The Clint Frazier Dilemma

The Yankees acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton means that Clint Frazier, one of the top prospects in the organization, has a future that is now very unclear. If the season were to start today, Frazier would be the fifth outfielder on the Yankees depth chart behind Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks. Those four players will rotate through the outfield and the DH spot in 2018. Another outfielder/DH, Jacoby Ellsbury, primarily due to his contract status, might even be ahead of Frazier on that depth chart. Frazier also has the disadvantage of being a right-handed hitter on perhaps the most right-handed heavy team in Yankee history. The reality is that barring injury to Judge or Stanton, Frazier is unlikely to get much playing time at the big league level in 2018. Another important reality is that all prospects have shelf lives. Frazier is 23 now and is rapidly approaching the time when prospects who have not yet made it begin to lose their value.

If Frazier remains in the organization, there are essentially four likely scenarios for him in 2018. The first is that between now and around May 1st, Judge or Stanton get hurt and Frazier steps in and plays well. This is unlikely, but would be the way in which Frazier would most increase his value. The second scenario would be that if given the opportunity to play due to injury, Frazier plays poorly. This would be bad for both the Yankees and Frazier. It would hurt the team and badly hurt Frazier’s trade value. It is also not very likely because there is a good chance the necessary injuries won’t happen. If Judge and Stanton stay healthy, Frazier would probably not make the big league roster leading to scenario three where Frazier plays in AAA and does not improve. This is not particularly likely either because it is probable that if Frazier spends another year in Scranton, he will hit well there, but if it happens, it would be very bad for Frazier. The fourth, and most likely, scenario is thatFrazier is stuck in AAA and plays well there. If that happens, Frazier will be treading prospect water and will have about the same value after the season as he does now, except that he will be a year older.

That is the dilemma facing Frazier and the Yankees. There is a pretty good chance that Frazier will have a value neutral 2018, after which he would have a chance of pushing Brett Gardner out of the lineup, but there is also a better chance that his value will drop than that it will rise. This means that Frazier is, on balance, unlikely to become more valuable over the next few months and that, therefore, the time to move him is probably now. Yankee fans should not be discouraged by this. Having players like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton force your team to trade a prospect like Clint Frazier is not exactly a tragedy. Rather, it is a reflection of the good moves the Yankees have made in recent years.

The challenge for the Yankees is to find a way to trade Frazier while getting something of value in return. Some of the rumored moves involving Frazier, like including him in a package for Gerrit Cole, would be mistakes. Trading a prospect like Frazier for a back of the rotation starting pitcher is not a great move. Fortunately, resigning CC Sabathia for one year makes the need for another starting pitcher less urgent. A solid infielder with a relatively team friendly contract situation would be a great return for Frazier, but those deals are hard to come by.

Thus, the two most likely mistakes the Yankees will make concerning Frazier would be to trade him for too little or to hold on to him too long. Neither of these would be devastating, but they would be mistakes. The best thing the Yankees could do would be to swap him for a player who fills a hole on the current team, but that will not be easy. There is another option. Rather than trading Frazier for a big league player, the Yankees could explore trading him for younger prospects. Trading Frazier, who may only be another 100 AAA plate appearances away from being a decent big leaguer hitter, to a team that needs some offensive punch, for three 19 years old who are toolsy and have high ceilings but who have not broken through as prospects yet would be an unconventional, but logical idea. It would be a high risk move, but may be the best option regarding Frazier.

The Clint Frazier dilemma is a reflection of the Yankees enviable situation of having a very strong big league team and an equally strong minor league system. If they do nothing, those prospects will gradually lose value, but if they trade them for big league talent, the Yankees might not get their true value in return. By going younger, an unconventional move for an already young team, the Yankees can extend their window for being competitive beyond the next few years. Trading Frazier would be the beginning, but a similar dilemma might arise regarding Miguel Andujar or even some of the pitching prospects in the next year or two.

Photo: cc/Keith Allison