Yankees build for future as Andrew Miller trade nets strong return
- The Yankees’ trades of Aroldis Chapman and now Andrew Miller have netted them a strong prospect core that should serve them well as they build for the future.
In the two days after the Yankees traded Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for a four-player package, they climbed to a season-high four games above .500, leaving open the possibility that they would maintain their longshot bid for a playoff spot. Three consecutive losses later, they've shifted more fully into sell-off mode. On Sunday morning, they dealt Andrew Miller to the Indians for a four-player haul headlined by the fifth overall pick of the 2013 draft, outfielder Clint Frazier. As Monday's 4 p.m. ET trade deadline approaches, the question is how much further the Yankees can strip their roster to build toward what general manager Brian Cashman called “an uber-team, and a sustainable one.”
The 31-year-old Miller, whom the Yankees signed to a four-year, $36 million deal in December 2014, was amid his third dominant season in a row, pitching to a 1.39 ERA and 1.77 FIP with 15.3 strikeouts per nine in 45 1/3 innings. After saving 36 games last year as the Yankees’ regular closer, he notched nine saves this season on either side of Chapman’s active tenure with the Yankees, which was delayed by his 30-game suspension for violating the league's domestic violence policy.
Whether or not Miller supplants Indians closer Cody Allen at the back end isn't clear yet, but left-handed relief help was a glaring need for the AL Central leaders, as Kyle Crockett (7.36 ERA in 7 1/3 innings) was the 25-man roster's only southpaw at the time of the trade. Allen has done a solid job this season, saving 20 games while posting a 2.58 ERA and 3.53 FIP with 11.3 K/9 in 45 1/3 innings. Manager Terry Francona has the option to keep Allen in place and use Miller—who was vocal about his flexibility when the Yankees acquired Chapman in February—in a multi-inning setup role.
In exchange for Miller, the Yankees received a quartet of prospects: Frazier, lefty starter Justus Sheffield and righty relievers J.P. Feyereisen and Ben Heller. Frazier ranked 21st on Baseball America’s Midseason Top 100 Prospects list, Sheffield 69th. Measured purely on those terms, by comparison the reported Jonathan Lucroy deal with the Brewers (which Lucroy vetoed) was headlined by BA’s 70th-ranked prospect, catcher Francisco Mejia, while the Chapman trade was led by the 27th-ranked prospect, shortstop Gleybar Torres.
Of those ranked prospects, Frazier is by far the closest to the majors. The 21-year-old righty swinger, who was drafted out of a Georgia high school, began the season with Double A Akron, his first taste of the upper minors; there he hit .276/.356/.469 with 13 homers and 13 steals. The Indians, who have gone 59–42 despite Michael Brantley being limited to 11 games due to shoulder woes and both Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd suspended for PED violations, resisted the temptation to fast-track Frazier or fellow outfield prospect Bradley Zimmer to Cleveland; a week ago, both were promoted to Triple A Columbus, where they each played five games. With rookie outfielder Tyler Naquin having an impact at the major league level this year, the Indians clearly felt that they could afford to dip into their positional depth to make such a move.
Frazier’s tools and style of play have drawn raves. Via ESPN’s Jayson Stark, “One exec who has seen a lot of Clint Frazier calls him an ‘all star type 5 tool guy that can flat out play.’” ESPN’s Keith Law called his bat speed “otherworldly.” Via Baseball America's Kyle Glaser, Cashman gushed about Frazier, “The bat speed is already legendary. He’s got all the tools—he can run, he can hit, he can hit with power, he can play all three outfield positions—he’s a very exciting, high-energy guy that shows up in a dirty uniform. That’s the exciting thing about his mentality. He’s a super-competitive guy.”
Indeed, Frazier has elite bat speed despite a long swing, and he’s pared his strikeout rate significantly over the past two seasons, from 29% at A ball in 2014 to 22% this year. Listed at 6'1", 190 pounds, he projects to have plus-plus power and has above-average speed and arm strength. After playing primarily centerfield in his first three professional seasons, he’s spent more time in leftfield and rightfield this year. He’ll report to the Yankees’ Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate, where he'll play at all three outfield positions and put himself in line for a significant big league role sometime next year.
The 20-year-old Sheffield was a supplemental first-round pick in 2014, chosen 31st out of a Tennessee high school. In 95 1/3 innings this year at High A Lynchburg, he's posted a 3.59 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and a 45% groundball rate. Via the New York Post's Joel Sherman, he has “a 92-95 mph fastball with advance[d] feel on a change and slider.” Via Baseball Prospectus’s Adam McInturff, he also has a cutter that flashes above average, useful for jamming righties inside. Listed at 5'10", 196 pounds, he's undersized, leading to speculation that he could ultimately wind up in the bullpen rather than the rotation, but his athleticism draws raves, and his upside is as a No. 3 starter. As he’ll report to the Yankees’ High A Tampa affiliate, he’s a long ways from having a major league impact. Again via Glaser, Cashman said of Sheffield, “Anybody who has seen him toe the rubber every five days, this is an electric lefthanded arm … and he is a competitor on that mound.”
Feyereisen, a 23-year-old righty listed at 6'2", 215 pounds, was a 16th-round 2014 pick out of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Working out of the bullpen at Akron, he’s whiffed 12.5 per nine with a 2.23 ERA in 40 1/3 innings. His bread and butter is a fastball/slider combo, with the heater sitting 91-94 but clocked as high as 98; he's seen as a possible future setup man. Heller, who turns 25 on Aug. 5, is a 6'3", 205 pound righty who was a 22nd-round pick in 2013 out of Olivet Nazaren Universtiy in 2013. He’s split his season between Akron and Columbus, pitching to a 1.73 ERA with 10.4 K/9 in 41 2/3 innings. He’s got an upper-90s fastball that can touch 100, and his slider has drawn reviews of above-average to plus from various prospect hounds; he's another setup man in the making, and could pitch for the Yankees this year. Neither pitcher was ranked among Cleveland’s Top 30 prospects in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook 2016, but Heller had inched up to number 30 in the Indians’ organization via MLB.com.
MLB com has already ranked Frazier the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect, Torres No. 2, Sheffield No. 7, and outfielder Billy McKinney (acquired from the Cubs in the Chapman trade) No. 15, illustrating both how high the trade market’s valuation has been for high-end relievers and how radically the decision to sell at the deadline with an eye towards rebuilding—something the Yankees haven’t done in decades—can remake an organization. Just two weeks ago, it was reported that Cashman was being held back from selling by owner Hal Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine, who believed the club was still in contention. With a dwindling number of above-average contributors in both the lineup and rotation, the Yankees’ shot at matching even last year’s Wild Card berth appeared to be minimal.
With Frazier and Aaron Judge (42nd on BA’s midseason list) at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees are now two-thirds of the way to an outfield that could look very different by this time next year. Pending free agent Carlos Beltran, their top hitter this season, was already likely to be dealt by the deadline, and now it’s conceivable that Brett Gardner could be as well, and if not then, possibly this winter. Gardner, who turns 33 on August 24, is hitting just .256/.348/.362 for a 93 OPS+ this year, but his strong work in the outfield continues to bolster his value. He’s been worth 2.3 WAR thus far, in line with his average of 3.9 over the previous three seasons. He’s inexpensive, earning just $24 million in 2017–18 with a $12.5 million team option and $2 million buyout for 2019. By comparison, Jacoby Ellsbury, who turns 33 on Sept. 11, is hitting an even more meager .264/.326/.367 but is owed over $89 million from 2017–20 including a $5 million buyout of his 2021 option.
Beyond Beltran and Gardner, the Yankees could continue to explore takers for Brian McCann, whom the Braves and Rangers have reportedly discussed with the Yankees. The 32-year-old McCann is owed $34 million for 2017–2018; presumably, the Yankees would have to pay that down, but in doing so, they could again add impact-level prospects with the right move. The team has 23-year-old Gary Sanchez, a prospect list staple for the past five seasons (36th on BA’s list this spring, fifth on MLB’s Yankees list) waiting in the wings, hitting .287/.338/.477 at Triple A. He’s their catcher of the near future, another part of a near-ready core that also includes 23-year-old first baseman Greg Bird (out this year due to labrum surgery).
In a separate move in the wake of the Miller trade, the Yankees acquired Tyler Clippard from the Diamondbacks in exchange for prospect Vicente (formerly Jose) Campos, who was acquired from the Mariners back in the 2011 deal centered around Michael Pineda and Jesus Montero. The 24-year-old Campos has battled injuries in recent years but has reached Triple A for the first time this season. Clippard, who was drafted and developed by the Yankees before being dealt away in December 2007, has scuffled along with a 4.30 ERA and 4.30 FIP in 37 2/3 innings for the Diamondbacks, whiffing 11.0 per nine but yielding 1.7 homers per nine. He’ll likely slot as a setup man as Dellin Betances moves into the closer role, though Clippard has some experience there, including 19 saves last year. It’s not out of the question that he could be spun off in an August waiver deal for a lesser prospect.