Whatever combination of draft and/or development problems you think are responsible for the Yankees’ present farm system situation, we can all agree that it’s very far from where it needs to be. In analyzing and discussing those problems over the last 2 days, the St. Louis Cardinals have come up often as an example of the type of farm system the Yankees should be striving to match and with good reason. Picking lower in the 1st round than most teams and finding undervalued assets that they turn into productive Major League players, the Cardinals’ blueprint for success is based in their strong draft and development strategies.
The Yankees obviously aren’t going to turn their farm system around to that level of success overnight, but could there be an opportunity for them to poach some of the fruits of St. Louis’ labor this offseason? The Cardinals will at least test the trade market waters to address their biggest roster needs and they have plenty of young pitching to dangle, the type of young pitching the Yankee system has failed to generate. Seriously, it’s almost stupid how much pitching depth St. Louis will have next year when Jason Motte and Jaime Garcia come back from injury. If they get serious about moving some of it, the Yankees should be all over that.
The problem Cash will have if he does pursue a trade with St. Louis is a lack of desirable trade pieces. The Cardinals’ 2 biggest needs are at shortstop and center field, and the Yankees aren’t exactly flush with MLB-ready talent at either position. This postseason has shown that the duo of Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso isn’t the answer at short for the Cards. Maybe 1 of them as the backup on the bench, but not either of them as the everyday starter. All the Yankees have to offer is a 40-year-old Derek Jeter and the $9.5 mil in salary that comes with him or walking error Eduardo Nunez and the gargantuan defensive downgrade that comes with him. Somehow I don’t think the Cards will be interested in moving Lance Lynn or Joe Kelly for that type of return, nor would the Yankees trade away their longtime captain in what could should be his final season.
Brett Gardner could draw some interest as a CF upgrade over Jon Jay. His career batting line (.268/.352/.381, .329 wOBA) is a little lower than Jay’s (.293/.356/.400, .334 wOBA), but Jay did take a step back offensively this season and might also be a better fit for the Cards as a 4th outfielder. Gardner is a better defensive outfielder than Jay, draws more walks than Jay, and steals more bases than Jay. Adding him to the top of the batting order next year would allow Mike Matheny to bump Matt Carpenter down and lengthen the middle of his lineup. The Yankees would be left with a big hole in their leadoff spot, but they could easily replace Gardner in center by re-signing Curtis Granderson. C-Grand plus a young pitcher is a better total haul than Gardner, no C-Grand, and no young pitcher.
The hang up here is Gardner’s contract status. 2014 is his final arbitration year and even as an upgrade over Jay, the value of 1 cost-controlled year of Gardner is far less than the value of multiple cost-controlled years of young starting pitching. To get a Lynn or Kelly for Gardner, the Yankees would have to sweeten the pot with someone like Mason Williams or Slade Heathcott and probably another prospect (Cito Culver?). With those guys still years away from breaking into the Majors and Gardner essentially being a 1-year rental, the Cards would most likely look elsewhere to find a trade partner with more MLB-ready talent to offer before getting into any serious talks with the Yankees.
While it would be great to add a Lance Lynn or a Joe Kelly (or even Shelby Miller or Matt Adams if St. Louis is open to moving them) to the mix next year, it doesn’t look like a real possibility for Cash unless he gets really creative. The Yankees don’t have the immediate or long-term return value at St. Louis’ positions of need, certainly not comparable to the value of above-average starting pitching with multiple years of team control remaining. The only way they could get seriously involved in talks is if the Cards are in love with some of New York’s prospects and somehow I don’t see that being the case. That being said, when this pesky World Series ends and St. Louis’ offseason strategy starts to play out, the Yankees should absolutely be in on any pitchers the Cards put on the block.