The Yankees Dilemma: Trade for Starter or Keep Prospects?


The Evil Empire returned upon its throne as public enemy number one as the New York Yankees shocked Major League Baseball by trading for NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton during the 2017 Winter Meetings. Brian Cashman has vaulted the Yankees back to being prominent buyers in the MLB, simply one year after being sellers at the deadline.

A year ago, at the Winter Meetings, the Yankees were looked to be in a rebuilding year or as the organization’s brain trust dubbed it, a “transitional year.” The usual big spenders in the offseason brought back Aroldis Chapman on a large deal for a closer, but mainly opted for shorter, cheaper deals to the likes of Matt Holliday and Chris Carter. Instead of trading prospects, they hoarded them at the 2016 trade deadline and watched them flourish in the 2017 season that put this “rebuild” on a fast track.

During the 2017 season, everything clicked for the Yankee youngsters whether it was Aaron Judge being voted AL MVP runner-up to Luis Severino returning to dominance being third in AL CY Young votes to Greg Bird, Jordan Montgomery, and Chad Green showing promising roles for the future. All this success pushed Cashman and ownership to bolster their roster during the trade deadline, while not mortgaging their future, to help this roster make the playoffs. The additions of Sonny Gray, Todd Frazier, and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle got the Yankees to Game 7 of the ALCS all while keeping their main prospects for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Fast forward to the 2017 Winter Meetings. The Yankees weren’t expected to make any major moves as they were focused on signing Japanese superstar, Shohei Ohtani, bringing back veteran starter CC Sabathia, and staying under the $197 million luxury tax. All was going to plan until Ohtani eliminated the Yankees from contention of signing him and Derek Jeter, now part-owner of the Miami Marlins, dangled the biggest fish in the market, Stanton. Frustrated with an organization going through another rebuild, Stanton had a no trade clause that only accepted trades to the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, and Astros. Being on the list was all the Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner needed to hear.

Stanton was donning the pinstripes three days after publicly putting the Yankees on the list as the Bronx Bombers sent All-Star second baseman Starlin Castro and two prospects, Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers (neither being ranked in the organization’s top five prospects) to the Marlins. Cashman saw an opportunity to put the team over the top, doing a complete 180 from a year before, and reinvigorating the Evil Empire back on top of the baseball world.

The deal actually saved the Yankees money against the luxury tax, despite Stanton having 10 years, $295 million left on his contract.

To many, this puts the Yankees in win-now mode, if they weren’t already, and the rumors around the league are that Cashman is not done weighing his options to trade for a young, controllable starting pitcher.  The names being thrown around are Gerrit Cole, Michael Fulmer, and Patrick Corbin. A deal of this nature would certainly have to include a few of the coveted prospects in the Yankees’ farm system that Yankees fans were beginning to get familiar with, a la, Chance Adams, Clint Frazier, or Justus Sheffield. That brings the question, should Cashman really push his chips to the middle of the table and trade more prospects for a starter?

Simply, no.

The big part of this equation is not focusing on the 2018 season alone, as the roster as currently in place should make the playoffs and be favored to win the AL East, but looking at the next three years. In 2019, Brett Gardner will be a free agent, and likely not be brought back as Frazier will be more than ready to obtain the everyday role in left field. Frazier would be the center piece of any trade along with Adams or Sheffield. My question is, why can’t Adams or Sheffield be this young, controllable starter the Yankees are looking for? This was probably once the thought process of Cashman & Co., but the Stanton move has the organization pushing for their 28th World Series in 2018.

The other part of the equation is the pitching staff that’s already put into place. In the playoffs, the pitching staff exceeded expectations with dominant performances from Masahiro Tanaka (who opted into three more seasons as a Yankee), Luis Severino, and CC Sabathia. Cashman already acquired the young, controllable starting pitcher at the trade deadline in Sonny Gray, now they get a full season out of him. The fifth spot in the rotation, if Sabathia returns, is again Jordan Montgomery who flashed great promise as rookie last year. Pair this rotation with the deepest bullpen in the league, and the Yankees should find themselves in prime position to get to the same situation as last season: having a lead in the ALCS, 27 outs away from a World Series berth.

Stay the course, Cashman.