The Problem With The Justin Wilson Trade

A week has passed since the Yankees shipped Justin Wilson to the Tigers for 2 Triple-A pitchers.  It's done, it's over, it's old news by now, and yet I still can't fully accept the deal and move on.  I completely understand why the Yankees made the move.  It was another textbook example of the "trade from positions of organizational depth to address areas of weakness" strategy that Cash has employed to try to rebuild this roster on the fly, and that strategy seems to be working pretty well.  I also completely understand why a lot of people didn't like the idea of trading away an important piece of the 2016 Major League puzzle to fill holes in the Triple-A rotation.  That doesn't exactly send the right message, especially when that message is being delivered behind the standard "we're committed to building a championship-caliber team each and every year" company line. The more I've thought about this trade and whether I did or did not like it, the more I've gone back and forth on it.  That's probably more time than anybody should mentally expend thinking about Justin Wilson, but this was the one move the Yankees have made this offseason that we really didn't see coming.  And then it hit me.  That's exactly why I've been struggling with this move and why I think a lot of other people have too.  Trading Wilson was an unexpected move and it was unexpected because unlike the previous trades, the Yankees didn't go into this one with a solid Plan B already available.

Think about the other two trades this offseason.  The Yankees were OK trading John Ryan Murphy because they already had Gary Sanchez waiting in the wings and Austin Romine around for injury insurance.  If the Twins weren't willing to make the deal to send Aaron Hicks back, the Yankees had backup 4th outfielder options in Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams already on the 40-man roster.  They aren't right-handed hitters, but they bring the same defensive flexibility and speed element to the field and they showed they can handle the stick in some small MLB sample sizes.

Then the Castro deal.  The Yankees, as uncomfortable as they likely were with it, had a plan to cover second base next year in place before they got serious with the Cubs.  That's part of why they acquired Dustin Ackley in the first place and why they didn't pull the trigger on Refs when the A's wanted him at the deadline.  Cash's decision to make Adam Warren the feature piece of the return package was made knowing he had Bryan Mitchell and Ivan Nova around for swingman depth and a slew of other young righty arms to step into the vacated short relief work.  Whether the Yankees did or didn't make those two deals, they would have been able to easily fill those areas of need internally.

That's not necessarily the case when it comes to losing Wilson.  He was very good last year (3.10/2.69, career best K and BB rates in 74 appearances) and was the only guy not named Deldrew Millances to stay in Joe's circle of trust all season.  Now the Yankees are not entirely bereft of lefty relievers.  Immediately after the trade was announced, the names Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos, and Tyler Webb were being thrown around as the main contenders to replace Wilson and all 3 of them are sound options.  They're also incredibly unproven.  Pazos pitched a total of 5 innings in 11 appearances in September, and walked as many batters as he struck out.  Lindgren missed most of last season with elbow surgery and will still be working his way back into game shape when next season starts.  Webb has never thrown 1 pitch above Triple-A.

Chasen Shreve is still around and I imagine the Yankees would like to promote him to Wilson's role to start the season.  But even that leaves another 60 important middle innings to cover and there is the concern about how poorly Shreve finished the year.  He's going to have to prove himself again and reapply for acceptance into Joe's circle and who knows how that is going to work out.  Lefty relievers are a tricky bunch year to year.  For all we know, peak Shreve last year was the best we were ever going to see of him.

Of course the same could be said about Wilson as well, and when you think about it that way it becomes easier to accept the trade.  He was great this past season, no doubt about it.  But that could have been a career year for him.  No problem in selling high on that.  The loss of Wilson is certainly not a deathblow to the Yankees' chances in 2016, but it doesn't help either.  He was an important part of what made the Yankee bullpen so strong and his internal replacement/backup plan is not as easily identifiable as the backup plans at other positions.  That's what I don't like about that trade and that's definitely what I'm going to come back and harp on next year if the team struggles in its lefty relief work.

P.S.- For the record, I like the trade more than I dislike it and I think Lindgren is going to be a stud.