The perception of the Yankees is that they buy wins. That they are a team filled with expensive, aging veterans who are only going to have an impact in the present. But the way the Yankees have been constructed over the past four seasons has been the complete opposite of their past… and there is no doubt that it will be a better formula for success.
Ever since the late, great George Steinbrenner passed away, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has been given the green light to make the moves he thinks will benefit the club’s long term future. He has gone away from the pricey free agents, and has leaned heavily on the trade market and drafts. Cashman has said repeatedly that the goal is to acquire young, cheap, and controllable talent, and boy, has he done a good job of that. Let’s take a look behind all of his trades since the conclusion of the 2014 season…
Following the retirement of legendary shortstop Derek Jeter, Cashman had to find someone to fill that void. Free agents like Hanley Ramirez and J.J. Hardy were popular options, but they were going to cost the Yankees big time bucks, again, towards the back end of their careers. On December 5th, 2014, the Yankees found their guy, and arguably made their best trade in a decade. The player they acquired was a young, unproven shortstop from the Arizona Diamondbacks, and his name is Didi Gregorius. Gregorius was only 24 years old when the Yankees acquired him, and he came into New York filling the shoes of the greatest shortstop in New York Yankees history. Didi struggled in his first couple months as a Yankee, and naturally, fans wanted him out. He hit under .220 while leading the team in errors through June of 2015, but the Yankees kept their faith in him, and he has rewarded them with stellar play from July, 2015 and on. The cost for the Yankees wasn’t high, either. They traded away reliever Shane Greene for Gregorius, and Greene has posted a combined WAR of 0 in his three seasons away from New York, while Didi has posted a WAR of 9.2 in his first three seasons in New York.
The Didi trade was the only significant trade the Yankees made up until after the 2015 campaign, but the 2015 offseason featured four huge trades.
The first trade they made was trading RP Adam Warren in exchange for 2B Starlin Castro. Castro was already a three-time All Star before the Yankees acquired him, but was rushed out of Chicago because of the emergence of youngster Addison Russell. Warren was not a guy the Yankees wanted to move, but acquiring an offensive talent has proved to be worth it. Castro’s presence in the batters box with the Yankees has been felt, as he has bolstered their offense the last two seasons by hitting a combined .285 with 36 home runs. Warren struggled mightily with Chicago, and was later re-acquired by the Yankees.
The second trade New York made was more of a sell-off move, rather than improving the team in the present. They dealt their above average lefty-reliever Justin Wilson to Detroit, in exchange for minor league pitchers Chad Green and Luis Cessa. This trade was more of a win-win for both teams than any of the other trades the Yankees had previously made. Wilson was a reliable arm out of the win-now Tigers bullpen, while the Yankees developed Green and Cessa. Cessa has yet to get a full shot in the Majors, considering he has been a spot starter and long reliever. He does have a strong upside, as he has stellar Minor League numbers, and is only 25 years of age. Chad Green on the other hand, has turned into a dominant arm out the pen. Green is younger, cheaper, controllable, and more productive. In 69 innings this year, Green went 5-0 with a 1.83 ERA, and is under contract through 2022.
The third trade the Yankees made in the 2015 offseason was one that completely shook the baseball world. The Yankees and Cincinnati Reds agreed on a trade to send the best closer in baseball, Aroldis Chapman, to the Yankees. Chapman was only 27 years old at the time, and was acquired for four low-level prospects that have proven nothing in the big leagues. Chapman teamed up with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, and at the time, became the most feared bullpen in baseball.
The final trade the Yankees made was perhaps the most low-key of them all. They swapped young catcher J.R.Murphy for former top prospect outfielder Aaron Hicks, with the Minnesota Twins. At the time, it seemed like a win-win. The Twins did not have a starting catcher, and Gary Sanchez was on his way up with the Yankees, making Murphy expandable. The Yankees had an outfield spot open, as Carlos Beltran was aging fast and Chris Young was set to hit free agency. Hicks was just 25 at the time, and had previously given up switch hitting because of his struggles. After a sluggish 2016 debut with the Bronx Bombers, Hicks was given an opportunity to play everyday in 2017. He competed with Aaron Judge for the right fielders job, but also saw time in Center Field after an early season injury to Jacoby Ellsbury. Hicks was heavily considered for the All-Star team, but came up just short. In 88 games in 2017, Hicks played brilliant defense and posted an OPS of .847. He is expected to be an impact player for years to come.
In 2016, the team as a whole struggled, and the Yankees decided to sell off big time pieces in Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltran. They acquired top prospects Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and Dillon Tate, as well as former Yankee Adam Warren, in return. Now, all of these prospects are in the organization, and are expected to be a big part of the future.
Following the 2016 season, Aroldis Chapman became a free agent, and the Yankees re-signed him in December, after trading him just five months earlier. So essentially, the Yankees acquired MLB’s top prospect Gleyber Torres for free. Pretty good, right?
So going into the 2017 season, the Yankees had acquired Didi Gregorius, Aroldis Chapman, Aaron Hicks, Chad Green, Starlin Castro, Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, and Justus Sheffield. That’s eight players under the age of 30, who were either part of the terrific 2017 season, or future stars who will impact the Yankees for the next decade.
Hats off to you, Brian Cashman.