Taking stock of the Yankees’ trade chips

(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees have been very active on the free agent market this offseason, though it’s easy to forget since most of the signings were re-signings. Kevin Youkilis is the only new player the team has signed this winter, and they still have questions to answer at DH, behind the plate (unlikely to be addressed in a meaningful way), and on the bench. There’s a lot of offseason left and a lot of holes to fill.

For a big market team like New York, free agency is the easiest way to add players. There’s always the trade route though, and in fact the club has swung a major trade in four of the last five offseasons. Some (Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson) have worked better than others (Michael Pineda and Javy Vazquez). The Yankees may or may not have a trade of that magnitude left in them this winter, but not every deal has to be a blockbuster to help. Let’s take stock of the team’s current crop of trade chips.

Boone Logan
Logan, 28, has emerged as the team’s primary left-handed reliever over the last two years, but in no way should he be off limits this offseason. In fact, Clay Rapada has been much more effective against same-side hitters in recent years, though he’s unusable against righties. Logan can at least fake it against batters of the opposite hand if need be. Since he’s due to become a free agent next winter and is coming off a career-high (and league-leading) 80 appearances, Boone should be made very available this winter. Teams continually prove willing to overpay for quality relief, especially a left-handed relief.

Eduardo Nunez
For all his defensive deficiencies, the 25-year-old Nunez has garnered plenty of trade interest (from the Braves and Mariners, specifically) in recent years. Finding decent middle infield help these days is close to impossible, so teams are eager to roll the dice on a cheap young player with speed and contact skills. Frankly, if Nunez had spent the last few years in some other city, a lot of Yankees fans would be looking at him as a buy-low guy whose defense might be fixable with enough reps. Because we’ve seen the hilarious frequency of his errors first hand, he gets written off quickly. C’est la vie.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Ivan Nova & David Phelps
The Yankees brought both Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte back, meaning Nova and Phelps will battle it out for the fifth starter’s spot in camp. The loser goes to the bullpen (or Triple-A) to wait his turn as the sixth starter. Both guys could also be trade bait as young, cost-controlled back-end arms, though both also have their warts. Nova got pounded last season and Phelps has just a handful of big league starts to his credit.

Phil Hughes could also be lumped into this group, but he only offers one year of team control and is being counted on as the fourth starter behind the three veterans. He shouldn’t be off-limits, but he might not fetch as much as the team would like given the impending free agency. Hughes is most desirable to contenders, and it’s not often you see a trade made between two contenders.

Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Gary Sanchez & Tyler Austin
You can’t have a trade chips post without mentioning the top prospects. These four represent the team’s best young minor leaguers in whatever order, though none of them have meaningful experience at the Double-A level. For all intents and purposes, they’re four high-upside guys in Single-A ball.  As we’ve seen in the recent R.A. Dickey and James Shields trades, it takes an elite prospect on the cusp of the big leagues to land an impact player. Teams will surely line up to acquire these four, but I don’t think any of them would be enough to bring say, a young and MLB ready impact bat without significant secondary pieces. Twelve months from now, one or all of these guys could be among the best trade chips in the sport.

* * *

Curtis Granderson’s name has popped up as a trade candidate numerous times this offseason, though I maintain that it will be close to impossible to trade him and improve the team at the same time. The Yankees didn’t drop $62M total on five free agents this winter to trade their best power hitter for a young player who might help two or three years from now, potentially wasting a year of CC Sabathia at his best, of Robinson Cano at his best, of David Robertson at his best, of Pettitte and Mariano Rivera before they call it a career. With the 2014 payroll plan looming, making one last “all-in” run in 2013 should be the club’s top priority even if they seem to feel differently.

Baseball America’s Top Ten Yankees Prospects

Heathcott. (Jordan Megenhardt/MLB.com)

Baseball America published their list of the top ten Yankees prospects today, and the list is free for all. The scouting reports, however, are not. You need a subscription for them. The four names atop the list shouldn’t be a surprise (the order might), but things do get a little wacky after that. Let’s break it down…

  1. OF Mason Williams
  2. OF Slade Heathcott
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. OF Tyler Austin
  5. RHP Jose Campos
  6. RHP Brett Marshall
  7. 2B Angelo Gumbs
  8. LHP Manny Banuelos
  9. RHP Ty Hensley
  10. RHP Rafael DePaula

Two things stand out about the list. First, the Yankees are suddenly very top heavy with position player prospects, particularly outfielders. Outside of Jesus Montero, their recent top tens were mostly dominated by upper level arms. The Yankees are going to need that infusion of young bats and relatively soon, but Heathcott is only position player on the list who I think will open next year at Double-A. Austin has a chance, but it would surprise me a bit.

Williams. (NY Daily News)

Secondly, everyone’s hurt. Five of those ten guys missed significant time this season due to injury, and that doesn’t include Hensley’s shoulder “abnormality” or the month Austin missed with a mild concussion. Heathcott (shoulder) obviously came back healthy and Gumbs (elbow) has as well (based on the fact that he’s playing winter ball), plus Williams (shoulder) was just cleared to resume workouts. Banuelos will miss all of next season with Tommy John surgery though, and a club official said Campos (elbow) will “hopefully” be ready for Spring Training in the subscriber-only write-up. That doesn’t sound promising, but what can you do.

The write-ups include scouting grades (on the 20-80 scale) for each team’s top prospect and the grades for Williams are just insane — 60 hit, 60 power, 70 speed, 70 defense, 50 arm. That’s four above-average tools and one average one. Those are future grades and not present — they think he’ll grow into a 60 hitter, not that he is one today — but they still seem a little optimistic, particularly the power. A 60/60 bat is a .290-.300 hitter with 25 or so homers. Add the 70 speed and 70 defense and you’ve got 30+ steals and near Gold Glove defense. That’s a star player, it’s Grady Sizemore in his prime, but again the grades strike me as optimistic based on everything we’ve heard about Williams to this point.

Elsewhere in the write-up they note that Heathcott offers “explosive tools” — yesterday Keith Law said Heathcott has louder tools than Williams, though Mason is more refined — and that while Sanchez doesn’t stack up to Montero offensively, he has a much better chance of sticking behind the plate. Campos was “electric” before getting hurt while Banuelos was still struggling to command his fastball. They call DePaula the biggest x-factor in the system and say his “ceiling is as high as any Yankees minor league pitcher.” He’ll make the big jump to High-A Tampa next year.

With Banuelos essentially out for the season, the only top ten prospect who figures to spend significant time at Triple-A next year will be Marshall. The Yankees will have Adam Warren and maybe a veteran signing or two ahead of him on the call-up depth chart, possibly even Dellin Betances if things break right. The talent gap that has been slowly climbing the ladder in recent years has hit Triple-A, meaning the Bombers will have to make sure they bring in some depth pieces via free agency to shore up potential holes on the big league roster. The team’s top prospects just aren’t in a position to help next year, and maybe not in 2014 as well.

Update: Reports from Instructional League

Friday: McDaniel following up with a part four looking at a number of secondary pitching prospects — including an interesting 18-year-old right-hander just brought up from the Dominican Summer League — as well as OF Slade Heathcott, SS Cito Culver, and SS Austin Aune. So yeah, get on that.

Tuesday: Over at FanGraphs, Kiley McDaniel put together some scouting notes on various Yankees prospects he saw in Instructional League the last few weeks (part one, part two, part three). Among those covered were OF Tyler Austin, 2B Angelo Gumbs, RHP Hayden Sharp, 3B Dante Bichette Jr., RHP Dellin Betances, 3B Miguel Andujar, C Peter O’Brien, and C Gary Sanchez. Some of the reports are good, others not so much. They’re all worth the read though, so make sure you head over to check all of them out.

Four Yankees crack Baseball America’s Top 20 Florida State League prospects list

(MiLB.com)

After placing three prospects on the Low-A South Atlantic League list last week, the Yankees had four prospects on Baseball America’s top 20 High-A Florida State League prospects today. OF Tyler Austin ranked eighth while C Gary Sanchez was right behind him at number nine. OF Slade Heathcott and LHP Nik Turley were further down at 17th and 18th, respectively. Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez topped the list and was followed by former Yankees first rounder RHP Gerrit Cole, now with the Pirates. The list is free for all.

Austin and Sanchez ranked fourth and fifth in the Sally League list last week, respectively, and the subscriber-only scouting reports were nearly identical. “Austin’s most notable asset may be his ability to make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat,” wrote the publication while adding that Sanchez has “learned that he could (hit) balls over the fence without swinging from his heels.” OF Mason Williams only got 86 plate appearances with High-A Tampa before injuring his shoulder, so he didn’t have enough playing time to qualify for the list. RHP Mark Montgomery had enough innings to qualify but just didn’t make the cut.

The 21-year-old Heathcott garnered some high praise for his exciting tools, including “above-average power and plus-plus speed.” The major concern is his durability, as he’s already had two left shoulder surgeries since being drafted in 2009 and plays with the kind of reckless abandon that could make it difficult for him to stay on the field consistently. Playing all-out is great, but Slade probably needs to scale it back a bit. An opposing manager said Heathcott was his “favorite player in the league … He can flat-out play the game. He has great energy, he plays defense, he runs and he has power. He did it all against us. It’s just a matter of staying on the field.”

(Mark LoMoglio)

Turley, 23, drew comparisons to Andy Pettitte for his big frame and delivery. The 6-for-6, 230 lbs. southpaw “works his 89-92 mph fastball to both sides of the plate, setting up a big-breaking curveball that can freeze hitters.” Baseball America notes that his changeup is erratic, but he uses his size to throw downhill and generate ground balls (49% this season). The Pettitte comparisons are lofty and will create unrealistic expectations, so I feel obligated to tell you that when Andy was Turley’s age, he was already in the big leagues and in the team’s rotation for good.

The next list relevant to the Yankees is the Double-A Eastern League, which will be released tomorrow. The only Yankees farmhands who are candidates for that list are RHP Brett Marshall, OF Zoilo Almonte, and IF David Adams, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were shut out of the top 20 entirely. Good but not great prospects rarely crack a Double-A top 20. The Yankees didn’t place anyone on the Short Season NY-Penn League or Rookie Gulf Coast League lists.

Yanks place three on Baseball America’s Top 20 Sally League Prospects list

From left to right: Williams, Austin, Sanchez. (MiLB.com)

After getting shut out of the Gulf Coast League and NY-Penn League lists, the Yankees finally landed some prospects on one of Baseball America’s league top 20 lists. The Low-A South Atlantic League list was released today, with hard-throwing Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez claiming the top spot. OF Tyler Austin and C Gary Sanchez placed fourth and fifth, respectively, behind Fernandez, SS Trevor Story (Rockies), and OF Gregory Polanco (Pirates). OF Mason Williams was a little further down at nine. The list is free for all, no subscription is required.

“(Austin) has a great approach at the plate. He’s a gamer. This is the kind of kid you want on your team. He has the ability and the desire, and that’s a great combination,” said an opposing manager in the subscriber-only scouting report. Baseball America lauds the 21-year-old’s offensive skills — “a balanced approach, terrific hand-eye coordination and good strength … makes hard contact with solid power to all fields” — while noting his improved defensive skills in right field. My Minor League Player of the Year posted a 175 wRC+ with 14 homers in 309 plate appearances for the River Dogs this season.

Sanchez, 19, ranked 14th on the Sally League list a year ago and the offensive scouting report is relatively unchanged. The publication lauds hit ability to square up pitches and hit for big power — “You see the power he possesses and you say, ‘You got to be kidding me,'” said an opposing manager — but knocks him for his defense. Sanchez has a strong arm and can thrown out base-stealers, but he struggles with his receiving and there are concerns about his work ethic. He produced a 137 wRC+ with 13 homers in 289 plate appearances for Charleston this summer.

The 20-year-old Williams was further down the list than I expected, as Baseball America knocked him for his makeup. “He reportedly caused a few headaches for the Charleston staff and turned off observers with the way he carried himself on the field,” they wrote, while one NL scout said he has “got tools but needs to be humbled.” At the same time, he was praised for his “plus-plus speed and center-field defense,” as well as his “quick bat and average power.” Williams hit to a 129 wRC+ with eight homers and 19 steals in 311 plate appearances for the River Dogs before being promoted.

Here is the full top 20 schedule. The next list of interest to Yankees fans is the High-A Florida State League, which will be released next Monday. Sanchez, Austin, and Williams likely did not spend enough time with High-A Tampa to qualify for the list, but OF Ramon Flores, LHP Nik Turley, and RHP Jose Ramirez sure did. I’m not sure that any will make the top 20, but they should have at least garnered consideration. OF Slade Heathcott and RHP Mark Montgomery are right on the playing time bubble and should make it if eligible.

Sanchez tops MLB.com’s top 20 Yankees prospects lists

MLB.com recently rolled out their team top 20 prospects lists, and they have C Gary Sanchez claiming the top spot for the Yankees. OF Mason Williams and OF Tyler Austin round out the top three. Those are the names you’re going to see at the top of the club’s prospect lists all offseason, just not necessarily in that order. A healthy OF Slade Heathcott and an unhealthy LHP Manny Banuelos occupy the four and five slots, respectively.

The feature includes write-ups on all 20 players and in some cases, video as well. The MLB.com lists are always off the beaten path a bit — both UTIL Jose Pirela (#15) and RHP Zach Nuding (#19) cracked the top 20 over RHP Brett Marshall — which I enjoy just for the change of pace. Only two of the club’s top ten prospects are pitchers compared to three top ten position players from the 2010 draft alone. That’s a major difference compared to the last few seasons, when the top-end of the list was dominated by the guys on the mound.

Josh Norris’ Low-A Charleston scout notes

The great Josh Norris posted a collection of quotes from a scout on various members of this year’s Low-A Charleston roster this afternoon. The scout sung the praises of C Gary Sanchez and OF Mason Williams, but wasn’t a fan of either OF Tyler Austin or SS Cito Culver. It a short but fun read, so make sure you give it a click.