The Yankees Should Be Realistic, Put Team on Short Leash in 2013

A week ago, the 2013 Yankees were walking on a tight rope. Their roster, while a significant downgrade from the 2012 squad, looked strong enough to contend for a wild card spot in the American League. The team’s rapidly aging core was still effective last year, and should a few things go right should have been good for 90 wins this year.

And then Curtis Granderson suffered a freak broken arm. Spring training has barely started, and probably the third or fourth most valuable hitter on the Yankee roster will miss around 1/4 of the season, without an able-bodied replacement in sight. The Yankee outfield/DH group was already razor-thin, and just lost its most valuable contributor for awhile.

By no means should the Yankees throw in the towel on the season, but at some point they need to decide whether they want to bet  on this team to make the playoffs. I don’t know what the cut off point is, but  it can’t be, “never.” This roster is not a vintage Yankee, sure-fire playoff team. It would be a huge mistake to assume that no matter what, the Yankees have to approach the trade deadline as a buyers.

Perhaps more than any other year in recent memory, the Yankees have a ton of players that could be sold off at the trade deadline for a valuable return. Any of Hiroki Kuroda, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Boone Logan, Phil Hughes and especially Robinson Cano, are all free agents after the season, could plausibly fetch good prospects from buying teams in late July. Not all of them will be performing great–otherwise, the Yankees would be unlikely to be out of contention–but a number of them could be.

What kind of prospects are we talking about? Below are seven 2010-2012 trade deadline deals that could serve as analogs:

  • Robinson Cano – Mariners trade Cliff Lee for Justin Smoak (BA #13), and Blake Beavan, Matt Lawson, and Josh Lueke, all solid MLB prospects
  • Hiroki Kuroda – Indians trade Ubaldo Jimenez for Drew Pomeranz (BA #30), Alex White (BA #47) and Matt Mcbride and Joe Gardner (Both unranked, but solid MLB prospects)
  • Curtis Granderson – Cardinals trade Carlos Beltran for Zach Wheeler (BA #35)
  • Kevin Youkilis – Red Sox trade Kevin Youkilis for Ethan Martni (BA #80)
  • Travis Hafner – Phillies trade Jim Thome for Kyle Simon (decent prospect)
  • Boone Logan – Pirates trade Javier Lopez for Joe Martinez and John Bowker, both fringe players.
  • Phil Hughes – Cubs trade Paul Malholm to the Braves for Arodys Vizcaino (BA #83)

It seems highly plausible that the Yankees could pull off some kind of hall that looks like the following at the trade deadline: Justin Smoak, Zach Wheeler, Joe Martinez, and Ethan Martni, at the trade deadline, plus a few other pieces.

The point isn’t that the Yankees can pull off this entire prospect haul or that these trades are perfectly equivalent, but that they have a ton of valuable ammunition at the trade deadline. Under the best case scenario, the Yankees could infuse a lot of life into their farm system, easily doubling their number of top-100 prospects. Every single player listed is a free agent, and does not affect the team past 2013. The cost includes a couple of compensation draft picks as well.
The Yankees would enter the off season with one of the strongest farm systems in baseball, and could potentially pull off some significant trades for talent, or roll the dice on a group of new young stars. They’ll be better set up over the next 3-4 years than they otherwise would have been.

Here’s the problem: the presence of the 2nd Wild Card slot makes contention status less clear. Its tempting to use it as an excuse to never give up hope that a strong performance in the last two months of the season will propel a team to an unlikely playoff spot. But this is a dangerous thing to have around. Good teams need to go through a rebuilding cycle at some point. The Yankees were never immune to this, and are significantly less sheltered from it than in past years due to the new CBA soft cap, huge legacy contracts on the books, and a general trend toward higher payrolls and fewer players reaching free agency around the league.

The Yankees face a medium term trade off that every other aging contender faces: maximize your shot at the playoff this year, or sell off and increase your chances of a quick rebuild next year? If the Yankees are winning, this is a pretty easy question to answer: go for the playoff dice roll. But if the playoffs look unlikely (I’ll peg it at a 15% chance or less in late July), they should bite the bullet and maximize what they can get.

About EJ Fagan

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

31 thoughts on “The Yankees Should Be Realistic, Put Team on Short Leash in 2013

  1. Hey EJ, Long time reader and all, but please check your spelling before you post. Lease = leash. Hall = haul.

    Otherwise, nice points. Cano’s not going anywhere, regrettably. I’d prefer a mini fire-sale in hopes of quick rebuild. We definitely need it.

  2. I realize that half-season rentals are unlikely to bring back much in trades and this is especially true for guys like Youkilis and Hafner but still – I can’t get excited about more than a couple of the guys you mentioned as possible returns in these deals. I don’t care about their BA ratings – like most prospects most of these guys will either not make it or become nothing better than fringe major leaguers. Presumably these trades would be made to contending teams that should be willing to sell their mothers for a better shot at the playoffs and beyond.

    And how can you even mention Smoak as a guy to target? Yeah, when he went to the M’s for Cliff Lee he was thought to be hot stuff but he’s proven to be a complete dud at the MLB level and if he’s more than filler in a trade for Cano there ought to be an Arab Spring like uprising in the Bronx.

    • Noted, although I think its worth remembering: a lot of these guys were (or still are) very legit prospects at the time. Smoak didn’t work out, but at the time he was considered one of the 5 or 6 best hitters in the minor leagues, and would be miles ahead of any of the current Yankee minor leaguers.

      Other players in that BA #11 spot: James Taillon before 2011, Manny Machado before 2012, Zack Wheeler right now. Definitely an elite group.

      • but at the time he was considered one of the 5 or 6 best hitters in the minor leagues, and would be miles ahead of any of the current Yankee minor leaguers.

        Exactly my point! For every Manny Machado there are how many Smoaks? You don’t trade a guy like Cano – even if you’re going to lose him to FA at the end of the season for prospects only unless they are absolute, can’t miss, the sun will rise in the west if this guy flops types. And those are not likely to be the guys that come back at the trade deadline as your post illustrates. For Youkilis or Hafner or even Kuroda – sure. For Cano – forget about it.

        The Yankees are not the Astros or the Mets or the Rays or the Twins. They should not be making deals like that. If improving the farm system is the goal they need to draft better. I’d rather gamble on the draft pick compensation for Cano than the yard-sale crap that teams will offer in deadline deals.

        • So you’d rather have a compensation pick after the first round is over than get some more established prospect with at least some track record? No sure I agree, depends on who’s available I guess. Not many teams will be on Cano longterm but what’s the price of a championship, if some team sees him as the difference in winning it all you may get a top of the heap guy like Texas or a few others have.

          • I think I said I’d rather have the compensation pick than the usual crap that’s available at the deadline. Sure, if Cardinals want to trade Oscar Taveras I’m all for it. But they won’t, and that’s what I get from the original post – what you’re likely to get back are guys that have impressive pedigrees that they have not really lived up to or that their teams harbor serious doubts about, like the Yankees had about Montero (who they “traded” for Cliff Lee) and the Rangers probably had about Smoak.

            The days of getting Jeff Bagwell for Larry Anderson or John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander are gone in this era of prospect hoarding.

          • That would be an interesting argument, if you decided 100% you weren’t going to re-sign Cano would you trade him for Montero?

          • Of course they aren’t, the M’s are the last team who would be involved since they have no chance of making the playoffs or re-signing him. However you have missed my point, I was simply responding to you saying the only player you’d get back is someone a team has doubts about like Montero. Clearly I think the Yankees believe Montero will one day hit, Yankee fans have always wildly overrated his bat but that’s neither here nor there. But they never believed in his defense, so it brings the question would you trade Cano for someone in similar shoes as Montero was with the Yanks. I don’t know my own answer to that but it’s interesting.

    • I think it wast more a comparison of what they could target given where Smoak was rated at the time, not that Smoak would be the target himself.

  3. You might be right on what they objectively should do.

    However, as you noted, the addition of the 2nd wild card team makes it harder to picture the Yankees truly out of it at the trade deadline. I was curious how many teams were still realistically in the hunt at August 1 last year. I found an article that stated that 21 of 30 teams were at least within 5 games of the wild card as of July 14 last year. A whole lot of bad things would have to happen to put this team in the bottom third of teams.

    To complicate matters, this is likely Pettitte’s and Mo’s last season. If they still have a fighting chance and those guys are healthy, I just don’t see them going into sell mode and essentially saying “thanks for the effort to come back but we’re not going to try to win this year.” I don’t see that going over well at all with the team or the fan base.

    • I agree, if they were smart they probably should have a very self aware evaluation of their chances at the deadline but I don’t see it happening. They’d have to be like 10 plus out at the deadline, even then I doubt they’d trade someone like Cano.

    • Yeah, we agree on that point. But all a lonely little fan like me can do is make the argument and hope the Yankees make the smart choice, should the season shape out that way.

  4. The 2013 Yankees are good enough to contend for a wildcard slot? Huh?

    You do know the Rays lost their #2 starter James Shields, several relievers, and still can’t hit, right? No.

    You do know the Red Sox won only 69 games last year and did nothing to improve their offense (whoever they have at 1B is a downgrade from Adrian Gonzalez and David Ross is hardly an improvement) or anything to significantly improve their pitching, right? No.

    You do know that the Orioles did nothing this offseason and won 93 games last year on winning wayyyy more one-run games than they should have won and will probably will win this year, right? No.

    You do know that the Blue Jays won only 73 games last year have only improved on paper, right? No.

    Let’s look at the Blue Jays. They traded for a pair of guys who have done NOTHING SIGNIFICANT WHATSOEVER against AL lineups as starting pitchers. Johnson posted a 3.81 ERA vs. NL lineups last year and Dickey is old. The Blue Jays only matched the Yankees offensively at SS as Jeter is still a force to be reckoned with and let’s see career .342 OBP Jose Reyes reach an OBP of over .358 for only the second time in his career. Let’s see Melky Cabrera be 2011-12 awesome without the PEDs. Let’s see Bautista return to pre-2012 injury form. They have done NOTHING to improve their bullpen or bench and only made their offense a little better as four solid hitters out of nine (Bautista, Encarnacion, Reyes, Cabrera) does not make a potent offense.

    Let’s really look at the 2013 Yankees shall we?

    Rotation: Sabathia/Kuroda/Pettitte/Hughes is a lock. Nova, Phelps, Warren, and whoever else will battle for the fifth starter slot. Pineda is another option down the road. I could see Derek Lowe re-signing unless he signed elsewhere.

    Bullpen: Rivera/Robertson/Logan/Chamberlain/Rapada/Aardsma is a lock. Phelps, Eppley, Kelley, and Cabral will battle for the final slot in the bullpen.

    Bench: Stewart/Diaz/Nix/Nunez is the likely bench. Since when has a bench made or broke the 1996 on Yankees?

    Starting Nine until mid-May:

    C – Cervelli
    1B – Teixiera
    2B – Cano
    3B – Youkilis
    SS – Jeter
    LF – Suzuki
    CF – Gardner
    RF – Rivera
    DH – Hafner

    Granderson will return to LF, move Suzuki back to RF, and one of three among Rivera, Diaz, and Nunez will be gone – most likely Rivera or Diaz unless the Yanks could send Nunez to AAA or trade him (what I’d really like to see them do as he has absolutely no place on this team and is only being wasted as a bench player.)

    I’m sorry, that starting nine, while depleted, is still top to bottom better than any division rival’s offense and will be even better when Granderson returns, even better than that when they most likely get a bat or two, possibly a catcher midseason.

    The Yankees pitching is the best and deepest in the division if not the league.

    The Yanks five best everyday players (to me Cano, Jeter, Granderson, Teixiera, and Suzuki based on overall his body of work and excellent 2012 with the Yanks) are better than the five best players of any division rival.

    The Opening Day roster isn’t the final roster EJ.

  5. Keep in mind that at least some of the value for those guys in their walk year came from the entitlement of the acquiring team to draft picks in the even that they walked at the end of the season. Because that is circumscribed (no entitlement to the compensatory pick for a mid-season acquisition and the forfeited pick doesn’t go to the signing team) a lot of that value is sapped. Now Robbie in particular may still have a lot of value, but teams seem to be overestimating the importance of draft picks and slot money so the absence of that incentive is going to make those sort of trades harder to come by.

  6. You folks are nuts…EJ has it right. The Yankees absolutely have to consider trading off their free agents if they think they are not going to make the playoffs. I would go even further than that ….if the best they can do is be the 2nd wild card team they should still sell off every free agent possible. CANO INCLUDED. You are all smoking some serious weed if you think this is a WS team. Roadrider, you make no sense at all. In one post you make the case of how few prospects actually make it and in another you say you would rather take a chance on a compensation draft pick. Seems to me the Yankees would have a greater chance of hitting prospect gold with 3 or 4 players Cano would fetch in a trade than a sandwich draft pick after the first round. I believe EJ coined the term “the suck years.” Well they are here. I would rather a quick turn around with some smart trading then let all these guys walk for nothing. The Yankees needs are going to be huge come 2014. The Yankees need to be forward looking. Re stock their farm system, get younger and gain some payroll flexibility. So all you fans who are deluding yourselves…it is time to put down the bong and face the cold hard truth. This Yankee team is not going anywhere but home come October.

    • Why don’t you learn how to read? And comprehend for that matter? I said that the guys that tend to get traded at the deadline are usually not worth it (and the original post illustrates that quite nicely). I also said that if a really good prospect like Taveras was offered I would make the deal – or didn’t you bother to read that?

      You don’t trade a guy like Cano to restock the farm system with organizational filler or guys other organizations are ready to give up on. It’s QUALITY not QUANTITY that counts in the return value of a trade.

      You don’t trade your best player for a grab bag of shit that you’ll throw against the wall to find out if anything sticks – remember Tom Seaver for Steve Henderson and a bunch of other forgettables? There’s usually little chance of finding any “prospect gold” in the pan at the end of these deals. And “quick turnaround”? From guys that are the equivalent of Smoak, Pomeranz, etc. mentioned in the original post? You’re the one on drugs pal.

      Yes, I think the compensatory draft pick is a often better gamble than the return on most deadline deals. You’re free to disagree but you need to make a better argument.

      • The “suck years” to current Yankee fans are actually right now since they haven’t won a WS in a few years. Or winning 85 games would be the suck years. Even though this team is still one of the best teams in baseball, it is not THE best, so therefore they are the suck years.

        Yankee fans are the most spoiled in sports.

  7. the second wildcard could play to our advantage. more teams will be looking to add, leading to more “buyers” and less “sellers” at the deadline. if the yankees are really out of it, their goods would be in high demand, with many potential suitors. i have been saying the entire off season that trading cano would be in the teams best long term interest. selling off the other pats would bother me either.

  8. No. Not that the M’s are going to do that either. Zunino – sure. But they’re not trading him either.

  9. Roadrider…you can critize my reading comprehension skills all you like. The fact of the matter is Cano are walking at season’s end. A compensory draft pick is not enough for some of these guys…especially Cano. You, yourself have even said the Yankees need to get better at drafting players. The Yankees need not get a shitbag of filler for Cano. However, they need to target contending teams prospects or those already on the mlb roster who are controllable for a few years and make a deal. I don’t care if Cano is their best player. The Yankees need to shit or get off the pot. If they think he is a franchise player then resign him now. But they will overpay and we then have an AROD/Tex type of contract situation. It bugs the hell out of me that Cano will enter free agency and the Yankees will either overpay or just get a pick out of it. There has to be a better way to get some value for him.

  10. martin – i didn’t read all the responses above, so if this was already said, ignore me – but i don’t have anywhere near the trepidation about this 2013 team as your article would suggest. the core problem the yankees have had over the last 3 years is a near complete reliance on home runs for offense, and as we’ve seen, this strategy comes up short in the playoffs. seems like every player was swinging for the fences, instead of looking to make contact and get on base, and/or move over the guy on base ahead of him. watching a-rod and swisher strike out over and over in crucial situations against detroit last year is a case in point.

    i would argue that this team will add some speed, and be much more inclined to make contact/get on base than teams in the recent past. the pitching looks good (and was excellent last year in the playoffs), especially if cc can stay healthy and pineda can come in half way through the season and give us anything at all. then the grandyman comes back in may to add some pop. that kind of balance wins championships.

    let’s go yankees…

    • I don’t think that’s an unreasonable position to hold. My opinion is that the team has been walking the tightrope for a long time now, and I’m less confident than ever that they will continue to defy the odds and keep playing so effectively. Hopefully, you’re right, and this blog post was unnecessary.