The Lessons of the Trade Deadline [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2016 trade deadline was, truly, a monumental event for the Yankees. The team’s mediocre on-field performance pushed ownership to give Brian Cashman the authority to sell at the deadline, something the club hasn’t done in nearly three decades. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to call this year’s trade deadline a franchise-altering event.

Will the deadline alter the franchise for the better? That’s what we’re all hoping. The Yankees made five trades in the week leading up to the deadline, four of which qualify as “seller” trades, and those trades netted them two big leaguers and 12 total prospects. After the deadline Jim Callis said the Yankees have “the deepest system in the game.” The five trades told us five different things about the Yankees.

The Chapman Trade: The Yankees Are Opportunists

The first of the five trades was the Aroldis Chapman trade with the Cubs. It happened a full week prior to the deadline. I wanted the Yankees to trade Chapman even if they were in the race. I wrote that for I don’t know how many months before the trade actually happened. The club bought low in the offseason and had a chance to sell outrageously high at the deadline.

The Yankees did exactly that. They were 50-48 on the morning of the day of the Chapman trade, and they’d just won six of their last eight games. Rather than hang on to Chapman and try to get back into the race, they were smart about their situation. Contenders around the league were lining up for Aroldis and the offers were impressive. Far better than the draft pick the Yankees would have received after the season.

The Chapman trade told us the Yankees are going to be opportunistic. They acquired him at a deep discount (for terrible off-the-field reasons) and flipped him for a massive return. Getting Gleyber Torres alone would have been a major win. The other three players are gravy. I think it’s pretty gross the Yankees used the domestic violence incident to buy low on Chapman, but the team showed when an opportunity that is too good to be true presents itself, they’re going to pounce.

The Miller Trade: Committed To The Rebuild

Okay, fine, it’s a transition, not a rebuild. Whatever. The Yankees were in a very unique position at the trade deadline because they had not one, but two top notch relievers to peddle to contenders. Chapman was the first to go. Following that deal, the Yankees took offers for Andrew Miller, as they did last offseason. And of course everyone wanted him. Pretty much every contender was in on Miller.

Unlike Chapman, the Yankees didn’t have to trade Miller. I mean, they didn’t have to trade Chapman either, but it was such an obvious move. He was an impending free agent and his value was through the roof. Miller had two more affordable years left on his contract — plus he is insanely good and very popular — and keeping him would have completely justifiable. Teams wish they could have 25 guys like Andrew Miller on their roster.

Rather than keep Miller for those reasons, the Yankees acknowledged the bullpen market had exploded, and they capitalized on the opportunity. They’re so committed to the rebuild transition that they traded exactly the kind of player they want to acquire: affordable, effective, and likeable. The timetables didn’t line up though. A top notch reliever is not what they need right now. They need Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield more.

The Clippard Trade: A Complete Tear Down Isn’t Happening

The Yankees won’t say it, but they’re rebuilding. They’re just not rebuilding all the way. A complete Astros style tear down isn’t going to happen because a) it can’t due to some unmovable contracts, and b) ownership doesn’t want it to happen. Hal Steinbrenner has made that very clear. They want to remain in quasi-contention to keep fans interested (i.e. sell tickets, etc.).

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Tyler Clippard trade, which went down a few hours after the Miller trade, is the perfect example. Rather than turning Miller’s vacated roster spot over to a young reliever, the Yankees brought in a productive veteran to help them win. The cost was minimal — the Yankees gave up Vicente Campos, who got hurt (again) a few weeks after the trade — and the message was clear. The Yankees are still trying to win, which is commendable. There’s something to be said for refusing to be an abject embarrassment on the field.

Now, does it makes sense to try to remain competitive even though the team on the field is telling you the postseason isn’t going to happen? That’s up for debate. I’m sure some fans appreciate the wins while others would rather a slightly better draft pick and larger bonus pool. That’s not for us to decide though. The Yankees have made their position clear. They’re going to try to win while rebuilding. The Clippard trade is the latest example.

The Beltran Trade: The Yankees Aren’t Afraid To Take Risks

The Yankees made five trades prior to the deadline this year but only two actually came on deadline day. The first sent Carlos Beltran to the Rangers for three Single-A pitching prospects in a deal that was more or less inevitable. Once Chapman and Miller were traded, there was no real point in hanging on to Beltran, another impending free agent. Yeah, he was the team’s best hitter, but that also increased his trade value.

As part of the Beltran trade, the Yankees acquired right-hander Dillon Tate, the fourth overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft. Just last year. Baseball America ranked him as the 69th best prospect in baseball coming into the 2016 season. Tate’s stock took a hit in the first half because he hurt his hamstring and his velocity wavered, so much so that he sat in the upper-80s rather than the mid-90s at times. His stock was down quite a bit.

Rather than be scared away, New York targeted Tate in the Beltran trade and was willing to take on some risk in order to get premium talent. The Yankees never have access to players like Tate (and Frazier) in the draft. They never pick in the top ten. They were able to acquire that kind of talent at the deadline. To get Frazier, they gave up a great player in Miller. To get Tate, they had to roll the dice and trade their best hitter for a reclamation project. The Yankees didn’t play it safe. They’re shooting for the moon.

The Nova Trade: A Small Return Is Better Than No Return

Minutes prior to the trade deadline, the Yankees shipped Ivan Nova to the Pirates for two players to be named later. Two! That’s one more than I expected. Nova was another impending free agent, and again, there was no reason to keep him. He wasn’t a qualifying offer candidate and it wasn’t like he was pitching well either. A few teams were interested, including the Rangers, but ultimately Cashman connected with his favorite trade partner and sent Nova to Pittsburgh.

The Yankees didn’t get a whole lot for Nova. Tito Polo could maybe be a speedy fourth outfielder down the line, and Stephen Tarpley figures to get plenty of chances as a hard-throwing lefty, but neither player is likely to have much of an impact. They’re spare parts. They’re also better than nothing, which is what the Yankees would have received had they kept Nova and let him finish out the season in pinstripes. Keeping Ivan would have been pointless given the team’s place in the standings.

The Nova trade was a common sense trade. Get whatever you can and move on. Polo and Tarpley probably won’t amount to much, but you never really know. Tarpley could figure out how to throw his breaking ball for strikes, or perhaps some team wants Polo as the third piece in a trade. Point is, the Yankees had an asset in Nova whose value was rapidly approaching zero. They accepted a small return at the deadline because a small return is better than no return.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 28th, 2016

2016 Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot

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This time, it’s personal

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Just a bit less than a year ago, I wrote  a piece detailing my inability to let go of caring about the Baseball Hall of Fame process. Now, all this time later, I still can’t stop caring. I’ve managed to let go of caring about the postseason awards voting, but the Hall of Fame stuff still lingers. In 2015, I talked about the idea of rational debate, of a love of logic and reason being behind my enduring attachment to the Hall of Fame process; this year, though, it’s different. I care his year for reasons that are wholly personal.

The first baseball mitt I clearly remember using was a small black one that I used up until middle school. On the palm in gold lettering was a signature that read “Tim ‘Rock’ Raines.” It wasn’t until recently that I realized just how good Raines was as a player, that he was more than just the dude whose signature adorned my first mitt, which I’ll seemingly never forget. Given that this is his last year on the ballot, it’s hard not to care, not to want to see him get in. It’s possible–maybe even probable–that he does this year. That would be sweet and a long time coming or a great, great player.

Jorge Posada, on the ballot for the first time–and probably the last–was a favorite player of mine growing up. The same is probably true of a lot of you. Whether it was his consistent, excellent bat or his passion for the game, it wasn’t hard to root for Jorge. Always the player surrounded by stars, Posada’s career is likely highly underrated by anyone outside of Yankee fandom. He’s not going to garner a lot of support–and he probably shouldn’t be a Hall of Fame player–but it’d be nice for Georgie to get some recognition.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

All of us–well, except Michael Kay–loved Mike Mussina’s time on the Yankees. Combining his peak performance for the Bombers and his longevity, he’s got a case as one of the Yankees three best starters of the last twenty years.  He was a fantastic pitcher for a long time and is also underappreciated on a large scale and deserves Cooperstown just as much as any pitcher has in recent years.

The odds of all three of these favorites of mine getting in are incredibly long, nigh impossible. But having that connection to them is why I can’t stop caring, at least not this year. Maybe once this spate of ex-Yankees–ending with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and (hopefully) Alex Rodriguez in the next few years–comes to an end, I can finally put an end to caring about this damned process. Until then, though, I’ll continue to root, root for the home team and hope my favorites make it in.

Thanksgiving Weekend Open Thread

My second favorite holiday is upon us. Thanksgiving can’t beat Christmas — I don’t know about you, but with my family Christmas is basically a Thanksgiving-caliber feast with the added bonus of presents — though it’s still pretty great. Can’t wait.

I’m going to spend the next few days with family and stuff and I hope to forget all about baseball for a little while. I’ll post any breaking news or whatever, otherwise this open thread will carry you through the holiday weekend. Here are some links worth checking out:

Happy Thanksgiving, folks. I hope you have a great weekend wherever you are.

Greg Bird’s Lost Year [2016 Season Review]

#GREGBIRD (Presswire)
#GREGBIRD (Presswire)

This past season the Yankees started their youth movement in earnest. It kinda sorta began with the Greg Bird and Luis Severino call-ups last year, but it wasn’t until the team started trading veterans for prospects at the deadline that their direction was clear. The Yankees are going young, so much so that they’re moving productive veterans for kids in Single-A. It’s a whole new world.

Once again, the Yankees called up a bunch of young players in the second half this year, most notably Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. Others like Tyler Austin and Luis Cessa were around too. So was Severino. The young guy who wasn’t around was Bird. The presumed first baseman of the future spent the entire 2016 season rehabbing from February surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

The 2016 season was a lost season for Bird. He didn’t get to advance his career in any way, which stinks for a guy who would have played the entire season at age 23. That’s a crucial development year, especially after his successful MLB cameo last year. Let’s review Bird’s lost year and its big picture impact on the Yankees.

How Did He Get Hurt?

Bird hurt himself during an offseason workout, though the shoulder trouble was not new. He spent a month on the Double-A disabled list with a shoulder problem in the middle of the 2015 season. Apparently the shoulder was never really healthy the rest of the season. Bird admitted to not necessarily playing through pain, but playing through occasional discomfort. He hit those eleven homers in 46 games with the Yankees with a less than 100% shoulder.

The offseason workouts exacerbated the problem and led to the surgery. It was not one awkward movement or one exercise that caused it. This was a wear and tear injury. It started in Double-A and gradually got worse and worse. In February, the shoulder finally gave out and Bird needed surgery. Maybe the Yankees could have done something differently to keep Bird healthy. I have no idea. I’m no doctor. Won’t change anything now.

The Rehab

By all accounts Bird’s rehab went according to plan. His surgery came with an 8-9 month recovery timetable, which meant there was a chance he could return late the season, but the Yankees were never going to push it. Bird spent the summer rehabbing in Tampa and the rehab went well enough for him to get at-bats in Instructional League in September. That was our first indication Bird was getting better.

Following the stint in Instructs, the Yankees sent Bird to the Arizona Fall League for more playing time, where he hit .215/.346/.354 (102 wRC+) with one home run in 17 games and 78 plate appearances. I’m not worried too much about the statistical performance given the long layoff. Bird had to get his swing back. The most important thing is he made it through the AzFL healthy and didn’t miss a game. He was limited to DH because he hasn’t been cleared to throw at 100% effort yet, but everything else is going well. The rehab is right on track.

The Service Time Situation

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Bird spent the entire season on the Major League disabled list following the injury. I know he started last season in Double-A, but he was a big league ballplayer at the time of the injury. He played in the 2015 Wildcard Game, remember. Bird was a big leaguer when he got hurt and that means he spent the entire 2016 season on the disabled list collecting big league salary and service time. Good for him.

For the Yankees, it’s not so good. They lost one of Bird’s dirt cheap pre-arbitration years to injury. He’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2019 and eligible for free agency following the 2021 season, which is the same as it would have been had Bird been healthy and spent the entire year at first base and DH. Injuries are part of the game. They happen. It stinks when they happen to good young players when they are in the most cost effective years of their careers.

The Yankees Really Could Have Used Him

Geez, did the Yankees miss Bird this season or what? He hit .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) with eleven homers in 46 games during his 2015 cameo, and last winter ZiPS pegged Bird for a .252/.324/.486 (122 OPS+) batting line with 26 homers in 2016. That would have been really useful! The Yankees got nothing from the first base and DH positions this past season. Bird would have been a huge, huge help. Enough to get them into the postseason? Doubtful. But enough to make them more competitive and fun to watch.

Outlook for 2017

Hitters who have surgery to repair a torn labrum in their front shoulder are known to lose pop for some length of time. Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp both had the same surgery as Bird and needed a year or so to get back to normal. On the other hand, Brian McCann had the same surgery while with the Braves in 2012, and he bounced back just fine in 2013. There was no short-term power loss.

The Yankees are hoping Bird follows the McCann path and not the Kemp/Gonzalez path. The good news is the timing of the injury is on their side. Bird is going to be a full year out from surgery by time Spring Training rolls around. McCann, Kemp, and Gonzalez all had surgery after the season and were racing against the clock to get ready for Opening Day. There are no such issues with Bird. He’ll have a nice long rehab.

Give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m sure they’d tell you they want Bird to grab the first base job in Spring Training and run with it. That would be ideal. I also think they’re prepared to send Bird to Triple-A should he need time to get back on track following surgery. There’s little doubt Bird is the first baseman of the future. That’s the plan. Is the first baseman of the present? The first few weeks back from shoulder surgery will determine that.

Thoughts three weeks into the 2016-17 offseason

The closest McCann can get to airborne these days. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
The closest McCann can get to airborne these days. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Three weeks ago today, the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years. It still doesn’t seem real, does it? I’m not sure I’m ready to live in a world where the Cubbies are no longer the Lovable Losers. Anyway, I have some thoughts on things, so let’s get to ’em.

1. The Yankees have made one major move in the early going this offseason (the Brian McCann trade) but they’ve been involved in an awful lot of rumors. They’re checking in on every free agent and they’ve popped up in some trade rumors too. That’s unusual. Over the last few years the Yankees managed to keep things very quiet. Moves came out of nowhere. The Jacoby Ellsbury signing, Didi Gregorius trade, the Nathan Eovaldi trade, the Aaron Hicks trade … one day a press release showed up and that was it. There was no indication the Yankees were in talks at the time. There are always exceptions, but generally speaking, the Yankees keep things close to the vest. The opposite is true this offseason. They’re in on everyone and we all know it. I wonder what’s changed?

2. The McCann trade shows the Yankees have a lot of confidence in not only Gary Sanchez as the starter, but also Austin Romine as the backup and Kyle Higashioka as the backup backup. We’ll see what happens, maybe the team will sign a veteran backup or something, but I don’t think it’ll happen. I think it’ll be Sanchez and Romine to start the season with Higashioka waiting in the minors. Catcher is usually not a position where teams like to throw a young guy to the wolves without a veteran safety net. Managers like to have that experienced backup around to lean on in the tough times. The Yankees had Joe Girardi behind Jorge Posada for a few years, for example. A Sanchez/Romine catching tandem is definitely not a thing I thought would happen, yet here we are.

3. Is it weird I like the James Pazos trade more than the McCann trade? It is weird. I know it is. The Yankees traded McCann for two big Single-A arms and that’s exciting. You can’t teach triple digit heat and both Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman have it. The Pazos trade, on the other hand, was a clear organizational upgrade. The Yankees turned an erratic lefty reliever into a starting pitching prospect in Zack Littell who figures to reach Double-A at some point next year. The Yankees took a sure thing and turned it into two lottery tickets (and some cash savings) with the McCann trade. The Pazos trade was one lottery ticket for another with a higher payout. I thought Pazos was a potential 40-man roster casualty — as in someone who might get designated for assignment — not someone who could fetch a solid prospect in a trade. Well done, Yankees.

4. I’m curious to see how this 26th roster spot will work, assuming it is indeed put in place with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Just about every team will use it to carry an extra reliever because starters are throwing fewer innings than ever before, which ostensibly means more pitching changes and a slower pace of play. At the same time, the last guy in the bullpen usually doesn’t pitch a whole lot anyway. Richard Bleier was on the active roster for 66 straight team games from May 26th to August 9th this past season, and in those 66 games he made only 13 appearances. At one point Ronald Torreyes appeared in seven of 37 games from May 21st to July 1st. The last bench guy and the last bullpen guy don’t play a whole lot as it is with 25-man rosters. How much action will that 26th man actually see? Managers will love to have the extra arm for blowouts and extra innings, and that’s about it. Good for the MLBPA getting those 30 extra full-time jobs though.

Comeback Player of the Year? (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Comeback Player of the Year? (Mike Stobe/Getty)

5. MLB still hasn’t announced the Comeback Players of the Year and basically no one has noticed or cared. The Sporting News and the MLBPA Players Choice announced their Comeback Players of the Year — both gave it to Mark Trumbo and Jose Fernandez — but those are different than MLB’s official award. They get confused often. MLB’s official Comeback Players of the Year are still a mystery. Conspiracy theory: One of the winners was popped for performance-enhancing drugs and the appeal process is still pending, and MLB doesn’t want to make the announcement. Another conspiracy theory: MLB doesn’t feel comfortable giving it to Fernandez posthumously. I dunno, just seems weird a pretty notable award has gone missing this year. I guess everyone is just going to pretend this didn’t happen if it comes back next year?

6. Did we see the anti-Yankee awards bias in action in the Rookie of the Year voting? Michael Fulmer winning the award was not egregious in any way, but he received 26 of the 30 first place votes, so it was a relative landslide. For a Yankee to win a major award, he usually needs to have a season that is so far better than anything anyone else did so the choice is obvious, like Alex Rodriguez and the 2007 AL MVP. If it’s close, like it was with Fulmer and Sanchez, the votes tend to go to the non-Yankee. Fulmer had a remarkable season that was slightly worse than Collin McHugh’s rookie season in 2014. Sanchez did things we’ve never seen done by a rookie before, and he did them as a full-time catcher. It was unprecedented.

7. I was pleasantly surprised Mike Trout was named AL MVP. He means far more to the Angels than Mookie Betts means to the Red Sox or Jose Altuve means to the Astros or Zach Britton means to the Orioles. He’s more important to his franchise than any other player. I do not think this means a sea change is coming to the voting though. A bunch of guys on non-postseason teams aren’t going to start winning MVP the same way pitchers with 13 wins didn’t start winning the Cy Young after Felix Hernandez in 2010. This was basically randomness at work. The 30 voters this year just so happened to vote Trout over Betts, and it was a close vote. Trout won by a mere 45 points (356-311). Pick some other random combination of 30 voters from the 600+ BBWAA members and Betts probably wins. Heck, give all 600+ a vote and Betts probably wins. By at least one measure, Trout is the greatest player in history through age 24. Having just one MVP after these five seasons would have been ridiculous. Two is much better.

8. The 2017 Hall of Fame ballot was announced earlier this week, and it includes some notable first-timers. Among them is Manny Ramirez, who is going to give us a decent preview of A-Rod‘s Hall of Fame chances. Manny is the litmus test. Both Manny and A-Rod have first ballot Hall of Fame credentials, and they also both served suspensions stemming from PEDs. Manny served two, in fact. I don’t think either player will get into Cooperstown for that reason. If Ramirez gets, say, 10% of the vote in his first year on the ballot, he (and A-Rod) have basically zero shot at induction. If he gets something like 40% or 50% of the vote, there’s at least a small ray of hope. Assuming Rodriguez’s playing career is over, he’ll be Hall of Fame eligible for the first time in 2022. Will enough change between now and 2031, the final year of A-Rod’s ten years on the ballot, to get Alex in? Possibly, sure. I think he (and Manny) are facing long odds though.