clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Yankees lost the Nathan Eovaldi deal, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have done it

New, comments

Results have rendered the Yankees losers in the Nathan Eovaldi trade. The process behind the trade, however, was fair.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, the Yankees officially released Nathan Eovaldi. He was acquired two years ago after the 2014 season in a trade with the Miami Marlins where the Yankees sent Martin Prado, David Phelps, and $6 million to Miami in exchange for Eovaldi, Domingo German, and Garrett Jones.

With Eovaldi no longer a part of the New York organization, the Yankees' end of that deal is all but complete (German, 23, threw 49 innings in the low minors this year after Tommy John surgery). Looking at the results, there is no denying that the Yankees "lost" the trade. There's no way to look at the performance of each player involved and find a way that the Yankees came out with the better end.

Eovaldi was the centerpiece of the deal for the Yankees, and his tenure in the Bronx was up and down, to say the least. He came to New York with a reputation as a hard-throwing right-hander with considerable potential, and certainly flashed it at times. The overall results, however, were underwhelming.

Across Eovaldi's two seasons in New York, he tossed 279 innings with a 4.45 ERA, which equated to a 94 ERA+. He notched 218 strikeouts compared to 89 walks and recorded a 4.11 FIP. There were times when Eovaldi looked to be fulfilling his promise, such as when he took a no-hitter into the 7th against Texas, or when he maintained a 3.67 ERA and 3.10 FIP during the second half of 2015. In the end, his upside remained frustratingly out of reach as a Yankee.

The (negative) contributions of Jones also cannot be discounted. He ran a 67 OPS+ with the Yankees in 2015 before being released. The Yankees might've envisioned him as a semi-useful left-handed bat off the bench, but instead they paid him $5 million to be a below replacement level player.

In total, the Yankees received just 2.9 rWAR between Eovaldi and Jones. Their performance paled in comparison to that of Phelps and Prado. The infielder was the main asset surrendered for Eovaldi, and he has hit a solid .297/.349/.406 in Miami while providing quality and versatile defense. He recently signed a reasonable three-year extension with the Marlins, though that isn't relevant to our analysis of this specific trade.

Also surprisingly of note has been the play of Phelps since leaving the Yankees. When he was in New York, Phelps profiled as a half-decent reliever that could make a few starts in a pinch, basically a lesser version of Adam Warren. In Miami, he has posted a 3.53 ERA in 198.2 innings, and in particular was excellent in 2016, recording a 172 ERA+ and 114 strikeouts in 86.2 innings, mostly out of the bullpen (save for five starts). His upped his fastball velocity to almost 95 mph according to Brooks Baseball, and he remains under team control for two seasons. That the Yankees have come to regret losing Phelps is a bit of a surprise, and a boon to the Marlins.

The Marlins have received a total of 9.7 rWAR from the trade, and stand to earn even more if Phelps sustains his mid-career velocity spike. Just from a strict WAR perspective, the Marlins made out like bandits.

Yet despite all that, it wasn't a bad deal from the Yankees. The results of a trade are ultimately how front office folks will be judged by most, but at the time that a trade is made, all that can be evaluated is the process behind it. At the time, the process that led the Yankees to acquire Eovaldi seemed sound.

In retrospect they were burned, but in 2014, Eovaldi was a live-armed right-hander who could sit 98 as a starter. He was coming off a pair of good seasons given his age with the Marlins, and projected as an average or better pitcher moving forward, with three years of team control. Prado was a good player making twice as much, with one less year of team control, entering his age-31 season. If one was to bet, in 2014, which player would improve rather than decline, the answer probably would have been Eovaldi.

In reality, Prado improved, while Eovaldi got stuck in neutral before succumbing to Tommy John surgery. Phelps looks like a potential weapon, while the aforementioned German has virtually no prospect-cache. This looks like, say, a 20th percentile outcome for the Yankees, and an 80th percentile outcome for the Marlins.

But just because the dice didn't fall the way they wanted doesn't mean the Yankees made a huge mistake. Fireballers with middling results are never a sure thing, but neither are 30-year-old infielders with close to average forecasts. At the time of the trade, Eovaldi's and Prado's (and Phelps') careers going in the directions that they did simply was not the most likely outcome.

Still, it is the outcome that came to fruition, so the Yankees must with live with it. With the benefit of hindsight, we can say with some level of certainty that the Yankees would have been better had they not made this deal with Miami. Even so, moving forward, the fact that they lost this trade shouldn't discourage the Yankees from making similar grabs at potential in the future.