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  • Cary Greene

Traded Yankees Prospects Tracker: Estrada, Duran, and Smith

Traded Yankees Prospects Tracker

     …Should Cashman Have Kept Them? Part Two in this Weekly Series Examines the Yankees Handling of: Thairo Estrada,  Ezequiel Duran and Josh Smith

by Cary Greene

April 22, 2024

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With the season going along nicely, I’ve found myself thinking about the team’s most pressing roster needs and in particular, I’ve been concerned about what the plan for third base is moving forward. Oswaldo Cabrera had been manning third base with DJ LeMahieu shelved to start the season with a fractured bone in his right foot. While Cabrera has been hitting much better than expected to start the season, his defense has been thus far two outs below average.

 

While it’s true Cabrera has come up with some pretty big hits here in the early going, it’s clear that Cashman wanted a little insurance in the infield, so on March 27th, Brian Cashman sent fringy left-hand hitting catcher Ben Rortvedt to the Rays and left-hand hitting Low-A prospect John Cruz, a promising young outfielder with some pop in his bat, to the Marlins for speedy utility man Jon Berti, a right-hand hitting jack of all trades who plays plus defense at third base, shortstop and even second base and who can also play a little outfield. The Marlins also received Double-A outfielder Shane Sasaki from the Rays to complete the transaction.

 

Glancing at Cabrera’s StatCast data in the chart below suggests that Cabrera has absolutely been playing out of his mind and he’s had very good luck at the plate so far this season. While his wOBA is a smashingly good .387, his xwOBA of only .285 suggests that based on the results of his contact - he’s been extremely fortunate so far this season. Not if but when Cabrera does regress due to getting more reps, his numbers will very  likely plummet to below replacement level. 


                              *Chart Above Courtesy of Baseball Savant

 

Enter the 34-year old  Jon Berti, who runs like the wind and is a faster, better fielding but worse overall offensive player than say, oh I dunno - Isaiah Kiner-Falefa. Trust that I’ve done a full comparison between the two and my words ring true - I won’t bore you with the full analysis, but what I will opine is that Berti is an awful lot like our friend Kiner-Falefa. Though I won’t miss having to type Isiah Kiner-Falefta, I should receive some love for doing correctly all season long last year as I cranked out content for the SSTN Gremlins! Typing Jon Berti is rather effortless by the way, as there are no worries about accidental Falafels appearing in my articles, though errant Bertucci’s making their way in are a minor concern, especially if I’m writing about baseball on an empty stomach!

 

Berti’s purpose is simply to provide some depth on the Yankees bench and according to MLB insider Bryan Hoch, DJ LeMahieu is set to begin what will be a five game rehab assignment and will soon be back with the Yankees. With LeMahieu presumably slated to be the primary third baseman, it got me thinking and wondering, why did Cashman have to trade for Jon Berti and flush a young, left-handed hitting outfielder with some pop in the process? Didn’t the Yankees have anyone down on the farm, who they could have summoned to fill in via the Scranton Shuttle? Perhaps someone who’s bat has a little pop in his bat, a player who could offer a bit more than a poor man’s Isiah Kiner-Falefa? No offense to Jon Berti, but c’mon Brian Cashman, where are all of those prospects you used to have in the cupboard?

 

Today is a fine day to look at two such former prospects, both of which could have easily been kept around by Brian Cashman and both are players who are superior options to Berti and Cabrera . Once Yankees prospects and now viable Major Leaguers who play for teams other than the one they came up with, if only Thairo Estrada or Ezequeil Duran had been kept around! The Yankees would be in far better shape and the farm system could be focused on developing young talent instead of having to cough it up to pay the pound of flesh that opposing GM’s insist upon when they transact with Brian Cashman.

 

Examining the older of the two former prospects first, a player who sure would be nice to have in the fold presently, let’s recall Thairo Estrada - who was shot in the leg while vacationing in the Dominican back in January of 2018 as he was entering a restaurant with his wife. At the time, Estrada was 21-years old and the Yankees needed a utility player. He made a quick recovery from the gunshot wound and was called up in late April during the 2019 season for his first cup of coffee. Back then, MLB rosters were capped at 25-men, so it was difficult to find a spot for a utility player, so the Yankees brought him up and down throughout the season, finding it difficult to get him regular reps. He finished the 2019 season with a .250/.294/.438 triple slash line and a 92 OPS+ across 64 at-bats and he was ranked at the time as the Yankees 19th best prospect.

 

In 2020, MLB rosters expanded to 26 men and this made it much easier for teams to carry an an extra utility player if they wanted to, but the Yankees only found 48 at-bats for Estrada that season as they had become enamored with another homegrown utility player at the time, none other than the speedy left-handed hitting Tyler Wade, who never posted an OPS+ of over 90 during his time with the Yankees - which ended during the 2021 offseason, when he was traded to the Angels for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

 

Both Wade and Estrada were competing for the same bench job in 2020 and it was a competition that culminated during Spring Training camp in 2021. At the time, many scouts around baseball felt that Estrada’s contact skills and his defensive versatility gave him a good shot at being a utility player at the Major League level, but not much else. It seems theYankees ended up agreeing that he’d never be an above-average everyday player.

 

It turned out that Tyler Wade won the Yankees utility player job when camp broke and in early April after the 2021 season had started, Brian Cashman sent Estrada to the Giants for…cash considerations! Estrada was out of options and with no place on the roster for him, that’s the best Cashman could do after he chose to DFA him.

 

During his minor league career, Estrada showed good contact ability with a little pop and though he came up as a shortstop, it became clear that he was probably better off at second base, though he could play third base as well.

However, with Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu both cemented on the Yankees roster and with Tyler Wade in the fold and looking good during Spring Training, roster spots were in short supply and Estrada was simply the odd man out in NY- ala James Mason in the 1947 suspense classic - Odd Man Out!

 

After being traded to the Giants, Estrada began the season in Triple-A with the Giants affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats, slashing .333/.399/.538 with a .937 OPS and he forced the Giants to call him up, where he promptly put up a 119 wRC+ audition which won him a roster spot. Fast forwarding to last season, Estrada’s defensive growth has been unbelievable. Fangraphs gave him a stellar grade of +20 Outs Above Average (OAA), which was tied for the best production of any defender in the League.

 

Essentially, when we examine the Yankees handling of Estrada, it’s plain to see that Brian Cashman flushed a versatile player with elite defensive skills down the tubes, giving him away to the Giants for nothing. The reason for this was that Cashman simply couldn’t get creative enough with his active roster in order to find a way to keep Estrada and as is often the case with Brian Cashman’s Yankees, a good player wound up getting dumped for zero return.

 

Furthermore, Cashman has been trying to find a good utility player ever since he gave Estrada away. It turns out, a potential solution to Cashman’s search was right under his nose, yet he didn’t know it. I often give Cashman fairly poor grades for allowing the Yankees to be so bad at scouting their own prospects. The handling of Estrada is a perfect example why I feel this way.

 

Moving along to the Yankees handling of Josh Smith and Ezequiel Duran, we see more examples of Brian Cashman’s inept artistry when it comes to extracting value out of home grown prospects. Cashman chose to roll into the season with a questionable outfield to start the 2021 season. At the time, the Yankees were counting on outfielders Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks to hold down the fort in the Bronx. Depth pieces Miguel Andujar, Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier were set to provide insurance.

 

The plan quickly imploded and it wasn’t long before the likes of Tim Locastro (Career OPS+ of 79), Ryan LaMarre (73) and Greg Allen (73) were in the mix. With the Yankees lacking a left-handed slugger in the middle of the lineup, Cashman decided to wheel and deal at the Trade Deadline that year to make up for his poor roster planning and he executed what has gone down as a real humdinger of a deal with the Texas rangers, acquiring outfielder Joey Gallo and lefty specialist Joely Rodriguez for shortstop Josh Smith (the Yankees number 14 prospect, the Yankees 2019 second round Draft pick out of LSU), middle infielder Ezequiel Duran (No.15, signed in 2017 as an International Amateur for a mere $10,000) and toss-ins Trevor Hauver (No.23, a second baseman) and Glen Otto (No.28, a Triple-A starter at the time).

 

The Yankees thought they had themselves a ringer as Cashman proudly went over the trade with the media. Aaron Boone of course jumped on the Gallo bandwagon also, saying at the time, “We’re incredibly excited to add two players that we feel like are really going to help us.” “Hopefully, people are talking about what a tremendous all-around player we’re getting in Gallo, he’s a really good athlete, a guy that runs the bases, has some speed, that’s a really good defender in the outfield. The tremendous patience and power that he has…we’re excited to add an All-Star.” Most Yankees fans liked the trade at the time and of course now the vast majority of them hate the trade as hindsight is always 20-20.

 

Make no mistake though, the Yankees gave up some pretty good prospects in the Texas trade that they could really use right about now. In fact, Josh Smith and Ezequiel Duran have played so well in Texas that they’ve made Brian Cashman look pretty stupid - mostly because of how putrid Joey Gallo was during his time in New York.

 

At the time of the trade, Cashman was obviously relying far too much on analytics and not nearly enough on scouting and the opinions of actual baseball people. Michael Fishman runs the Yankees analytics department and the only thing he ever did that was baseball related prior to joining the Yankees was excel at Strat-O-Matic and Fantasy Baseball. Fishman has never played a single inning of professional baseball in his life - yet he certainly captivated team owner Hal Steinbrenner and Cashman enough that his analytics department overruled all other aspects of the organization.

 

While Yankees analytics liked Gallo, there were many scouts that loved the return that the then rebuilding Rangers got more than they liked the season and half of the value that Gallo and his home run or bust approach would bring the Yankees. The opinions of the scouts I’m referring to were in utter contrast to the opinions of most bloggers, even some heavy hitters here on SSTN, who thought Gallo was a great fit with the Yankees. Many writers and Yankees fans alike also thought that the Yankees gave up virtually nothing - save for a few fringy prospects who likely didn’t have very high ceilings. Some even thought none of the prospects who were surrendered to the Rangers in the deal would ever be Major Leaguers. Boy were those voices wrong! While it's not easy to make the right trades every time, the importance of doing so really can’t be understated enough.

 

After the Joey Gallo blockbuster went down, Duran began shining in the Rangers Minor League system as moved from Double-A to Triple-A during the 2022 season, slashing a combined .302/.344/.555/.899 and he was called up to fill in at second base in early June that season. Duran struggled in his cameo against Major League pitching, putting up a .643 OPS, but last year he was much better, posting a .768 OPS and put his success in perspective, only two Yankees were better hitters than Duran was last season – Aaron Judge (1.019 OPS) and Gleyber Torres (.800 OPS). Duran mostly played out of position at third base for the Rangers last season as he was blocked by 2023 World Series MVP Corey Seager at shortstop and by Marcus Semien at second base.

 

However this season, the Rangers are counting on currently injured  Josh Jung, who was their First Round, number 8 overall pick in the the

 

2019 Draft, who they signed for a $4.4 million bonus at the time, to play the hot corner. Duran proved he’s not capable of being an everyday regular at third base, as evidenced by last season’s -24.3 UZR/150 and his -3 OAA in only 183.1 innings. That said, Duran has made the Rangers as a utility man as he showed quality versatility in Spring Training this year, demonstrating he can back up not only middle infield positions, but showing he can also provide some outfield coverage as well.

 

At the time of the Trade, Duran was listed by Baseball Trade Values as being worth $22 MTV, so it’s fair to say he was the headliner of the deal from the Rangers perspective. Meanwhile Josh Smith, who wasn’t valued as highly ($7.2 MTV) was flying under the radar but the Rangers scouting department had evaluated Smith thoroughly and they felt he’d be able to positively impact the team due to his elite athleticism and his ability to play all over the diamond. Smith rocketed through the Rangers system in 2021 and he got his first cup of coffee at the end of May during the 2022 season.

 

Though the Rangers determined that the left-hand hitting Smith is actually an average MLB shortstop based on his audition for Rangers then open starting shortstop job, Texas had aspirations of making a World Series run and they went all out in free agency, signing All-Star Corey Seager to be the man in the middle going forward. The signing pushed Smith into a super utility role and that’s where most scouting evaluations felt Smith would wind up as.

 

Taking to the role like Harrison Ford took to playing Indiana Jones, Smith is absolutely killing it so far this season with the Rangers. He’s slashing .320/.433/.400 with an .833 OPS, a 151 wRC+ and an electrifying .384 wOBA and guess what? Smith hasn’t even been the benefactor of good luck as his xwOBA is an almost identical .383! This means that Smith has bloomed as a singles hitting utility man who doesn’t strike out much and who walks a lot.

 

What the Rangers got in return for Joey Gallo was two very good and very different bench players, both of whom are insanely versatile. Currently though, the Rangers have a glut of talent at middle infield in their system, so it’s entirely plausible that they might look to deal Smith or Duran before or at the Trade Deadline.

 

In any event, trading for Joey Gallo was a massive swing and miss by Brian Cashman, the sting of this trade won’t soon fade in the minds of many fans. Almost immediately upon joining the Yankees, Gallo hit fewer homers, he walked less and he struck out way more. The sting of the trade is one that Brian Cashman refuses to elaborate on when reporters ask about it.

 

Therefore, I’ll ask our readers to chime in with their (your) opinions. Did Cashman commit the usual prospect related blunders in these trades or were his moves justifiable? Here’s another question for our readers as well - which one of the three players discussed today would you have liked Cashman and the Yankees to hang onto the most, if any?

24 Comments


Michael Goldstein
Michael Goldstein
Apr 23

Trading a player of Estradas quality for cash was a mistake but trading two utility players and depth starters for a 1.5 years of an all star caliber of made sense. Why Gallo turned into a pumpkin since the trade is the question.

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Cary Greene
Cary Greene
Apr 24
Replying to

I think the real question was why Cashman decided to with Wade instead of Estrada. Some liked the Gallo trade, but as Ed said in the comments below (link to his article) he really wasn't a great fit at the time, based on his metrics. Regarding Gallo, I'm left to conclude that he wasn't mentally fit to perform in the Bronx, for the Yankees. Playing under immense scrutiny isn't easy. He was relatively left alone in Texas, where he was significantly better. A change of scenery doesn't always work out.

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fuster
Apr 23

first-rate, Cary.

I had exceptional range at shortstop and bitterly resented getting switched to second due to being too skinny to sizzle the ball from the hole.

took me a long while to understand that stopping the ball from going through did't outweigh keeping the opposition from getting to first base

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etbkarate
Apr 23

Well done, Cary. Here's a blast from the past, written the day of the gallo trade.


https://www.startspreadingthenews.blog/post/won-t-get-fooled-again

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etbkarate
Apr 23
Replying to

Thanks.

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jeff
Apr 23

Brian Cashman got a pretty good prospect from the Dodgers in Clayton Beeter in exchange for Joey Gallo. So the jury is still out on whether or not Beeter will be a solid major leaguer. But since Gallo was swapped for Beeter, the TRUE measure of how the trade panned out, it must be evaluated as Josh Smith and Ezequiel Duran being traded for Clayton Beeter.

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Cary Greene
Cary Greene
Apr 23
Replying to

That's a good point Jeff and you're right - the jury is still out due to Beeter being in the Yankees system. It basically is Beeter for Smith and Duran at this point. Nice way of looking at it! Still, it's a bit of a moot point, if we use MTV to peg the value of each player presently. At the time of the deal, Gallo was worth $30.5 MTV (per Baseball Trade Values). The prospect haul that the Rangers got in return was a bit higher, which is why they made the trade. If they didn't get a good return, they would have went with one of their preceived many other offers for Gallo.


MTV rarely holds steady though.…


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thomasfrank1803
Apr 23

This is a rough reading for Yankees fans like me. Estrada sounds like he could have been a great solution at third or as a utility guy, and who wouldn't want a player with Duran's upside? build now gg

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Cary Greene
Cary Greene
Apr 23
Replying to

Good point about Duran's upside as a utility guy. The Yankees "could have" traded Gleyber Torres this offseason "if" Duran or Estrada were still around. As for Smith, he's showing that if healthy, he can be a good utility guy as well and as a former shortstop, he's athletic enough to play virtually any position.


I noticed Duran was at first base for the Rangers the last few games. He's more of a middle infielder really and I think his natural position is probably second base. Estrada is also really best suited for second base - where his defensive growth has been pretty incredible. He's borderline the best defensive second baseman in the game these days.

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