Sorting through the Yankees’ top trade chips

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

The offseason has yet to really get underway, but there has already been talk of the Yankees going on a big spending spree to address their many needs this winter. I’m not sure where that money is coming from after putting together my most recent payroll breakdown, but that’s besides the point. New York has been connected to a ton of free agents so far, both big names like Brian McCann and Shin-Soo Choo and secondary players like Eric Chavez and Omar Infante. Needless to say, they’re getting around.

Free agency is the easiest way to address needs but it’s not the only way. The Yankees could also explore the trade market, a trade market that will reportedly feature high-end starters like Max Scherzer and David Price, young middle infielders like Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus, and pretty much everything in between. The trade market is like free agency — there’s a solution for every roster problem available if you’re willing to meet the asking price.

Therein lies the rub: the Yankees can’t meet too many asking prices these days. Not won’t meet asking prices, can’t. They don’t have many tradeable commodities either on the big league roster or in the farm system, and last winter’s Justin Upton trade talks showed how that can handicap them. The Diamondbacks reportedly did not like the prospects New York had to offer, so the young, power-hitting outfielder signing to a reasonable contract went to the Braves instead.

“I just don’t see it,” said one rival executive to Andy McCullough when asked whether the Yankees had the prospect inventory to swing a major trade this offseason. “I’m not excited about any of them making an impact next year,” added another evaluator while discussing the team’s top prospects while describing them as “solid guys, but not stars.”

The Yankees do have limited trade commodities right now but they aren’t completely devoid of marketable players. Some are just more marketable than others, or, as Brian Cashman likes to say, no one is unavailable but some are more available that others. Here’s a highly subjective rundown of New York’s best trade chips. Remember, at the end of the day, a player’s trade value is only as great as the other team’s evaluation of him.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Best Chip: Ivan Nova
In my opinion, Nova is the team’s best trade chip at this point in time. He turns 27 in January and has shown flashes of brilliance over the last three years. Ivan has not yet put together a full, productive season from start to finish, but he’s had stretches that make you think he could be very good if things ever completely click. It’s also worth noting Nova has thrown at least 150 innings every year since 2010 and at least 130 innings every year since 2008. Teams do value the ability to take the ball every fifth day.

Nova’s trade value is not as great as it was a year or two ago because he’s entering his arbitration years and is no longer dirt cheap, like league minimum dirt cheap. His projected $2.8M salary in 2014 is still a relative bargain, but trading for a guy owed $15M or so over the next three years isn’t as desirable as trading for the same guy when he is owed $16M or so over five years. This isn’t Nova’s fault obviously and getting three cheap years of a durable right-hander is still pretty awesome, but his years of team control are ticking away and he’s yet to really establish himself as … anything. He’s still a question mark.

Rentals: Brett Gardner and David Robertson
Both Gardner and Robertson are due to become free agents next winter, meaning they’re just rental players. Both will earn reasonable salaries next year — Gardner is projected for $4M, Robertson for $5.5M — and they both have their limitations on the field. Gardner is a defense-first outfielder who doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t steal as many bases as people think he can. Robertson is a late-inning reliever, meaning you’re only get 65 or so innings out of him. He’s a very good late-inning reliever of course, but one year of a reliever usually doesn’t fetch a huge package in return. The Yankees could flip these two for solid prospects or a similar rental player, but they’re not going to get that elite prospect or young big leaguer with several years of control remaining.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Warm Bodies: David Phelps and Adam Warren (maybe Vidal Nuno)
There will always be a market for cheap and young pitching. Phelps and Warren have four and five years of team control remaining, respectively, and they’ve had varying levels of success in the show. They’re far from established but have shown they belong in some capacity, either as back-end starters or relievers. Nuno has six full years of control left but is basically a complete unknown at the big league level. He is as close to ready as a pitcher can get, however. Every team needs cheap young arms to fill out a staff, but these guys are okay second and good third pieces in a significant trade, not centerpieces. Far from it.

Prospects: Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, J.R. Murphy and Rafael DePaula
Baseball has become a young player’s game these last five or six years or so, but I think we’ve reached the point where prospects and (especially) draft picks are being overvalued. Don’t get me wrong, they’re important and you need them to succeed, but they’re being valued higher than established big leaguers and that isn’t always the case. Not even close.

Anyway, Sanchez and Murphy are probably the Yankees’ two best prospect trade chips because a) Sanchez is their very best prospect, and b) Murphy is a big league ready-ish catcher. Quality young catchers are very hard to find and teams have consistently shown they will overpay — either in trades or by reaching in the draft — to get their hands on one. DePaula is the team’s best pitching prospect but he’s still in Single-A ball. Heathcott had an up-and-down season in Double-A but has a lengthy injury history. High ceiling but also high risk. Sanchez and Murphy could headline a package for a non-star player, but Heathcott and DePaula are closer to throw-ins in the grand scheme of things.

Suspects: Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Jose Ramirez
Injury of ineffectiveness — Austin, Williams, and Ramirez all had down 2013 seasons for one of those two reasons. Sometimes both. They’re basically buy low candidates, prospects with considerable ceilings who either need to get healthy or fix their mechanics or have their attitude adjusted. If I was another club and talking trade with the Yankees, these are the guys I would be asking for as the final piece in a trade package. Take a shot on one without the deal hinging on their success. There are too many question marks for any of them to be the top guy in a deal for an established big leaguer at this point. I just don’t see how another club would go for that.

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Update: Tyler Austin removed from AzFL with wrist issue

Wednesday: Austin’s wrist is indeed flaring up again, according to Norris. It is not serious but the team is shutting him down for precautionary reasons.

Tuesday: Via Josh Norris: OF Tyler Austin has been removed from the Arizona Fall League for an unknown reason and will be replaced by a player from a different organization. He appeared in four games for the Scottsdale Scorpions but hasn’t played in a week now, so it might be injury related. Austin missed approximately two months with a bone bruise in his wrist over the summer. He went 4-for-12 (.333) with a triple, two walks, and one strikeout (149 wRC+) with Scottsdale before leaving the desert.

Yankees sending Williams, Austin, and O’Brien to Arizona Fall League

The Yankees are sending OF Mason Williams, OF Tyler Austin, and C/3B Peter O’Brien to play for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League after the season. Each team sends seven guys to the AzFL, so New York must still name four more players. Expect most if not all of them to be pitchers. The entire Scottsdale roster is right here.

Josh Norris says Austin (101 wRC+) will spend some time working out at first base with the Scorpions. He’s played the position plenty in the past. Austin was placed on the Double-A Trenton DL with a bone bruise in his right wrist in mid-July, though he did play in his first rehab game with the Rookie GCL Yanks this afternoon. He’ll be making up for lost time in the AzFL. Williams has had a down year at the plate (87 wRC+), so hopefully he’ll rebound in the extreme hitter’s environment. O’Brien has had a strong year (146 wRC+) and will look to continue progressing.

Prospect Injury Notes: Banuelos throwing BP, Austin close to game action

Via Chad Jennings: LHP Manny Banuelos has been throwing batting practice at the Yankees minor league complex in Tampa. He had Tommy John surgery last October. According to Mike Dodd’s classic TJS rehab article, Banuelos should begin pitching in game action relatively soon. I suppose he could make some winter ball starts after the season if the team is comfortable with his rehab. The 22-year-old made just six starts last year before hurting his elbow, so he’s missed nearly two full developmental years. I ranked Banuelos as the team’s 12th best prospect last month.

In other prospect injury news, OF Tyler Austin could be close to playing in games with the team’s Rookie Level Gulf Coast League affiliate. He’s been out since mid-July with a bone bruise in his right wrist. The GCL season ends this coming Thursday — the other leagues end the following week — so there aren’t a whole lot of games left to play this year. I do think Austin is a prime Arizona Fall League candidate, however. Before the injury, he was hitting a disappointing .254/.344/.367 (101 wRC+) with six homers in 358 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton. I ranked Austin as the club’s fourth best prospect last month.

FanGraphs Q&A with Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin

Here’s a link of interest: David Laurila of FanGraphs recently spoke to top outfield prospects Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin during Double-A Trenton’s recently trip to Portland. Both players spoke about their offensive approach and swings, as did Thunder hitting coach Justin Turner. They talked about adjustments they’ve made, things they’re working on, stuff like that. It’s a very interesting and informative ready. Both guys seem to get it, so to speak. Check it out.

Poll: The 2013 Prospect Watch

Last year's Prospect Watch. (Bergen Record)
Last year’s Prospect Watch. (Bergen Record)

I’ve decided to modify DotF (in an undetermined way) this year for the sake of saving time and my sanity, but one feature that will not be changed is the Prospect Watch. Well, the featured player may change, but the format will remain mostly the same.

Last year we tracked outfielder Mason Williams‘ progress through the summer, and he rewarded us by hitting .298/.346/.474 (~125 wRC+) with 11 homers and 20 steals in 397 plate appearances before separating his left shoulder diving for a ball in late-July. The Prospect Watch was unused after the injury. In prior years we’ve tracked Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Andrew Brackman, Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, and a bunch of others I’m forgetting. It’s been a while.

We should have a healthy debate for this year’s watch subject because the Yankees have four pretty awesome position player prospects, all of whom are worthy of a spot in our sidebar. There’s not much on the pitcher side right now, but that’s alright. Position players are more fun because they play everyday anyway. Just as we did last year, let’s vote on the 2013 Prospect Watch. First, the candidates with their rank on my Preseason Top 30 Prospects List in parenthesis.

OF Tyler Austin (3)
I’m listing these guys alphabetically, but it’s also appropriate to start with Austin. The 21-year-old former catcher is the best statistical performer among the organization’s top prospects, hitting .322/.400/.559 (~163 wRC+) with 17 homers and 23 steals (in 25 attempts) in 472 plate appearances across four levels last summer. He’s expected to open the year with Double-A Trenton and has an outside chance of cracking the big league roster come September.

RHP Jose Campos (7)
I wanted to get at least one pitcher in the conversation, and the 20-year-old Campos was the obvious choice — Banuelos (#6 in my top 30) will miss the season due to Tommy John surgery while last year’s first rounder Ty Hensley (#8) could start the year back in Extended Spring Training and not even appear in an official game until June. Campos, who pitched to a 4.01 ERA and 3.24 FIP in five starts before a season-ending elbow injury last year, is healthy and ready to start the season back with Low-A Charleston. An assignment to High-A Tampa might even be in the cards, but that would be aggressive.

OF Slade Heathcott (4)
Heathcott, 22, is the old man of the group. He missed the first half with his second left shoulder surgery last year, then hit .307/.378/.470 (142 wRC+) in 265 plate appearances with High-A Tampa before destroying the Arizona Fall League (192 wRC+). Heathcott is healthy now (for the time being, anyway) and has the loudest package of tools in the organization. He’s slated to join Austin in the Double-A Trenton outfield.

C Gary Sanchez (1)
The team’s top prospect (in my opinion), the 20-year-old Sanchez hit .290/.344/.485 (~125 wRC+) in 474 plate appearances split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa last summer. His 18 homers led all minor league catchers. Sanchez is expected to begin the season back with Tampa, but a midseason promotion to Double-A Trenton is well within reach.

OF Mason Williams (2)
We’ve never had a two-time Prospect Watch guy, but there’s no rule that says we can’t do it. Williams, 21, has recovered from his shoulder injury — an injury that required surgery — and will join Sanchez back with High-A Tampa to open the summer. Although I ranked him as the team’s second best prospect, Baseball America had Williams in the top spot.

* * *

A few times in the past the Prospect Watch choice was obvious, but that’s not really the case here. Some of these guys might put up gaudier stats than others, but they’re all quality prospects worth monitoring as the season progresses.

Who should be featured in the 2013 Prospect Watch?
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Prospect Injury Updates: Adams, Austin, Hensley

(Star-Ledger)
(Star-Ledger)

It’s not just the big leaguers who are getting hurt these days, the minor league prospects are getting in on the action as well. Here are some updates courtesy of Chad Jennings and Josh Norris

  • IF David Adams took at-bats against Phil Hughes during yesterday’s simulated game and “should” be playing in games later this week according to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman. He missed big league camp due to a back issue that required an epidural.
  • OF Tyler Austin was hit by a pitch in the hand recently, but thankfully x-rays were negative. It’s not anything serious. Austin had his right wrist broken by a pitch back in 2010.
  • RHP Ty Hensley is nursing a pulled abdominal muscle and will miss a few weeks. It’s nothing serious but it will likely delay the start of his season. Hensley was the team’s first round pick last year and figures to open 2013 with Low-A Charleston.
  • OF Ravel Santana is not playing right now due to stiffness in his right ankle. That’s the same ankle that was basically destroyed when he caught a spike sliding into second base two seasons ago. No word on when he might return to action.
  • IF Rob Lyerly has decided to retire and finish his degree. He’s had two shoulder surgeries and just isn’t up for the grind anymore. Lyerly hit .292/.336/.416 with 17 homers in 288 minor league games after being the team’s sixth round pick in 2009. He topped out at Double-A.