On Sunday I wrote a post arguing that the Yankees have a complete, competitive team ready to go right now, with ample slack in the farm system. The point of the post was to draw attention to the fact that the Yankees don’t have to make a move. They’re currently competitive. My colleague here at TYA, Steve S., disagreed in the comments section. He supported his disagreement with Brian Cashman’s quote that he would “sacrifice offense to improve pitching“. For my part, this quote doesn’t convince me as much as it did Steve. My hunch is that the Yankees are always willing to sacrifice their ample offense to improve their more spotty starting pitching, so there is nothing new to analyze here. I’ve been fairly bearish about the likelihood that the Yankees will make a splashy offseason move and remain so.
That said, I do agree with Steve that we can glean some information from Cashman’s quote. We can use it to get a better sense of which Yankee players are more likely to get traded than others, if the Yankees decide to test the trade market. Earlier this offseason I placed the most important Yankees into a tiered system to rank their trade value. I’m using the conclusions from that post as my base for this one.
Parsing Brian Cashman’s quote, we can immediately conclude that it is extremely unlikely the Yankees would deal Ivan Nova, Dellin Betances or Manny Banuelos unless the team was getting a top flight starting pitcher in return. Simply put, dealing anyone of those three for anything less than an established front line starter is likely to weaken the rotation over the next two years. That doesn’t seem to be the direction Cashman wants to take the team.
It is also unlikely that the Yankees would trade either Robinson Cano or Curtis Granderson. Since August of 2010 these have been the best two players on the offense and figure to remain so in 2012. Nothing should be ruled out, but these guys are unlikely to be dealt because even getting a top five pitcher in return doesn’t guarantee fair value. The price for the other team to get one of these guys would be onerous to say the least.
That leaves two players who could realistically headline a deal: Jesus Montero and Nick Swisher. I’ll deal with Monetro first because it’s easier. Simply put (and I’ve written this before) after Montero’s break out September his trade value has never been higher. The Yankees can get a lot in return for him. However, that is also why the Yankees may be less likely to trade Montero, if they are looking to deal for pitching. His trade value is so high that he commands a top flight arm in return. In 2010 the Yankees almost made Jesus the center of a trade for Cliff Lee. Nothing short of that kind of return value will do, and that kind of return value is scarce in any sport.
That leaves Swisher as the odd man out. He’s trade bait for many reasons. He’s still young, turning 31 next season. He’s reasonably priced for 2012. He’s also better than many people realize. In his three seasons in New York he has posted a .267/.368/.486 slash line, with 81 homers, good for a .370 wOBA and a 126 wRC+. Nick has played above average defense during that time (+5.4 UZR, +2.5 dWAR on B-Ref). Finally, he’s also a switch hitter with a .350 career wOBA from the right side and a .377 career wOBA from the left side. Any team in baseball would want him if the price was right. Just about the only thing that hurts Nick’s trade value is his impending free agency, but that doesn’t matter too much for most teams, especially one that may feel as though it is one solid bat shy of making a run in October.
Nick has been worth an average of 3.7 fWAR each season in the Bronx. Assuming that we can translate one fWAR for hitters for one fWAR for pitchers, that gives us a good starting point for assessing Swisher’s general trade value (this is a HUGE assumption, by the way, but it’s almost December and I’m blogging about baseball so please work with me). If 3.7 fWAR in 2011 is our midpoint for finding possible trade targets for Nick, we get a list of names that is surprising high profile. Zack Greinke was worth 3.9 fWAR. Tim Hudson and Jon Lester were each worth 3.7. Jaime Garcia was worth 3.6. Gio Gonzalez, a name mentioned frequently as a trade target on the internet, was worth 3.5. So was Ricky Nolasco. In short, the Yankees could part ways with Nick, probably replace his offense without much difficulty and get a reasonable arm in return. Would they do it?
My gut tells me that if a pitcher as talented as some of the ones I mentioned above is available in a trade with Swisher as the centerpiece the Yankees would pull the trigger and never look back. Nick is valuable to the team, but the Yankees have done a better job of finding spare offense the past few seasons than they have with finding decent starters. Furthermore, it is likely that the Yankees let Swisher leave in free agency at season’s end if his price becomes too steep anyway. It is better for them to put together a package that maximizes his value now. The question, therefore, is not whether or not the Yankees would trade Swisher. They almost certainly would. The question is whether or not they can get something of appropriate value in return.