The Yankees made a trade with the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night that netted them Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle. In return, they had to surrender Blake Rutherford, Ian Clarkin, Tyler Clippard, and Tito Polo. For the most part, this is a good package to give up for immediate impact, however, it can be hard to feel confident in a deal like this when the team gives up someone like Rutherford. Still, it’s important to remind yourself that they made the right call.
On Tuesday, as rumors were spinning out of control, I was both elated about the prospect of having David Robertson back, and a little disappointed by the idea of giving away Blake Rutherford for what I felt amounted to a two-month rental, a closer for an extra year, and a middle reliever, albeit a very good one. The steep price of Rutherford-plus hardly seemed worth it to me.
The Yankees have a reputation for trading away their top prospects before they have time to develop, but when you actually scrutinize that assertion, you’ll notice that Brian Cashman doesn’t actually trade his top prospects. I mean, who was the last blue chip prospect he dealt? Jesus Montero? How did that turn out? He made mistakes by dealing away Tyler Clippard, Mark Melancon, maybe even Ian Kennedy (though not really), and Ben Gamel (???) when they were young before they rightly established themselves, so it’s hardly a trend.
The best prospect that Brian Cashman has ever traded away is Montero, who was a top 10 prospect at the time he was sent to the Mariners and is no longer in MLB. Now here we are with Blake Rutherford as the 30th overall prospect in baseball. As the 18th overall pick in 2016, the Yankees committed an overslot $3,282,000 to him. At the time of his signing, the team looked at him as a future star in the making. We saw him hit .382/.440/.618 as a 19-year-old in the advanced rookie league, and everything looked set.
In 2017, things understandably backtracked a bit when he hit .281/.342/.391 in Low-A Charleston. We’ve seen guys disintegrate once they get out of rookie ball (cough Dante Bichette cough), but it’s not fair to say Rutherford is, or will be, one of those people. What matters, though, is that his ETA to the big leagues is around 2020, which is far too long out to worry about now and too far out to peg him in the future lineup.
Truthfully, the Yankees trading Blake Rutherford a year after they went big on him will sting—at least it did for me—but it just goes to show you how confident the team is in who they have there now. Aaron Judge arrived on the scene and will be under team control through 2023. They also have confidence that Clint Frazier will become an everyday player. If they decide to keep Jorge Mateo, there is talk of moving him to center field in order to accommodate all the infield depth they have.
There is also a little known outfield prospect Estevan Florial, who is a year younger than Rutherford and is hitting much better with a 284/.365/.477 batting line with 11 home runs at the same level. As much as we look over and scrutinize these publicly available prospect lists, it’s important to understand that teams also have their own internal lists that may or may not gel with what these independent evaluators believe.
The system has also has Dustin Fowler and an improving Billy McKinney, as well as multiple other pieces at various levels to make Rutherford rather expendable in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps the Yankees weren’t as impressed with him as they once were, or maybe Florial’s rise has made him expendable. Either way, we should know by now that Brian Cashman never trades away the wrong guy. Could this be the moment where he’s finally wrong in a big way? Maybe, but we can feel comfortable with his track record for now.