Outfielders, not only catchers, being showcased for trades this spring

Sanchez tops MLB.com's top 20 Yankees prospects list
Jennings: Turley still shut down with arm tightness
Everyone's watching, Mason. (Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
Everyone’s watching, Mason. (Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

Early on in Spring Training, it was obvious the Yankees were showcasing their young catchers for trades. Gary Sanchez, John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine were (and still are) playing just about every game, either behind the plate, at DH, or off the bench. It’s no secret the Yankees need infield and bullpen help, and when you sign Brian McCann to an $85M contract, trading a spare backstop for help elsewhere makes sense.

We know at least two teams (Brewers and White Sox), have been scouting the Yankees’ catchers, so all that showcasing is not going to naught. Someone is out there watching and that’s exactly what the Yankees want. They can force anyone to make a trade. The young catchers are not the only guys out there being put on display though. The Yankees are also showcasing their extra outfielders this spring after signing both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner long-term, as well as sinking big money into Carlos Beltran on a shorter term deal.

Both Ramon Flores and Mason Williams have played in nine of the team’s first dozen Grapefruit League games so far, more than every outfielder in camp other than Adonis Garcia and Antoan Richardson, who have played in ten games each. Flores is second to Ellsbury in plate appearances among outfielders, and he’s played all three outfield spots as well. Williams has played both his usual center field as well as right, where he has zero career games in the minors. Even Ichiro Suzuki, who was shopped all winter, has started a game at each of the three outfield spots this spring as the Yankees continue to look for a taker.

Now, part of the reason why Flores and Williams are playing so much is injury. Had Slade Heathcott (knee) and Tyler Austin (wrist) been healthy this spring, they surely would have grabbed some at-bats and games in the outfield. For the purposes of showcasing their young outfielders — Flores and Williams are the team’s most tradeable outfield prospects in my opinion, though none of these guys are close to untouchable — the injuries allow the Yankees to give Flores and Williams (and even Ichiro) all that playing time. No team will trade for a player based on how he looks in Spring Training, but the extended looks give them a chance to update their internal evaluations. That can be a bad thing in some cases.

As with the catchers, the Yankees have a decent amount of outfield depth in the minors. They have a better (but more injury prone) version of Williams in Heathcott, who is also one level closer to the big leagues. Flores had an okay year in Double-A last season but he and Austin are similar players, though they bat from different sides of the plate. Holding onto every prospect isn’t a good idea no matter how badly you need homegrown players. Not at all. Some of them are going to flame out through normal attrition and knowing when to cut bait is just as important as knowing who the keep*.

* The Cardinals are great player development organization and it’s not just because of the guys they produce. When a Brett Wallace (2008 first round) or Zach Cox (2010 first round) goes bad, they get rid of them quickly (for Matt Holliday in 2009 and Edward Mujica in 2012, respectively). The Yankees did this with C.J. Henry (2005 first rounder, for Bobby Abreu in 2006) back in the day. Knowing your own players and being honest about their ability is super important.

What could the Yankees get for Flores or Williams? Who knows. A scout recently told Peter Gammons the Yankees “could be a player” for Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez, who fits their need for a young infielder. The 24-year-old Dominguez is a top notch defender with some power (21 homers in 2013) but a questionable bat in general. Would I trade Williams for five years of Dominguez? Yeah, I probably would. Double-A prospect for a young guy who can step right into the MLB lineup to fill a position of need? What else should are they supposed to trade him for? That’s just one example of a potential trade match that, as far as we know, isn’t actually on the table.

Anyway, the point is that the Yankees have some extra young outfielders and are giving teams an opportunity to scout them this spring. They’re doing the same for their extra young catchers. Given the obvious needs on the infield (and also in the bullpen, but less so) and the team’s depth in the outfield and behind the plate, showcasing these guys makes all the sense in the world. It’s due diligence, only the other way around. Instead of asking about guys, they’re letting other teams see their players. This is the time of year to showcase people, and so far the Yankees have done a lot of it.

Sanchez tops MLB.com's top 20 Yankees prospects list
Jennings: Turley still shut down with arm tightness
  • nyyankfan_7

    Nice article – exactly why I keep coming back to your site.

    • pablos meatball sammcih

      Nice article – exactly why I keep coming bare back to your site.

  • Bryan

    I think the best case is making a deal with Arizona for Owings or Gigi but I could get behind Dominguez as long as it did not cost too much.

  • Kosmo

    not sure why the Astros would be willing to part with Dominguez seeing they have no one to replace him with.

    Yanks could check in on the Rockies Ryan Wheeler who plays 3B/1B has some upside or Jordan Pacheco who can C play 3B/1B or the Cubs Josh Vitters 3B/1B/LF.

    Flores + 1 or 2 others to fill an INF need might work.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      It’s pretty obvious the Astros don’t care about winning or filling spots, they’re hoarding prospects.

      • Mike Myers

        So in the NBA and NHL ‘taking’ is a big issue…but the Astros can make a mockery of their city and people applaud them for a good long term strategy. Seems insane…

        God, to be a baseball owner….no matter what you do the TV money just rolls in…

        • 28 this year

          Isn’t the network that the Astros are on bankrupt and TV revenue is falling apart? At least at the local level, not national TV money that every team gets.

        • Kosmo

          potential Astros INF 2015:
          Castro C
          Dominguez 3B
          Altuve 2B
          Correa SS
          Maryjane Singleton 1B

          with Springer,Fowler and Grossman in the OF

          a nice solid core to build around.

        • Mr. Roth

          I don’t really know of anyone who is applauding them for their long term strategy of sucking.

          • http://www.penuel-law.com/ Cuso

            Brian Kenny and Richard Justice are two people.

  • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

    Yankees also sort of did that with Montero.

    • Tanakapalooza Floozy

      I’m not so sure. At the time, Cashman sure seemed to have doubts, saying that he may have just traded Miguel Cabrera.

      My sense of it is less that we knew what Montero was (or wasn’t) than that we identified a need – young, cost controlled SP – even greater than the “C” Montero. We had lots of depth at the C position in the lower levels, including Sanchez obviously. Young, cost-controlled SP? Not so much.

      Sure it (sort of) worked out in hindsight. We traded away a guy who now has BUST written all over him for two pitchers who may yet prove useful. But I don’t think we thought we were getting one over on anyone.

      • Mandy Stankiwicz

        It’s sad, Montero seems so incredibly bummed out to play in Seattle. I really wouldn’t write BUST yet but, damn. He looks/sounds miserable there. I remember his first game back in the bronx, he mentioned how much he missed NY and how ‘different’ Seattle was. Reading between the lines, it seemed like going over there really crushed him. He’s has to suck it up, if he wants to go somewhere else he’s killing his trade value—showing up to camp 40+?!

        • Tanuki Tanaka (Formerly Bob Buttons)

          I still recall how Farnsworth actually cried when he was traded.

        • Sayid

          Exactly. Seems to be a bit of a double edged sword. I’m hesitant to call the trade a win for the Yankees (even if Pineda pitches well this year) on the basis of Montero becoming a bust in Seattle because I believe that part of him not reaching expectations is because he was very unhappy about being traded and stopped working hard. Though the Yankees may have won the trade, as in Pineda in NY will contribute more than Montero in Seattle, I’m reasonably confident that Montero in NY would have contributed more than Pineda in NY.

          Maybe I’m giving Montero too much credit and he would’ve become a bust in NY as well, but for some reason I feel as if the trade to Seattle had a big effect on him.

          • Tanakapalooza Floozy

            All possible.

            Also, even if neither Campos nor Pineda contributes to our team the trade will have been a bust for us – regardless of whether Montero ever performs – simply because we would have traded an extremely valuable trade chip (probably the most valuable chip we’ve had in a long time) and gotten no value in return.

        • Fin

          Eesh the silly love for Montero on this site wont stop, no matter how shitty he is. He was bored in AAA and now he is so unhappy in Seattle that he sunk his career. I also believe Cashman thought he was getting over on Seattle, knowing full well that Montero was not even a part time catcher at the MLB level, that he was infact a 1B or DH that he traded for a very promising, very young starting pitcher.

          And killing his trade value by being 40lbs overweight is also a silly notion, as he had no trade value after being worth negative war in his first 2 seasons with Seattle. The odds of ever seeing him in MLB again seem pretty slim.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        That’s why I qualified it. But even when we traded him there were legitimate concerns about his D, which limited his value. Obviously we didn’t see him as a total bust, and I don’t think Cashman thought he was pulling one over on the M’s, but I definitely think it was selling high.

        • Tanakapalooza Floozy

          Gotcha. And for sure we sold high. After the way Montero lit things up in his brief stint in the bigs with the Yanks it was tough to swallow him as anything other than a stud. Offensively at the very least.

  • Yankee$ (Formerly Pseudoyanks)

    Probably safe to assume the Yanks are willing to make the deal that makes sense now, but if they don’t get the deal they want, go into the season and look to improve mid-season.

  • The Great Gonzo

    Yeah, Mason would be guy I would like to watch grow into something special… but I agree that the time is now to sell on some pieces for some “today and tomorrow” type players.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Mason and Banuelos are the two prospects I’ve followed closest since they got into the system. I’d love one or both to be on the ML roster some day.

      • The Great Gonzo

        Agreed. That said, if Mason Williams is starting in Arizona or Chicago and we have a good young 3B for the next 5 years, I can dig it.

  • Farewell Mo

    Good point about knowing when to cut bait on a prospect before their value is completely eroded.

    Like Kenny Rogers said, you gotta know when to fold em.

  • Vern Sneaker

    I don’t think Flores will ever do much, if anything, at the major league level and Heathcott ever staying healthy for long periods seems like wishful thinking to me, no matter his talent. Williams and Austin have too much upside to trade for the return we’d get at this point.

  • W.B. Mason Williams

    Dominguez and his .286 OBP do not scream “trade for me!”.

  • nycsportzfan

    Wow, quite a bit of interest in the Yanks farm system players, especially for a team that dosen’t have a good farm system, no?lol

    • Mr. Roth

      Every team is scouting every other team almost all the time. That’s what scouts do. They scout.

  • pinch hitter

    Or they could be playing them because they want to see if they made any strides over the winter, and there’s no point in overworking the regulars, with 3 old guys and 1 injury-prone guy, early in spring training?

  • TWTR

    I view Sanchez as the heir apparent, not merely a spare BUC, who may be able to extend McCann’s catching career, thereby maximizing the value of his very large contract.

    Other than that, yes, trade depth for need.

  • chris

    Is Heathcott ever healthy?

  • Brett is Bubbas Son

    With Chicago watching so closely any chance at Semien? Frankly I would go Murphy+Phelps/Warren+Claiborne for him. He is projected to hit 90-95 wrc+ in the bigs this year. That would instantly make him a top ten offensive SS.

    • Kosmo

      I think Semien would be worth Murphy straight up. I believe at this time he´s considered more as a 2B/3B than a SS plus he´s blocked by Ramirez and if traded to NY by Jeter.

  • Tanuki Tanaka (Formerly Bob Buttons)

    I don’t know much about Dominguez but he didn’t really hit much back in the minors. He feels like a 3B version of J.P. Arencibia, making you cringe every at bat but can hit a few homers from time to time that still won’t solve the mass cringing.

  • Cool Lester Smooth

    Yeah, no thanks on Dominguez. He really just isn’t good at hitting spheres with a cylinder.

  • The Other Matt

    Once again, tremendous article Mike. Let me start by saying that I’m not the biggest fan of Mason Williams, and doubt that he will fulfill the potential that scouts and baseball officials seem to think he possesses. Not wanting to make a statement of that nature, without proper reasoning, I will say that it has nothing to do with the reports of those questioning his passion for the game and prior DUI. Watching him in plenty of the games he has played this spring, he has a very questionable bat. And while I don’t want to just base his overall ability at the plate over a few spring training games, he also did struggle a bit last year at High-A for a while, although he did have a stretch (towards the middle/later part of the season I believe) where he swung the bat better. However, when he was promoted to Double-A Trenton, he didn’t swing the bat well at all, putting it mildly (go look at the numbers for yourself).

    Not to totally bash him, I will give him credit by saying he did impress me with a few of the plays he has made in the field and the ground he covers, which holds true to the scouting report. Hopefully, he has a solid season this year, presumably at Double-A. As with all the Yankees prospects I do hope he succeeds, but even in the event that he does make an impact this year, things don’t look up for him as Ellsbury and Gardner are locked up long term, and he doesn’t profile as a player he could be a corner-outfielder with power that they will need along side those two (which is why I am rooting heavily for Tyler Austin to get healthy and put together a solid year). To me he is a fourth-outfielder at best, and I am highly skeptical at this juncture that he may ever make it to the major league level.

    Interested in what some of you may think.

    • Fin

      I agree with you. However, I thought the same thing about Ajax. Seem to be very similar players at the same pts in their career.

  • W.B. Mason Williams

    According to mlbtraderumors Kris Medlen may have ligament damage. Sounds like the Braves may need pitching.

    Maybe something centered around Phelps could pull Jose Peraza or Tommy La Stella.

  • Dirk Diggler

    David Phelps and Mason Williams for Nick Franklin would be ideal.

    • Giancarlo Murphy

      Make it Phelps, Williams, Ichiro, and $3M for Franklin and Montero. Goodness knows the M’s need one less 1B/DH and better speed/defense in the outfield.

  • Bats

    Matt Dominguez = younger Kelly Johnson.

    Axisa, why would you make top prospects for a lateral move?

    Unless you can logically prove that his important offensive numbers (.BA and .OBP) can go higher, then a trade for Dominguez has to be a NO-GO…no questions asked.

  • Bats

    SAVE the prospects/trade chips now! Use them to acquire Chase Headley, when he becomes available. One, you know the Padres are not going anywhere this season. Two, therefore they will trade Chase Headley who is heading towards free agency at the end of the season.

    NO Lateral Moves.