Thoughts following the big trade with the White Sox

Frazier. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Frazier. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Are the Yankees buyers or sellers? That question was answered definitively last night. The Yankees completed a big seven-player trade with the White Sox that brings Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle to New York. Going the other way are Blake Rutherford, Tyler Clippard, Ian Clarkin, and Tito Polo. There’s a lot going on here and I have some thoughts, so let’s get to it.

1. For all intents and purposes this trade is Rutherford for Frazier, Robertson, and Kahnle. The Yankees aren’t going to miss Clippard at all. He was included in the trade to offset salary. Clarkin is a former first rounder, but his stock has been slipping since his 2015 elbow injury and he’s fallen behind several other pitching prospects in the system. Polo has a classic fourth outfielder’s profile in a system loaded with outfielders. Also, both Clarkin and Polo will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and I thought it was unlikely the Yankees would add either to the 40-man roster. They could have lost both guys for nothing in the offseason — I absolutely could see Polo sticking in the big leagues as an extra outfielder next year — and instead they turned them into big league help. The Yankees gave up one very good prospect plus stuff for three players who represent significant upgrades to their MLB roster. No one wants to see Rutherford go, but man, getting two high-end relievers for one top prospect is a hell of thing these days.

2. I don’t think the Yankees soured on Rutherford. I think this was simply a matter of having to give up a top prospect to get the deal done, and getting it done without giving up an MLB or near MLB piece. Rutherford’s really good! He’s also in Low-A ball and the Yankees have Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier in the big leagues with Dustin Fowler waiting once healthy. Don’t forget Tyler Wade and Jorge Mateo either. And even Aaron Hicks. He’s pretty cool too. There’s also Estevan Florial at Low-A as well. The Yankees have more quality outfielders than they could ever possibly roster. If they were going to dip into their system and trade one of their top prospects, the outfielder several years away from the big leagues is the one to give up. The Yankees kept all their close to MLB prospects and the kids who play positions of greater need. Rutherford was probably my favorite prospect in the system, so in that sense I’m bummed to see him go. I totally get it though.

3. My biggest qualm with giving up Rutherford in this trade is the opportunity cost. What else could they have gotten for him? Could the Yankees have used Rutherford as the centerpiece in a package for a controllable starting pitcher? Joel Sherman says the Yankees offered Rutherford to the White Sox for Jose Quintana, so they tried. I guess it wasn’t happening though. It’s only natural to wonder what else was out there. The Yankees do know what else was out there though. They didn’t decide on a whim yesterday to include Rutherford in this trade. They looked around the league, weighed their options, and decided this was the best way to maximize him as an asset. The Yankees haven’t gotten taken to the cleaners in a trade in a long time. Brian Cashman and his staff do their due diligence and there’s no reason to think they didn’t here. I trust that they explored the rotation trade market before agreeing to this deal with Rutherford.

4. One component of this trade you can’t quantify is the message it sends to the players. The guys already on the team. The Yankees just told everyone in the clubhouse we believe in you. We believe you’re good enough to win and we’re going to get you the help you need. Last year the message was the complete opposite. You guys aren’t good enough, so we’re going to trade some of our best players and hope for better days ahead. Now, just a year later, the Yankees are buying. I’m certain the guys in the clubhouse are fired up by this, especially everyone who sat through the trade deadline sale last year. How much will it translate to production on the field? I have no idea. I don’t think this is negligible though. The Yankees sent a message to their players with this trade and that message is we believe in you and we’re going to give you whatever support you need. How could anyone not be excited by that?

5. As for things we can quantify, holy smokes is this bullpen going to miss a lot of bats now. The lowest strikeout rate among the regular relievers belongs to Adam Warren at 25.7%. There are currently 152 relievers in the big leagues who have thrown at least 30 innings this season. Four of the top 15 strikeout rates now belong to Yankees:

3. Tommy Kahnle: 42.6%
4. Dellin Betances: 42.5%
8. Chad Green: 37.4%
15. David Robertson: 35.6%

Aroldis Chapman hasn’t thrown 30 innings because he spent all the time on the disabled list, but he has a healthy 32.7% strikeout rate this year as well. Bring me a bullpen full of guys who can miss bats and get outs without allowing a ball in play. To hell with ground balls and weak pop outs and all that. Give me big strikeout totals in the late innings. The Yankees have that now. Well, they have more of it now. Adding Robertson and Kahnle to Betances and Chapman and Green gives Joe Girardi plenty of options when he needs a strikeout. I love it.

(Matthew Stockman/Getty)
Kahnle. (Matthew Stockman/Getty)

6. Kahnle is the main piece in this trade. Not Frazier or Robertson. Frazier is the former All-Star and Home Run Derby champ, and Robertson is a Proven Closer™, but Kahnle is the reason the Yankees had to give up Rutherford. He’s been unreal this season — he has a 2.50 ERA (1.47 FIP) with 42.6% strikeouts and 5.0% walks in 36 innings — and he’s also only 27 with three full years of team control beyond 2017. And his arbitration salaries won’t be significant because he doesn’t have many career saves (only three). The Yankees believe they just acquired three and a half years of an elite reliever in his prime. Of course, Kahnle has never pitched this well before, mostly because he never threw this many strikes. His career walk rate prior to this season was 14.1%. It was 13.0% in the minors. What changed? Here’s what Kahnle told Colleen Kane back in April:

“It’s just a few changes, one with the leg kick and keeping my head on a straight line,” Kahnle said. “That’s basically keeping me going toward home plate and keeping my fastball command right there. (I’m) just a little more focused as well. (The leg kick) is basically just modified so I don’t sway back or take too long with my arm action. That way I’m opening up. But now I’m more closed with a direct line to the catcher.”

And there you have it. Kahnle streamlined his delivery and is now more on-line with the plate. That’s pretty big for the whole “throw strikes” thing. Will it last? Who knows. I wouldn’t blame you for being skeptical. Heck, I am a little. I mean, Kahnle probably won’t be this good forever. He certainly wouldn’t be the first live-armed reliever to figure out how to throw strikes in his mid-to-late-20s though. Robertson did it. Andrew Miller did it. Lots of guys do it. The Yankees believe in Kahnle’s newfound control and that’s why they traded for him. He’s the main piece here. Frazier and Robertson are the big names and they’re pretty awesome in their own right. Kahnle’s the most impactful player the Yankees acquired in this trade.

7. As for bullpen roles, my guess is Girardi will bump Betances back to the seventh inning and use Robertson as the eighth inning guy ahead of Chapman. That’s fine. Dellin’s walk issues and general inability to hold runners mean he is no longer a great option to bring into the middle of an inning to put out a fire. He’s best off starting an inning fresh, at least until he starts throwing strikes again. The best option for that fireman role is Kahnle. He’s got the huge strikeout rate and he won’t beat himself with walks. That’s the guy Girardi should use in the highest of high-leverage spots, when he needs to escape a jam in a close game. Let Betances, Robertson, and Chapman have the assigned innings — you know Girardi is going to assign innings — and let Kahnle be the fireman. This really is a hell of a bullpen now. The Yankees have the three-headed monster in the late innings, Kahnle available to put out fires, and Warren and Green for whatever other situations arise.

8. Speaking of Green, I’ve already seen some speculation that this trade could tempt the Yankees to move him back into the rotation, and I am completely against that. The bullpen is the place for him. Green still doesn’t have a changeup and he’s an extreme fly ball pitcher (29.0% grounders this year). He’s not equipped to turn over a lineup multiple times. I absolutely believe learning how to get outs in the bullpen can help a pitcher when he transitions back to the rotation — I’ve said this before, but I don’t think Luis Severino turns into the pitcher he is today without that stint in the bullpen last year — but with Green, I don’t see the tools to start. He’s found a home in the bullpen and there’s no shame in carving out a career as a reliever. Not these days. Let him continue to air it out in one and two-inning stints. If anything, Warren is the guy the Yankee should move into the rotation, not Green. Warren definitely has the repertoire and command to start. (I say that as the world’s biggest Adam Warren fan, so I’m biased.)

9. This trade felt like the start of a series of moves for the Yankees prior to the trade deadline, not the move. I think they’re going to look high and low for rotation help. They’d love a controllable guy, we all know that, but if they have to settle for a rental, they’ll do it. You don’t make a trade like this only to stick with Luis Cessa or Bryan Mitchell every fifth day, you know? A starter is the top priority now and that’s understandable. I could also see the Yankees pursuing a true matchup left-on-left reliever. Someone better at neutralizing lefties than Chasen Shreve. I suppose a bullpen southpaw isn’t all that important since the Yankees have several righty relievers who can get out lefties (Warren, Betances, Robertson), but it would be nice to have. Rotation help is far and away the priority right now. If the Yankees happen to find a lefty reliever too, great. Point is, I think there’s something else coming. The Yankees didn’t make this trade with the intentional of calling it a deadline and hoping for the best.

10. As for Frazier, he’s going to play everyday and I expect him to spend most of his time at first base. I could see a convoluted platoon in which Frazier (first base) and Chase Headley (third base) play against righties while Frazier (third) and Garrett Cooper (first) play against lefties. Something like that. First base has been an absolute disaster this season — the Yankees have gotten a .183/.272/.355 (66 wRC+) batting line from the position this year, which gave me a headache just typing it out — even when factoring Cooper’s and Ji-Man Choi‘s recent heroics. Frazier, as flawed a hitter as he is, will be a big upgrade. He could be worth as much as +2 WAR to the Yankees the rest of the way relative to the guys he’s replacing. Hopefully he comes in, is energized by being in a postseason race for the first time in several years, and goes all 2000 David Justice in the second half.

Yankees acquire Frazier, Robertson, Kahnle from White Sox

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Any question about whether the Yankees would be buyers or sellers has been answered. Tuesday night the Yankees swung their largest trade deadline deal in several years, finalizing a seven-player trade with the White Sox that brings Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson to New York. Tyler Clippard, Blake Rutherford, Ian Clarkin, and Tito Polo are going the other way. Both teams have announced the trade. It’s a done deal. Officially official.

“Those are all guys who can help us accomplish what we’re trying to,” said Brett Gardner, who texted Robertson after the trade, to Bryan Hoch following Tuesday’s game. The Yankees are assuming the remainder of Robertson’s contract, which isn’t bad by any means. He’s owed the balance of his $12M salary this year plus $13M next year. Frazier is a rental and Kahnle will remain under team control through 2020 as an arbitration-eligible player.

Frazier, 31, is hitting .207/.328/.432 (103 wRC+) with 16 home runs in 81 games this season, and while that doesn’t sound exciting, it’s a massive upgrade over what the Yankees have been getting from first base this year. Joe Girardi confirmed Frazier will play both first and third bases, and I’m sure he’ll be in the lineup everyday. Also, Frazier is an A+ clubhouse dude. He’s great with young players and in general. The Yankees value that.

Robertson and Kahnle will help a bullpen that has been way too shaky this season. Kahnle, 27, was originally selected in the fifth round by the Yankees in the 2010 draft. They lost him to the Rockies in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft and he eventually made his way to the White Sox. Kahnle has been unreal this season. Dude has a 2.50 ERA (1.47 FIP) with 42.6% strikeouts and 5.0% walks in 36 innings. He’s been better than Robertson.

The 32-year-old Robertson has a 2.70 ERA (3.05 FIP) in 33.1 innings with 35.6% strikeouts and 8.3% walks, so typical David Robertson stuff. Welcome home, D-Rob. He and Kahnle are going to give the bullpen a huge shot in the arm. The Yankees are — and this isn’t hyperbole — replacing one of the worst relievers in baseball this season (Clippard) with one of the best (Kahnle). And then getting Robertson on top of that.

The big piece going to the White Sox in the trade is Rutherford, New York’s first round pick in last year’s draft. The 20-year-old outfielder is hitting .281/.342/.391 (112 wRC+) with two home runs in 71 Low Class-A games this season. That’s pretty good for a 20-year-old kid in full season ball, though maybe not quite what everyone hoped coming into the season. Either way, Rutherford remains an excellent prospect.

Polo and Clarkin, both 22, are decent prospects and nothing more at this point. Clarkin was one of the Yankees’ three first round picks in 2013, so once upon a time he was a pretty big deal, but he hasn’t really been the same since missing the entire 2015 season with an elbow issue. Polo came over from the Pirates in last year’s Ivan Nova trade and projects as a fourth outfielder. He’s very likely to play in MLB at some point.

Clippard was thrown into the trade as a way to offset some salary, and also clear a 40-man roster spot. (The Yankees still have to clear two more 40-man spots.) Clippard started the season in the Circle of Trust™, but he’s been getting bombed the last few weeks, forcing the Yankees to use him in lower leverage spots whenever possible. He has a 4.95 ERA (4.98 FIP) in 36.1 innings this year. Yuck. Addition by subtraction.

Now that it’s crystal clear the Yankees are going to add pieces at the trade deadline, they figure to buckle down and look for a starting pitcher. Michael Pineda is done for the season and running guys like Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa out there every fifth day isn’t a good idea. I don’t think the Yankees will trade top prospects for a someone like Sonny Gray, necessarily, but I do expect them to search around for a veteran innings guy.

Yankees lose Kahnle, four others in Rule 5 Draft

Kahnle. (Robert Pimpsner)
Kahnle. (Robert Pimpsner)

The Yankees lost five total players in this morning’s Rule 5 Draft, most notably Double-A RHP Tommy Kahnle. He was taken by the Rockies with the fourth overall selection. In a nutshell, New York receives a $50k fee and Kahnle must now stick on Colorado’s active 25-man roster all of next season. If he doesn’t, they’ll have to place him on waivers and then offer him back to the Yankees before being able to send him to the minors.

Kahnle, 24, was the team’s fifth round pick in the 2010 draft, out of Lynn University in Florida. They gave him $150k to turn pro. Kahnle had a 2.85 ERA (3.85 FIP) with a ton of strikeouts (11.10 K/9 and 28.8 K%) and a ton of walks (6.75 BB/9 and 17.5 BB%) in 60 innings for Double-A Trenton this summer. He throws very hard, regularly running his fastball up to 97-98, but he lacks a good offspeed pitch and his control is shaky at best. The Yankees offered him in trades for Alfonso Soriano and Michael Young before the deadline earlier this year.

The four players the Yankees lost in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft are OF Ravel Santana (Astros), RHP Mikey O’Brien (Reds), RHP Felipe Gonzalez (Pirates), and converted infielder RHP Kelvin Castro (Marlins). Santana is the big name here because he was once one of the team’s very best prospects. Injuries — most notably a shattered ankle in 2011 and a broken arm in 2013 — have hampered his development. The 21-year-old had a 157 wRC+ with the Rookie GCL Yankees in 2011, an 83 wRC+ with Short Season Staten Island in 2012, and then did not play in 2013.

The minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft works differently than the Major League phase. The players do not have to stick on a certain roster all year, they simply become their new team’s properly. The Astros essentially purchased Santana from the Yankees for the $12k fee. Same applies to the other three guys taken in the minor league portion.

The Yankee left several other interesting relief arms — RHP Chase Whitley, RHP Danny Burawa, and LHP Fred Lewis, specifically — exposed in the Rule 5 Draft, but none were selected. The Bombers have a full 40-man roster and were not able to make a pick themselves. The full Rule 5 Draft results can be seen here.

Heyman: Yanks made two offers for Young; Ruiz was unavailable

Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees made the Phillies two offers for Michael Young prior to yesterday’s trade deadline. They first offered right-hander Tommy Kahnle while assuming the $5M left on Young’s contract before offering a different (unnamed) prospect, but both were rejected. The Yankees also asked about Carlos Ruiz but were told he wasn’t available.

Both Young and Ruiz are prime August waiver trade bait as Philadelphia continues to fall out of the race. The Yankees are pretty high up on the waiver priority list, at least relative to their primary wildcard competitors, but both Young and Ruiz would have to pass through the NL and about a half-dozen AL teams before New York had a shot at them. Here’s how August waiver trades work, if you need a reminder. It’s doable but complicated.

Hot .GIFs: Rondon’s slider & Kahnle’s fastball

It seemed a bit odd when the Yankees added left-hander Francisco Rondon to the 40-man roster early in the offseason, keeping him away from the Rule 5 Draft. The 24-year-old pitched to a 3.93 ERA with 80 strikeouts and 42 walks in 71 innings across three levels last year, mostly with Double-A Trenton. Solid, but he wasn’t talked about a top (or even good) prospect and didn’t seem 40-man worthy.

Rondon threw two scoreless innings in this afternoon’s game, allowing a walk and a single while striking out two. As you can see, the kid has a pretty awesome slider. Downright CC Sabathia-esque, if I may. After seeing that, it’s easy to understand why they added him to the 40-man now, that breaking ball gives him at least lefty specialist potential. Some more clips of the slider after the jump. Make sure you click to embiggen.

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Minor League Links: Brackman, SI Yanks, Kahnle

Got some minor league links to pass along…

Yankees set to promote Brackman

Perhaps the biggest (literally and figuratively) development in the Yanks’ minor league system this year has been Andrew Brackman‘s breakout. Granted, we’re talking about seven starts here (39.1 IP, 33 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 6 BB, 41 K, ~2.00 GB/FB), but the scouting reports have been great, which is the most important thing. Joel Sherman says that the Yanks are set to promote Brackman from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton before the All Star break, which is less than a month away. If he’s truly on his way back to being an elite prospect, there’s no sense in holding him back. Great news.

Short Season Staten Island Yankees rosters

Robert Pimpsner tweeted the SI Yanks roster last night, which Greg Fertel was nice enough to round up in one spot. Outfielders Kelvin DeLeon, Ramon Flores, Eduardo Sosa, and Carlos Urena highlight the prospect crop, but Mikey O’Brien is the only significant piece on the pitching staff. Once more draft picks sign, the team with get a bit more exciting. Pretty surprising that Carmen Angelini isn’t on the roster. If he’s not on the Rookie level GCL squad, that means he’s been released. Boy was I wrong on him.

The SI Yanks kick their season off tomorrow with their annual home-and-home series against Brooklyn.

Stoneburner continues to open eyes

Aside from Brackman, Graham Stoneburner’s arrival as a legit power pitching prospect has been one of the biggest story lines of the 2010 minor league season. Kevin Goldstein reports today (sub. req’d) that “Stoneburner’s fastball and slider both rate as plus,” which doesn’t exactly jive with what we’ve heard from the Yanks. Pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras said last month that his slider was not even a big league average pitch, so who knows what to believe. Goldstein’s source could have seen Stoneburner on a good day, Nardi could have seen him on a bad one. Chances are the reality is somewhere in the middle.

Kahnle hopes to sign soon

Fifth round pick Tommy Kahnle said he hopes to sign with the Yankees soon, though he indicated that nothing is imminent. The hard throwing righty from Lynn University is one of several power college arms the Yanks drafted that projects to be a reliever down the road, something they surprisingly lack in the system.  I ranked him the tenth most important sign of the draft class, though I was kinda spit balling it.