Trading prospects for established playersBy
“As unpopular as trading Melky and IPK (along with a lesser prospect) could make me, I probably would.” – the world’s biggest idiot, yours truly, in November, 2007, referring to…Miguel Cabrera.
Well, that certainly was embarrassing. A bit less embarrassing is this post about saving the Big Three. In that situation we made our pleas to not trade Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, top-five prospects in 2007 and 2008, respectively, for Johan Santana. Even in hindsight that is somewhat understandable. The hype machine ran strong for Hughes and Chamberlain, and Santana was about to become massively expensive. With CC Sabathia‘s free agency looming, why not concentrate efforts there and hold onto the young arms?
With Miguel Cabrera, there is no justification for the prospect hugging mentality. At the time Cabrera had just completed his age-24 season, his third straight with an OPS+ over 150. His defense at third base looked poor to both the eye and the stats, and the media griped about his poor attitude, but those flaws are mere nitpicks when it comes to a generational talent. Following the 2007 season the Yankees had an opening at third and a virtual opening at first. Even if they hadn’t, there is always room for a player who can hit like Miguel Cabrera.
At the time the Marlins sought a starting pitcher and a center fielder. Detroit paid the price, sending top-five prospect Cameron Maybin and 2006 first rounder (projected first overall) left-hander Andrew Miller. In addition, the Marlins sent Dontrelle Willis to Detroit. That might have seemed like a sweetener for Detroit, but Willis was getting expensive and was coming off a poor season — though I’m not sure anyone knew at the time that he was cooked at age 25. Given the state of the farm system in 2007-2008, the Yankees very well might have matched up with the Marlins.
Phil Hughes’s name comes to mind first, as a pitcher comparable to Miller. Melky Cabrera was still a promising center fielder, though the Yankees also had Austin Jackson, who was a top-50 prospect before 2008, as a younger, more cost-controlled option. With a seeming horde of mid-tier prospects, perhaps the Yanks could have sweetened the pot and trumped Detroit’s offer. You could spend days imagining how Yankees history would have unfolded in that scenario.
The Yanks never really made a run for Cabrera, or at least that’s the way it’s portrayed, because they didn’t want to part with their three young, promising pitchers: Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. In hindsight, it’s a head-smacking idea. None of the three amounted to anything special. Each pitched well for certain stretches, but in the six full seasons since they debuted none has particularly stood out.
Looking back at this case boiled my blood a bit. It seems the Yankees haven’t made many good prospects-for-veterans trades since Cashman received “full autonomy” after the 2005 season. He’s made dozens of trades in that time, of course, but very few that involved prospects in exchange for solid, everyday veterans. The track record isn’t all that impressive when he did, either.
July 30, 2006: Traded C.J. Henry (minors), Jesus Sanchez (minors), Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith to the Philadelphia Phillies. Received Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle.
Perhaps Cashman spoiled us with this first big trade of his autonomous reign. Everyone knew the Phillies were going to trade Abreu. Given his large contract and the Yankees’ desperate need in the outfield, the match seemed perfect. The Phillies played tough, demanding Phil Hughes in early July, but Cashman waited them out and eventually landed them for what amounts to very little.
C.J. Henry was the Yankees’ first-round pick in 2005, but just a year later it was evident — to fans, at least, and apparently to evaluators as well — that he wasn’t going to work. Getting a previous-year first-rounder helped the Phillies save face, maybe, but this was a coup for the Yankees.
July 7, 2007: Traded Jeff Kennard (minors) to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Received Jose Molina.
While this is a minor move on the face of it, the Yankees certainly needed a backup catcher upgrade; they had been playing Wil Nieves there all year. Kennard was on the 40-man and expendable, so the trade worked out as well as a trade for a backup catcher can.
The Yankees actually weren’t in that bad of shape at the time of this trade. At 58-45 they were just three games behind the first-place Rays and one game behind the Red Sox. With Jorge Posada out, they could have used some pop, and had an opening in the outfield thanks to Melky Cabrera’s horrible play. Nady had hit 13 homers and 26 doubles with the Pirates in what was looking like a career year. Tabata had proven disappointing by that point, and the three pitchers were back-end arms, at best, expendable for a first-division team.
Nady hit .268/.320/.474 in his 247 PA with the Yankees, quite a bit lower than the numbers he produced with Pittsburgh. That helped plenty, though, because Cabrera had played so poorly. The Yankees got essentially nothing out of Nady the following year, when he blew out his elbow. Tabata, while nothing special, has produced above-average numbers in three of his four MLB seasons.
November 13, 2008: Traded Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez to the Chicago White Sox. Received Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira.
It’s still difficult to look at this trade and believe it happened. It wasn’t totally prospects-for-veteran, since Betemit had been in the league since 2004. But the Yankees certainly got a steal here, in a deal that probably no GM rejects. Hell, I’m not sure Kenny Williams rejects it.
June 30, 2009: Traded Casey Erickson (minors) and Eric Fryer to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received Eric Hinske and cash.
Another minor move that deserves mention, because Hinske played a role on the best team in the league.
December 8, 2009: As part of a 3-team trade, traded Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers and Ian Kennedy to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Received Curtis Granderson from the Detroit Tigers. In addition, the Detroit Tigers sent Edwin Jackson to the Arizona Diamondbacks; and the Arizona Diamondbacks sent Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to the Detroit Tigers.
With Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui departing, the Yankees needed an outfielder and some pop at the plate. Granderson wasn’t exactly known as a power hitter at the time, but he had hit 20-plus in each of the previous three years, including 30 in 2009. He has certainly produced a few quality years with the Yankees, socking 115 HR with a 120 OPS+. It’s hard to call this trade a failure.
At the same time, Jackson has been quite good for the Tigers. He doesn’t have Granderson’s skills at the plate, though he has produced a higher OBP than Granderson since his debut. In terms of WAR Jackson actually comes out on top, 19.1 to 14.1 in bWAR and 14.6 to 13.9 in fWAR. Defensive measurement represents WAR’s most prominent flaw, so make of that what you will. This wasn’t a bad trade by any means, but it certainly wasn’t a steal of any kind.
The initial reaction to this trade was somewhat divided. Some Yankees fans hadn’t forgiven Vazquez for the second half of 2004. Others saw how he’d pitched after leaving and thought it was a good fit. At first the trade looked horrible, then it looked better, then it looked horrible again.
In the end, it was certainly horrible — not only for Vazquez’s performance, but because they could have used Vizcaino in a different trade later.
July 30, 2010: Traded a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians. Received Austin Kearns. The New York Yankees sent Zach McAllister (August 20, 2010) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.
At the time this one didn’t seem too bad. Kearns had been good in the past and was seemingly amidst a resurgent season. McAllister was a middling prospect who probably didn’t have a role with the Yankees. Of course, the whole thing blew up in their faces. Kearns was generally horrible, and McAllister has started looking like a serviceable back-end starter.
July 31, 2010: Traded Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes to the Houston Astros. Received Lance Berkman.
Traded players to be named later to the Cleveland Indians. Received Kerry Wood and cash. The New York Yankees sent Andrew Shive (minors) (October 21, 2010) and Matt Cusick (minors) (October 21, 2010) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.
Needing offense, the Yankees stood to gain with the Berkman acquisition. He wasn’t atrocious, but he brought no power to the table, hitting just one homer and seven doubles in 123 PA while struggling with injuries. Losing Melancon didn’t seem like a huge deal, since he’d struggled at every opportunity. But he’s turned into a serviceable reliever (who has, fairly, struggled in both New York and Boston).
The trade for Wood made and continues to make all the sense in the world. That one couldn’t have gone better, indeed: Wood ran his luck all the way through October, while the Yanks gave up no useful players.
Kontos turned in a very good 2012 season and a poor 2013. He’s still only 29 in 2014, and might be a useful piece of a bullpen. Stewart…I’m not even going there.
This seemed to make sense, in that the Yankees needed an OF and they gave up what seemed like little. Mitchell wasn’t going to amount to anything, and they had just claimed Farquhar off waivers from the A’s earlier in the 2012 season. Yet Farquhar dazzled this year, particularly in the second half, when he took over as Mariners closer. Chances are he reverts to being crappy again next year, but again, there’s a mixed blessing here. Trading for Ichiro led to the ill-advised two-year contract. Then again, he also played a role in the Yankees staying afloat last September as the Orioles constantly threatened.
February 13, 2013: Traded Abraham Almonte to the Seattle Mariners. Received Shawn Kelley.
It’s tough to say, since Almonte only just made it to the majors. But Kelley has worked out well, and could help as the Yanks rebuild their bullpen post-Rivera.
July 26, 2013: Traded Corey Black (minors) to the Chicago Cubs. Received Alfonso Soriano and cash.
Soriano made the second half at least partly interesting, and really extended the Yanks life in the 2013 season. We all know how Cashman feels about Corey Black.
This revisiting of prospects-for-veteran trades isn’t meant as a referendum on Cashman or the organizational philosophy. It’s not meant as a rip on the farm system. Instead, it’s meant as something of an eye-opener.
If media narratives in any way reflect reality, teams are more protective of their prospects than ever. The Yankees appear to be in that boat. From back in 2007 to now, they’ve played the reluctant role when playing the prospects-for-veteran game. Yet when you look through their track record, there aren’t many clear wins when they do partake.
Is that a lesson, that they should indeed be more reluctant, given their track record? Does it mean that they need to reassess how they evaluate their internal talent? I’d say no to the former and yes to the latter. Furthermore, looking at these deals makes me think that the Yankees should take advantage of this prospect-protective market and see what they can get for what they have in the minors. Given their current team landscape, it might be the best bet they have this off-season.