Sometimes in baseball, and in life, the best moves are the ones you don’t make. The Yankees would be well served to keep this in mind in the coming weeks. As it stands now, the Yankees have a very good team, but the team also has several major question marks. They will go into the season with real strengths at several positions, like catcher, shortstop, designated hitter, the bullpen and the starting outfield. However, they will be starting unproven players at first, second and third base and have a starting rotation that has several question marks.
If Greg Bird, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, the projected starters at first, second and third, play well and the starting pitchers stay healthy and effective, the Yankees will run away with the AL East. If problems develop in three or more of these areas, the Yankees will end up disappointing their fans. However, if problems are apparent in two of these areas, a realistic, but not overly dramatic, possibility they should be able to address the problems in mid-season and move on. As with all teams, there is always the possibility of a freak injury to a key player or something of that nature, but barring that, the rest of the lineup and the bullpen is set and very strong.
The challenge the Yankees face now is that they should anticipate problems arising in some of these areas, but have no way of knowing in which of the areas the problems will arise. Therein lies the argument for standing pat now, or perhaps making only modest moves like resigning Todd Frazier. If on the other hand, the Yankees give up a prized prospect like Clint Frazier in exchange for a starting pitcher, they risk a scenario whereby June they have six starting pitchers who are healthy and effective, but that Bird is struggling and Torres needs more time in the minors. In that case they would no longer have a top prospect to trade for a first baseman or second baseman. Similarly, if they trade prospects for a veteran infielder now, but then develop problems in the starting rotation during the season, they will have fewer prospects of value to trade for that pitching.
It is true that the price to fill these potential holes will go up as the trade deadline approaches, particularly if the Yankees have a glaring need that is apparent to all of baseball, but given the depth of their minor league system, that is ok. Trading a top prospect to fill a precise need that helps the team win is fine. Trading that same prospect to add depth in a position that may or may not be needed is not a good use of resources. One of the great benefits of a strong minor league system, particularly when as is the case with the Yankees, the team also has financial resources, is flexibility. The Yankees can take advantage of that flexibly by husbanding those top prospects now until they know how the 2018 season begins to play out.
Another argument for not making another big move is that the Yankees don’t really know how good their young talent is. This is most apparent with regards to the infield. Bird, Torres and Andujar are all high ceiling players. Just as the Yankees need to be prepared for any of those three to stumble in 2018, the more pleasant possibility is that they all perform well and by mid-season we are grateful that they, not expensive veterans, constitute three quarters of the starting infield. Similarly, if CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray or Jordan Montgomery get injured or are ineffective, the Yankees may find that Chance Adams or even Justus Sheffield can step in as a back of the rotation starter for part of the season.
The question of whether or not to trade prospects to fill one of these holes now or whether it is wiser to wait until the season begins to take shape is tactical, but it is also strategic. This rebuilding phase has gone better and faster than many anticipated as few expected the Yankees to come within one win of the World Series in 2017. While the prospect of the team taking the next step in 2018 is very exciting, it is also laden with the possibility that the management will fall into the bad habits of trading prospects too quickly, overvaluing veterans and allowing a win now mentality to lead to bad decision making. The Yankees are in a strong place now with a real chance of being an elite team not just in 2018, but over the next five to seven years. Nothing would change that faster than falling into these types of old and bad habits.
Photo: cc/Jon Dawson