- E.J. Fagan
The Yankees Traded Away All Their Depth
by EJ Fagan
May 5th, 2023
NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.
Please check out EJ's substack page for more great articles.
The Yankees have been buyers at the trade deadline for basically every season of the last thirty years. While they haven’t traded away a truly elite prospect in decades, they frequently send top-10 prospects to other teams in return for rentals.
It’s pretty remarkable that the Yankees have managed to contend for so long while despite all of this. The fundamental dynamic of the trade deadline is that contending teams trade long-term wins, prospects, in return for short-term wins. The sellers get worse in the future while the buyers get better. The Yankees have always managed to fill holes without the prospects they traded away.
However, the Yankees have officially run out of bodies in 2023. They are depending on cast-offs like Willie Calhoun, Jake Bauers and Albert Abreu to play important roles on the club. Their bench is loaded with has-beens. Two-fifths of their rotation would look out of place on any contender.
For example, remember Ezequiel Duran? He was a promising young middle infielder in the Yankee farm system, on par with someone like Everson Peirera today. He was the biggest name sent to Texas in the Joey Gallo trade. He’s hitting .324/.351/.507 for the Rangers.
There are a lot of Durans floating around the major leagues right now. Hayden Wesneski, J.P. Sears and Ken Waldichuk would all be contenders for the Brito and Schmidt spots had they not been traded to the Athletics in the Frankie Montas and Scott Effross trades. Roansy Contreras, sent to the Pirates in the Andrew McCutcheon trade, has turned into a serviceable starter.
But I understand the trade losses. They are the cost of trying to win a World Series every year. And while the Yankees would love to have a few of them back, they haven’t been burned too often. Cashman’s best quality as a general manager is in getting value out of trades.
The true failures are the players that the Yankees let get away. Because the team is so committed to win now veterans with an inflexible roster, they don’t give marginal-but-good enough players stick around long enough to see if they are major league players. Imagine if the Yankees had held on to some of these guys:
Ji Man Choi
I could go on. For years, the Rule V draft and non-tender deadline were bloodbaths for the Yankees. They were terrible at opening spots for players who turned out to have great major league careers. None of these guys are stars, but every single one could have replaced an Aaron Hicks or Clark Schmidt on a Yankee team over the past five years. Almost all were successful immediately after leaving the team.
Why do the Yankees have such a graveyard of good-but-not-great players? Part of the problem is luck. They bet on the wrong guys. They also made a huge unforeseeable mistake in trading for Giancarlo Stanton. We’re now looking back with 20/20 hindsight.
However, I think there’s a deeper problem. The Yankees have made bargain hunting a habit. Instead of signing someone like Nolan Arenado or Paul Goldschmidt, they traded for Anthony Rizzo and Josh Donaldson. They signed Aaron Hicks to a long-term, low-AAV deal. They lock themselves into imperfect options like Isaiah Kiner-Falefa and Harrison Bader. They end up with neither a cheap, flexible roster like the Rays nor a bunch of blue chip veterans like the Dodgers. Some of the bargains work out, but others end up clogging up space on the bench and 40-man roster.
I hope the Yankees realize that they have a problem. The expensive, mediocre veteran strategy has huge costs. The stars-and-studs strategy, where the team signs big free agents while filling holes with cheaper players, allows you to retain more cheap, solid players like the list above.
Of course, there’s an alternative: rebuild. Normal teams don’t buy all the time because they are often sellers. But I think that ship sailed when the Yankees signed Carlos Rodon and Aaron Judge. Any true rebuild would take a long time. But the Yankees could try a quick reload if their fortunes don’t turn around by the trade deadline. They have solid rental candidates in Severino, Bader, Torres, Wandy and maybe German. I still fault Cashman for not trading Cano and Kuroda at the 2013 deadline.