs. Meanwhile, Effross will miss all of this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October. If the Cubs give the Wiz Kid free rein in the form of a rotation spot, he could make the projections look pretty silly.

We’ll know a lot more about how successful the Yankees’ 2022 trade deadline was after the 2023 season. Don’t give up yet; Montas and Bader, because of their fickle health, are two of the hardest major leaguers to project, and they too could embarrass the algorithms. This is to say nothing about Lou Trivino, who made significant strides upon arriving in the Bronx after his inclusion in the Montas deal — the projection systems aren’t aware of the specific tweaks that he made, which appear sustainable. Strong seasons from this trio would go a long way toward vindicating Brian Cashman’s disposal of some of his top farmhands and a reliable homegrown southpaw in Montgomery.