Good things come to those who wait. When it comes to cashing in their trade assets, that should be the New York Yankees' guiding dogma.
All winter, trade whispers have swirled around Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner and reliever Andrew Miller. Yet even as they acquired outfielder Aaron Hicks from the Minnesota Twins and flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds, the Yanks held on to Gardner and Miller.
It's a strategy they should continue at least to the July 31 trade deadline, when they'll have an opportunity to cash Gardner and Miller in at maximum value.
Gardner has featured in various rumors, including this recent proposition by the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo: "With outfield prospect Aaron Judge not far off, the Yankees could deal Brett Gardner for pitching. It's plausible to imagine a Gardner-for-Andrew Heaney swap, considering Angels GM Billy Eppler was Brian Cashman's assistant and likes Gardner's defense, speed, and leadoff capability."
If that deal was actually on the table, New York should consider pouncing. Heaney—a 24-year-old left-hander who posted a 3.49 ERA in 18 starts with the Halos last year—boasts considerable upside and would slot nicely into a Yankees rotation that's crowded with question marks.
Cafardo, though, raises a larger point. Judge—the Yankees' No. 1 prospect, per MLB.com—figures to make an impact on the big club at some point this season. But the slugging 23-year-old may need a bit more seasoning in the minors; he's seen less than a full season at Triple-A, after all.
By keeping Gardner in the fold at least until midseason, New York can bring Judge along at a deliberate pace and not rush him into an outfield that is counting on veterans Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury to stay healthy.
Assuming Gardner—an All-Star in 2015—stays healthy and provides his usual mix of speed, savvy and pop, there should be plenty of takers come July.
Speaking of which, few commodities are more coveted at the trade deadline than late-inning arms. And Miller is one of the best in the game, even if he cedes closing duties to Chapman.
Miller had a stellar season last year at the head of New York's shutdown bullpen, posting a 2.04 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 61.2 innings and finishing 10th in American League Cy Young Award balloting.
Now, with lefties Chapman and Miller and right-handed setup man Dellin Betances, the Yankees have a chance to improve upon 2015's elite relief corps, which paced the pack with 596 strikeouts.
They also have a chance to trade from a strength to address a weakness. They could do it now, though other teams have balked at their asking price of a top young starting pitcher for Miller, per Cafardo.
That's in the frigid middle of winter, however, when free agents are dangling and clubs can afford to see how their own internal options perform in the spring.
By July, the playoff races are heating up, and teams become more desperate to plug holes. An arm like Miller's could fetch a hefty ransom from a contender that just lost its closer to injury, for example. Especially since the 30-year-old southpaw—who signed an exceedingly reasonable four-year, $36 million deal before the 2015 season—would be more than a stretch-run rental.
General manager Brian Cashman said it's his "full intent" to keep the Chapman/Miller/Betances troika together, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, but added he expects to get a "lot of interesting calls."
If someone blows Cashman away with an offer for Miller or Gardner (or virtually anyone else) between now and pitchers and catchers reporting, fine. If not, he'd be wise to hold his chips and see where things stand in six months.
Heck, who knows what the Yankees will need at midseason? The starting rotation looks like the most obvious concern at the moment. But the lineup is filled with creaky vets—Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira—who could break down anytime. Maybe adding a bat will be the summer's top priority.
In many ways, New York is in a generalized holding pattern, as Rosenthal outlined:
This isn't necessarily a playoff team, but the Yankees' 2016 season is partly about buying time until the contracts of first baseman Mark Teixieira and outfielder Carlos Beltran expire, just as the 2017 season will be partly about buying time while left-hander CC Sabathia and third baseman Alex Rodriguez play out their deals.
In the meantime, Cashman is threading the needle -- protecting his assets, getting younger and steering clear of new long-term obligations, in accordance with an ownership mandate.
New York still wants to win now, make no mistake. There's no such thing as a full-on rebuild in the Bronx. And the AL East, while balanced, is an eminently winnable division, stocked top to bottom with flawed hopefuls.
But where the Yanks used to rule the offseason by throwing their big-market bulk around and cutting cartoonish checks like Publishers Clearing House gone berserk, their new modus operandi is wait and see.
That should keep Gardner and Miller in pinstripes for the time being. Whether it'll bring good things remains to be seen.
All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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