Which Trade Targets Should Cashman Go For?
by Cary Greene
July 12, 2022
Only a few short days ago, I did a piece on what Yankees GM Brian Cashman will and won’t do leading up to or at, this season’s August 2nd, 6pm MLB Trade Deadline
It seems only a few fans seem to think that Cashman will stand pat and “roll with what he has” as the Yankees march towards the postseason, with thoughts of ticker-tape parades dancing in the minds of all Yankees fans in the five-boroughs and beyond! But, most Yankees fans know better. With a possible World Series title on the line, it’s very likely Cashman will make a few key moves.
One or more of four distinct possibilities will occur this year. Before I reveal them, consider for a moment that last offseason, Cashman made the lone “telegraphed” move that most Yankees fans expected. He worked to improve the outfield and to help make the Yankee offense more left-handed by acquiring Joey Gallo, who the Padres GM A.J. Preller was simultaneously working hard to win at a bargain price - as he often does near Trade Deadlines. Cashman foiled his attempts by ponying up significantly talented mid-tier prospects who collectively still have over $31 MTV!
Cashman got his man, Joey Gallo, the player every Yankee fan felt pretty sure the Yankees were going after. Cashman also attempted to trade for Trevor Story, who was with the Rockies at the time. Yankees fans also probably felt pretty sure that Cashman would look to upgrade the then sub-par situation at shortstop. But, when Colorado’s demands became unreasonable, Cashman pivoted and struck like lightning in a move few saw coming by acquiring Anthony Rizzo from the Cubs instead.
As if those moves at last season’s deadline weren’t all fascinating enough, Cashman also acquired needed bullpen balance, trading for Clay Holmes a few days before the Deadline and then, he expanded the Gallo trade to acquire lefty specialist Joely Rodriguez. Then, in one more move not a single writer even imagined, he also traded with the Angels for Andrew Heaney.
These recent Deadline shenanigans are an example of the kinds of great moves Cashman is capable of making when his back is against the wall. This year, circumstances are far different for the Yankees, but I still expect Cashman to make multiple moves, a few of which may be predictable and a few of which none of us will see coming.
Now for the four things Cashman will do!
1. The easy-to-read move this year once again working to improve the outfield. Cashman may go for a left fielder, or he may instead look for a center fielder. Perhaps he can find a player who fits both needs.
2. I believe the Yankees will also very certainly look to upgrade the bullpen.
3. Cashman may also add a big impact bat, perhaps a left-handed masher or a switch-hitter, someone Yankees manager Aaron Boone could plug in between Judge and Stanton, a bat that would help win a World Series title.
It's no secret, the Yankees are better off not using Aaron Judge as an everyday center fielder over the entire second-half of the season. The goal will be to keep Judge healthy and not wear him out. Not that Judge is a bad center fielder, because he isn’t. Judge is currently 3 outs above average in center field, according to fangraphs.com and he’s catching 2% more balls so far this season than he’s “expected to catch,” evidenced by his 92%-catch rate vs 90% expected catch rate) according to baseballsavant.mlb.com.
Most metrics say Aaron Judge is perfectly serviceable as a center fielder, he’s got a strong throwing arm and once he gets moving, he can track down a few balls that other center fielders might not make it to. That said, what makes him not really an ideal everyday centerfielder is that the routes he takes below are slightly below average (-0.6) and ultimately he’s a bit slow overall with the jumps he gets on balls (-0.8 feet below average) - data again provided by baseballsavant.mlb.com.
One way the Yankees have been moving the needle so much game-in and game-out is that they’re playing a highly productive offensive player in center field. Judge hits for power and average, manning a position most teams reserve for speedy, slap hitting, table-setter type ballplayers. Per fangraphs, Judge has a -1 DRS and his UZR/150 is a +3.0 - so there’s no doubt they can easily justify playing Judge in center field this postseason. No doubt, being able to do this in the playoffs will be advantageous for the Yankees because it allows Giancarlo Stanton to play right field and perhaps Matt Carpenter to DH. In order to be in a position to play Judge this way, the Yankees will need to keep him healthy for the balance of the season. Therein is the irony. While Judge is the postseason center fielder, he potentially isn’t the regular season centerfielder for much longer.
The problem is the Yankees don’t really have a capable defensive center fielder that they can use later in games and for spot starts, to alleviate some of the stress off of Judge, who is truly the Yankees MVP. Aaron Hicks is however showing steady improvement in a season that so far has been quite a slog for him. Overall, Hicks is actually hitting respectability. The League-Average against right-handed pitching is presently a .241 batting-average and a .704 OPS. Hicks is hitting .231 with a .725 OPS, so he’s actually an above average option against right-handed pitching. Meanwhile, league average against left-handed pitching this season is a .245 average with a .716 OPS and Hicks is hitting .254 with a .694 OPS, which means he’s debatably worked his way to becoming an every-day-player once again. With this in mind, Hicks gives the Yankees options going forward. He’s a capable fourth outfielder, in fact he’d start on most teams, but we’re talking about a team that has World Series championship aspirations.
Baseballtraderumors.com ran a story on Sunday by Darragh McDonald that indicated that Brian Cashman is actively looking to trade for an outfielder and he’s specifically been linked to Andrew Benintendi and David Peralta. It was also reported that Cashman is looking to trade Joey Gallo. Both Benintendi and Peralta would provide the Yankees with a left-handed contact-type bat and above average defense in left field so either of them would be an upgrade from Gallo. Peralta is strictly a platoon option where Benintendi could start against certain lefties, based on matchups.
Adding Benintendi or Peralta doesn’t relieve wear and tear on Aaron Judge though, so I think Cashman may be simply laying foundations for possible moves, while at the same time, I think he may also be preparing to pivot in other directions like he did at last year’s deadline.
Yankee fans would love it if Cashman made a huge Deadline splash by acquiring one of the best available center fielders but there’s a problem with this thinking. First of all, neither Mickey Mantle nor Joe DiMaggio are available and the Angels have made their usual, “Trout is not available” press statement. The truth is, there simply isn’t an electrifying center fielder available.
There are a few offense-forward center fielders available, perhaps the recently injured Pirates Bryan Reynolds would even top the list, but Reynolds is defensively far worse than Aaron Hicks, let alone Judge. Not to mention, oblique injuries can be a red flag and, to top it off, the Pirates seem highly reluctant to deal Reynolds, having reportedly turned down a number of solid proposals for both Reynolds and ace reliever David Bednar.
Baltimore’s Cedric Mullins is another name Yankees fans have wished for and granted, he does make some great plays at the position (7 Outs-Above-Average) but he struggles with the everyday plays, runs below average routes, and gets very slow jumps on balls, so he’s not really a great fit for the Yankees either. Baltimore isn’t shopping him and suddenly, they might actually be remotely in contention for a playoff spot. Perhaps they’ll turn into buyers like the Yankees did last year, providing they stay hot leading up to the Deadline.
A “funny-thing” tends to happen this time of year. Bloggers and baseball writers love to write about players who are completely unavailable. Fact is, even bad teams only make certain players available this time of year. Young, controllable talent is usually not found at the Deadline. Normally, who’s available is about teams wanting to save money by moving bad contracts or, they want to rack up a few prospects by moving a player who’s team control has dwindled to the point that they literally have to move him or risk not being compensated well enough by the Competitive-Balance component of the CBA.
Cashman’s Deadline objective is being made more difficult by the day because the 2022 Yankees have also slowly and methodically become able to dismantle right-handed pitching. It’s now possible for Aaron Boone to call on 10 Yankees with OPS’s over .720 against right-handed pitching and Joey Gallo, though he’s only batting .189 against righties, is now one of the ten and so is the aforementioned Aaron Hicks. This makes “upgrading” the outfield all-the-more difficult a task for Cashman, especially when one factors in that Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks are both acceptable defensive center fielders.
One would think that the Yankees splits would be downright lethal against left-handed pitching and by all measures, it certainly isn’t too bad. The Yankees have eight players with an OPS over .775 against lefties. This means that platoon players probably aren’t something Brian Cashman needs to search for at the Deadline. The Yankees don’t really need platoon players. Upgrading this roster offensively is going to be mighty difficult.
Another major factor that will impact Brian Cashman’s Deadline-dealings is the Yankees limited flexibility in terms of payroll. The Yankees are halfway into the second-tier of the CBA’s brand new Luxury-Tax threshold. There isn’t a ton of flexibility with this situation and given the Yankees record and Hal Steinbrenner’s disdain for paying Luxury Tax dollars, it’s very likely that Cashman will have explicit orders not to make any deals that would advance the team into the third-tier of the Luxury Tax’s configuration.
The Yankees have blown past Tier-One, which was set at $230 with a threshold of $249.9 million. Any team in this payroll zone faces a 20% tax-rate, per the 2022 CBA. Tier-Two, where the Yankees payroll currently resides - at $247 million (per fangraphs), is set between $250 million and $269.9 million and comes with a 32% tax-rate. This leaves the Yankees about $27 million to work with before the dreaded Third-Tier of $270 million, which carries a 62.5% tax rate, would be eclipsed. There is also a Fourth-Tier that is set at $290 million which has an 80% tax as well. <gulp> We’ll have to keep that in mind this coming offseason, but for now, Cashman is likely not looking to add too much payroll, though he does have a bit of wiggle room. Therefore, I expect Cashman to be very thrifty at the deadline because, as constructed, the Yankees are on-pace to win 110 games or more..
Yankees fans know that the 2022 Yankees have a “stop-gap” roster in place, supplemented by lots of secondary depth and Cashman’s certainly made a lot of shrewd pickups since last season. He smartly elected to avoid pricey free-agents and instead, he went with an assortment of players like Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson, who could keep positions warm while the Yankees system has been charged with continuing to develop key prospects in the hope that they might eventually force the team to promote them.
Therefore, it’s fair to say that the Yankee plan for 2023 and beyond is to draw upon the farm system to cut payroll and bring the stars back in alignment, as the Yankees work towards organically building the next dynasty’s core. The Yankee youth-movement has been integrated into the stop-gap approach, with Cashman as the supreme architect, overseeing each and every move the team makes. Cashman will use the deadline to focus on acquiring players who are either in their walk-years or perhaps have one additional year of team control. He’s looking to win a World Series WITHOUT trading away key prospects. This clearly means that top prospect Anthony Volpe is very close to being untouchable in any trade. Cashman would have to be blown away to even consider the notion of moving Volpe.
In effect this means any player on the level of say Chicago’s Ian Happ, is likely off limits. Because Happ comes with a year and a half of team control, he will be expensive to trade for. Baseballtradevalues.com has Happ’s value listed at $26.5 million. The Yankees simply won’t part with Oswald Peraza and a successful trade would start there and likely also involve Luis Gil as well - the Yankees lone “Tier-2” pitching prospect. I doubt Cashman would move that kind of prospect value for a year-and-a-half of a player like Ian Happ.
Last week I identified one surprise candidate who might be an outstanding fit with the Yankees as Kansas City’s Michael Taylor. Along with Benintendi, who’s also with the Royals this year, Taylor would be a player to keep an eye on as Cashman might see him as a fit.
Defensively, Taylor has a +7 DRS / +3.8 UZR-150 and he brings a decent walk rate of 10.6% to the table as well. The best part of acquiring Taylor is that he’s extremely reasonable to acquire, all it would take is a prospect such as Beck Way to get a deal done. Acquiring Taylor instantly upgrades the Yankees defensively and it allows the Bombers to use Aaron Hicks more in left field and reduce the amount of running Judge has to do. Taylor makes sense. He’s a fit. Another bonus to acquiring Taylor is that he comes with a year and a half of team control, which means he could be part of the Yankees plans next season.
If the Yankees traded for Benintendi instead, Hicks would continue as the backup center fielder. I actually think either plan works. A trade for Benintendi would likely cost a prospect the likes of Ken Waldichuk and Cashman would also need to include a lower level prospect as well, to get a deal done. With so many teams interested in Benintendi, there is a very good chance that the Royals will exact an even larger price than his current median trade value of $9.3 million.
There are a few other possible fits for the Yankees, Cincinnati's Tommy Pham or Pittsburgh’s Ben Gamel are both available but neither is all that much of an upgrade from Gallo. Enter the Mets. A potential trade exists that could help both teams and it’d be a bit of a blockbuster.
If the Yankees truly wanted to upgrade their contact-profile and add a left-handed batsman to the lineup, a package including Gleyber Torres, Joey Gallo, possibly Lucas Leutge and a lower level outfield prospect might get the Mets' attention. They’re desperate to upgrade their offense and Gallo fits nicely into their outfield as well, though the real centerpiece for the Mets would be the chance to add Torres. From the Yankees camp, Jeff McNeil slots into the lineup perfectly and could also provide defensive flexibility as he plays both outfield and infield.
If Cashman decides not to make a big splash, he might just want to keep the outfield the way it is and hope Gallo can continue making incremental progress forward, out of the deep funk he’s been in ever since being acquired. This seems unlikely as the trade drums are already beating and Cashman has been actively shopping. Usually, when Cashman starts making calls, something eventually happens. See “Luke Voit Traded to Padres” as exhibit A!
Yankees teams of the past have added big left-handed bats for championship runs, David Justice and Darryl Strawberry are two prime examples. Cashman should absolutely consider doing this because collectively, the Red Sox, Astros, and Dodgers represent the most historically difficult to beat pitching that any team has ever faced. To beat that much pitching, extraordinary hitting will be needed. Why not pile on even more offense. But who to target and how would it work?
The Nationals' Josh Bell is probably available and his bat is by far the best fit. First the obvious: The switch-hitting Bell has great splits, he’s an ideal middle of the lineup bat on a team like the Yankees. Bell is hitting .312 with a .882 OPS against righties on the season. He also hits lefties well, to the tune of a .289 average and a .868 OPS, which surged upwards by .211 points in June.
Bell is also pulling 40.2% of his batted balls this season, which makes him a fearsome bat to interject into the heart of a postseason lineup. His low strikeout rate of 13.6% is in the top 8% of the league and his elite walk rate of 11.5% means that he has a great eye at the plate and terrific strike zone recognition. Bell’s wOBA of .378 is Top 7% in the league as well, so if adding even more offense is the goal, which it clearly should be, Bell should be a player Cashman targets.
Like most lumbering first basemen, Bell is a well below average base runner who is prone to hitting into double-plays, but the damage he does far outweighs these two shortcomings. He hits for average and he causes damage when he strokes the baseball. Putting a switch-hitter in between Judge and Stanton, with Rizzo protecting Stanton, suddenly takes what was a great Yankee offense and makes it unstoppable.
Accommodating Bell involves heeding the lessons this season has taught Brian Cashman and the Yankees. Having veteran players on the bench, who can step into the lineup after a number of days off and still be productive, despite maybe not getting regular at bats, is highly valuable. Bell makes the Yankees situationally devastating and Aaron Boone can therefore insulate the middle of the order’s vulnerability to right-handed relievers.
Deeper into the bottom third of the lineup, Marwin Gonzalez not only backs up Kiner-Falefa at shortstop, but he also plays either corner outfield spot and is always ready, he’s established himself as the “ready when called on” type that makes for the perfect bench piece. In fact, due to the presence of Gonzalez, the Yankees don’t need a fifth outfielder because they also have Matt Carpenter, who Aaron Boone has hinted that he may try to work into the outfield mix. The reason this hasn’t happened recently is because Gonzalez is playing so well.
Matt Carpenter has also virtually cemented a role on the team. He has great splits and provides amazing lineup balance and defensive flexibility. Not only can he play corner outfield spots as needed, but he also plays third base and first base and can purportedly even play second, not that the Yankees would need him to do that often.
Brain Cashman could trade for a left fielder or a center fielder - I expect he’ll do one or the other, but he doesn’t really need to. Benintendi or Taylor really are the two best fits. Because Taylor can also play left field, he sort of kills two birds with one stone. He’s also less expensive to trade for so there’s that to consider as well!
If Cashman opens one roster spot, he can possibly make a deal in this realm, to upgrade the outfield. If he has to pivot, he might settle for unloading Gallo, adding a switch-hitter like Bell, and then perhaps he’ll simply focus on making a few bullpen deals.