Clint Frazier’s Value to the Yankees
As the trade deadline approaches, Clint Frazier’s name will begin to appear mot in rumors as the Yankees seek to secure a frontline starting pitcher to help them play deep into October. While trading Frazier in the right deal would be a reasonable approach, it is important to recognize where Frazier fits into the current Yankee team. Most of the thinking around Frazier and the Yankees is essentially that the young outfielder has demonstrated he can hit very well at the big league level, but with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the corner outfield positions, Brett Gardner playing well and the Yankees likely to exercise their option on Edwin Encarnacion for next year, there is no room for Frazier. This thinking makes some sense at first glance, but it is looking at the Frazier question from the wrong end of the telescope.
The more realistic position on Frazier is that because Stanton and Judge are injury prone and because of Encarnacion’s age, the Yankees will likely need Frazier in 2020. The only reasons Frazier has not played a continued role for the Yankees this year are because Encarnacion became available almost for nothing, because Brett Gardner has, thus far, been enjoying a very strong 2019 and because Frazier has been a very poor defensive outfielder. A key number to remember regarding Frazier is that Judge has been a big league star since 2017, but has only played more than 140 games in that one year. He will not come close to that in 2019. Similarly, Stanton has only played in 120 games or more twice since 2015 and will probably not play in even fifty games this year. It is therefore very likely that one, or both, of these players will miss substantial time in 2020 and beyond, thus creating a clear role for Frazier in the Yankees future. Similarly, the Yankees may not want to plan around a 37 year old DH who, while still having some value, is clearly in the decline phase of his career.
Very few players are, or should be, untouchable; and Frazier does not come close to that threshold. If Frazier can bring the Yankees an ace who can help them win the World Series this year, it may be necessary to trade him. However, viewing Frazier as a spare part who can be traded away at no real cost or as somebody to trade for a middle of the rotation starter would be a major miscalculation.
The unspoken context for Frazier is the question of what can be expected from Giancarlo Stanton in the future. Stanton, who will turn 30 shortly after the conclusion of the World Series, is signed through 2027 and will earn between $25 and $32 million every year between now and then. The extent to which it will be difficult to move Stanton cannot be overstated. Because of his contract, there is probably not a team in baseball that would take Stanton, even if they didn’t have to give up anything in return. This leaves the Yankees little option but to hope he stays healthy and productive, something that has been a challenge for the injury plagued outfielder.
If Stanton cannot stay healthy enough to play even 120 games a year there will plenty of opportunity for Frazier to play when Stanton or Judge is hurt and to get some time at DH. The more complicated problem for the Yankees if that Frazier will likely soon be a more productive hitter than Stanton. If Frazier continues to build on his 2019 production and to improve his outfield defense-something that should not be all that difficult-and Stanton begins to slow down due to aging and all these nagging injuries, the young outfielder will probably surpass the older Stanton soon. Stanton’s 130 OPS+ in 2018 was better than Frazier’s 119 OPS+ thus far this year, but if Stanton ends up this year close to the 126 OPS+ he produced in the nine games he has played thus far, the gap between the two will be very small and the trend in a direction that favors Frazier.
Given Stanton’s contract, this creates a real problem for the Yankees. Keeping Stanton around as an oft-injured de facto fourth outfielder will be a humiliation to the Yankees ownership and remind fans and observers of the worst excesses of the George Steinbrenner period. However, having Frazier outhit Stanton while the former plays for another team and the latter has a long and lucrative period of decline with the Yankees, will not be great for the Yankees either.
Photo: cc/Keith Allison