New York Yankees' 8 Most Tradable Assets for the 2014-15 Offseason
With the disappointing 2014 season behind them, the New York Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman are now a mere day from the start of the Major League Baseball offseason.
Though it's fairly doubtful the Bombers will embark on another half-billion dollar shopping spree, they'll most certainly exhaust any options to snap their playoff drought at two years and make a serious push for October in 2015.
Heading into the winter, the Yankees have an obvious need in their infield, where they could conceivably add up to two pieces, in their starting rotation, where at least one more durable arm would add some insurance and for a productive bat—they just completed a historically poor year offensively.
Last week, we looked at several of the Yankees' own impending free agents and played a little "keep him or dump him." But, of course, much of the talk this month has centered on making improvements with external premier free agents, and the Yankees have a rich, rich history of throwing money at marquee names.
Among infielders, there will be Ben Zobrist, Jed Lowrie, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Asdrubal Cabrera; among the aces, Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields.
But Cashman could also look to package one or more assets for a blockbuster trade in the coming months, and top-tier guys like Cole Hamels (per CBS Sports' Jon Heyman), Chris Sale (per MLB.com's Scott Merkin), Giancarlo Stanton (per Peter Gammons) and, most recently, Yoenis Cespedes (per the Daily News' Bill Madden) have caused some chatter.
And though recent hauls were nothing to write home about, the Yankees were certainly no strangers to trading away young talent in 2014: They shipped out power-hitting prospect Peter O'Brien at the deadline to acquire Martin Prado, and they gave up a potential future star pitcher in Rafael De Paula as part of the deal for Chase Headley in late July.
This week we'll discuss four big leaguers and four prospects in the Yankees organization who could generate serious interest on the market.
These eight players aren't ranked according to who is most likely to get traded—or according to who should be dealt. Rather, they represent pieces who (1) would be the most coveted by potential trade partners looking to fill their own needs this offseason, and (2) whose absences—for the right price—would not leave New York with insurmountable holes for next season.
8: Jose Ramirez
One of the Yankees' top prospects, 24-year-old Jose Ramirez is a major league-ready right-hander who has climbed his way through the farm system since 2008, working 10 innings out of the Bronx bullpen in 2014.
He had a slow development curve at first, taking three years to make it out of Class-A ball, and has dealt with injury and control issues along the way (4.4 walks per nine innings in 2013; 10 BB in 12.1 IP at AAA in 2014).
He was also recently switched from starter to reliever this past season in an effort to preserve some of his health/durability—so he definitely heads toward 2015 with as many question marks as open eyes.
The 6'3" Dominican product flashes an excellent fastball—touching 96 mph—and possesses an outstanding changeup that MLB.com says could be the best in the organization: "Ramirez makes hitters look silly with his changeup, which bottoms out at the plate with splitter action."
Despite his walk totals, he struck batters out at an impressive rate the past few seasons, finishing his short stint in Scranton at 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings and his time in the Bronx with 10 strikeouts in 10 innings.
The reason why the Yankees are not higher on Ramirez—his stock slipped this season along with some of his health—is the same one why potential trade partners might not be high on him.
But still among the top-rated Yankees prospects by most publications, Ramirez could be an interesting piece in a package along with either cash or another minor leaguer.
New York could afford to deal him with a bevy of underrated right-handed talent toiling at the minor league level, and they just used their first draft pick on the best NCAA closer, Jacob Lindgren.
7: John Ryan Murphy
The Yankees enter the offseason with the same surplus of catchers as a year ago: With Brian McCann locked up for another four years, they simply don't need—and would be fine without—Francisco Cervelli, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez.
Consider that of those four names, two are proven big league-caliber backstops, and one is projected to be a star. Now contrast that with the current situation up the middle of the infield and at third, where Brendan Ryan and Rob Refsnyder might be two of the starters. In other words, the Yankees could afford to lose a catcher in order to fill a bigger need.
Romine, who has underperformed for a few years, doesn't crack this list of coveted assets, so of the remaining catchers, Murphy has the lowest ceiling and comes in at No. 7.
The 23-year-old, who was a 2009 second-round pick of the Yankees, received his second call-up this April and proved, if nothing else, that he's a solid, reliable game-caller with a serviceable bat. He might be a starter elsewhere but can definitely be a backup anywhere.
He hit .284 with five extra-base hits, including his first home run, and nine RBI in 32 games. Per CBS Sports' Jon Heyman (h/t NJ.com's Brendan Kuty), Cashman received several calls about Murphy this summer.
6: Francisco Cervelli
Naturally, Cervelli is next on this list, since his status as a probable starter on most MLB clubs one-ups Murphy's.
The 28-year-old Venezuelan sat out for 60 days with a strained hamstring, but when he was healthy and in the lineup, he was productive. He batted .301/.370/.432 with 14 extra-base hits—two of them homers—and 13 RBI in 49 games.
Cervelli had just two passed balls and threw out 25 percent of base stealers—just below the league average, per Baseball-Reference.
With Sanchez still a few short years away from the Bronx, the Yankees would be most comfortable with Cervelli backing up over Murphy.
But if they could go out and get an everyday shortstop or second baseman from a team with a need for catching, they'd most likely jump at the opportunity and be OK dealing the better backup. Teams like the Diamondbacks and Cubs "have a surplus of young shortstops," as noted by MLBTradeRumors' Mark Polishuk.
5: Adam Warren
The Yankees bullpen was a huge bright spot in 2014, with Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances and David Robertson comprising the final three to four innings of many ballgames. Per FanGraphs, New York relievers tied with Kansas City's for the highest WAR, and only the Mariners and Brewers had a lower team xFIP.
Though Warren was the least impressive of the four (which is very, very far from a knock), he did plenty last season—and in 2013—to be a desirable commodity for a team needing bullpen depth. Looking ahead to 2015, he could be a setup man for most teams at his ceiling and a seventh-inning arm at worst.
And he improved across the board in 2014, lowering his ERA (3.39 to 2.97) and FIP (4.32 to 2.89) with the majority of his work coming in the eighth (32.2 IP) and seventh (28.2 IP).
The 27-year-old showed better control and effectiveness in 2014, dropping his BB/9 from 3.5 to 2.7 and his WHIP from 1.429 to 1.106. Opponents went from hitting .268 to .212, and even in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, his home runs per nine innings rate decreased from 1.17 to 0.46.
Though an argument could be made to keep those four relievers intact heading into 2015, losing one of them wouldn't be hugely detrimental (again, it was the New York offense that sputtered and failed in 2014).
Even in the farm system, the Yankees have a few capable relievers who could be plugged into the late innings as early as next season: Tyler Webb (12.3 K/9 in 2014) and Nick Rumbelow (12.5 K/9) in Triple-A, and No. 1 pick Jacob Lindgren (17.3 K/9 in 19 G), who rose to Double-A in his first year of pro ball after cementing himself as the best college reliever while at SEC powerhouse Mississippi State.
4: Aaron Judge
When the Yankees dealt Peter O'Brien this summer, they gave up one of the better hitters in the system, but they also proved that no prospect is safe. Of the few remaining projectable position players, outfielder Aaron Judge has the most impressive bat and could be very enticing trade bait this winter.
MLB.com bumped him from a preseason No. 9 ranking in the Yankees system to No. 5 by season's end, and ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand wrote: "There are some in the Yankees organization who believe Judge may end up a 30-homer, 100-RBI guy."
And "big" would be a severe understatement for the Cal State Fresno product who measures in at 6'7", 230 pounds. New York selected him 32nd overall in 2013, and he split his first season of pro ball in 2014 (due to injury) between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, slashing .308/.419/.486 with a .905 OPS and a .178 isolated power number.
Judge, who shared time between right field and DH, collected 45 extra-base hits, mashing 17 home runs, 24 doubles and four triples, and he drove in 78 runs. He's also raking in the Arizona Fall League, with two homers, three doubles and eight RBI through 11 games.
In the video above, you can see his quick hands and, despite his size, a compact swing—he's able to get his hands in and drive a double the opposite way. But his still-developing swing can get long at times, which is one noticeable hole; he's struck out nine times in that same 11-game span this fall and struck out 131 times in 131 games in the minors this season.
Because Judge has the highest offensive ceiling of Yankees prospects, it's may be tough to imagine them shipping him out—he could be a starting corner outfielder in the Bronx, hitting in the middle of the lineup, by 2016. But they have a few other talented minor league outfielders with or without Judge who could offset his loss in young guys like Jake Cave (.294 in 2014) and Taylor Dugas (.299).
For the right haul, Judge has to be available to move."He is a player teams will want in a big deal," writes Marchand.
3: Gary Sanchez
For a few years, catcher Gary Sanchez owned top-prospect status in the Yankees system, though his learning curve seems to have stalled—or at least slowed—of late.
Sanchez played all of 2014 in Double-A Trenton, where he showed some struggles with higher-level pitching, batting an underwhelming .270/.338/.406 and just .743 OPS. The recent prize of the farm is just 21 years old, and he still totaled 32 extra-base hits, including 13 homers, and 65 RBI, but the numbers don't jump out at you for a former No. 1 Yankee prospect (Luis Severino is now No. 1 in most scouting publications).
And with holes in his defensive game yet to be resolved and disciplinary problems leading to his benching this season, Sanchez could be the expendable piece from the Yankees' catching gluttony.
Marchand concurs: "If he is going to be an elite player one day, he will need to hit better than .270 with a .743 OPS because there are questions about his defense behind the plate. If Cashman were to unload one of his top prospects, Sanchez might be the one to go."
With above-average raw power, largely unseen for catching prospects, Sanchez would generate a lot of interest on the trade market. He's also a few seasons away from the big leagues, so the clock could be ticking in Cashman's head on trading Sanchez before he posts another mediocre year in 2015.
NJ.com's Kuty, in his same article from a few slides ago, mentions Sanchez as well.
It might take a lot to pry him away from the Yankees. But it's not like teams haven't tried. General Manager Brian Cashman was getting calls on Sanchez as of the 2013 Winter Meetings...Sanchez's luster might have dulled a bit, but he'd bring in the biggest haul (among their catchers) if the Yankees wanted to deal him.
2: Luis Severino
Luis Severino, a 20-year-old right-hander, vaulted to the top of prospect rankings after a breakout third year in the organization, having finished in Double-A Trenton. To give one example, MLB.com ranked Severino No. 10 prior to the season and No. 1 at its conclusion.
"Severino began 2013 as an unknown Yankees prospect who had yet to make his U.S. debut, and he finished it as the top right-handed pitching prospect in the system," writes MLB.com. "He has made another leap in 2014, becoming the organization's top prospect, period."
He stands just 6'0" but throws a fastball sitting in the mid-90s, touching 98, and his changeup and slider—both of which project to be plus offerings—could make him a nearly unhittable talent. And his current talent and upside mean he could be one of the biggest pieces of trade bait for the Yankees if they look to pull off a game-changing move.
He started 24 games across Double-A and Class-A, compiling a 6-5 record, 2.46 ERA, 2.40 FIP and 1.059 WHIP. He struck out 127 batters in 113.1 innings for a 10.1 K/9, while walking only 27 hitters for a 2.1 BB/9 and surrendering just three homers all season (0.2 HR/9).
Marchand writes: "If all goes well, he could be a big part of the 2016 plans. Of course, he also could become the biggest piece in any blockbuster trade orchestrated by general manager Brian Cashman."
If it weren't for the breakout MLB season of the final name on this list, Severino would be the most coveted commodity in the organization.
1: Dellin Betances
Keep in mind, as noted at the outset, that this list of tradable assets isn't a glorified suggestion box, and these final few names are neither those most likely to be traded nor those who should be traded.
Instead, they are the ones who would be most coveted should Cashman dangle them on the trade market.
For those reasons, Dellin Betances is the most marketable asset in the organization, and if fans want to even think about players like Stanton, Cespedes, Sale or Yasiel Puig coming to the Bronx, they'd have to accept the fate of one of 2014's most dominant relievers leaving town.
The 6'8", 260-pound 26-year-old came into spring training as a dark horse, broke camp after impressing in some high-leverage situations, established a role in the back end of the most valuable bullpen in baseball (by FanGraphs' WAR accounts) and earned an All-Star selection in his rookie year.
In 90 innings of relief work, the Washington Heights native primarily featured in the eighth inning (41.2 IP), and finished the year with a 1.40 ERA and 3.2 WAR (best among MLB relievers; second among all Yankee pitchers to only Hiroki Kuroda's 3.5).
The imposing right-hander featured a fastball routinely touching 100 mph and a nasty, sharp-breaking slider that regularly buckled knees.
He struck hitters out at an alarming rate, recording 135 total to surpass Mariano Rivera's franchise single-season record for a reliever. Among the quartet of Kelley, Warren, Robertson and Betances, the rookie posted the highest K/9 (13.5) and the lowest BB/9 (2.40), HR/9 (0.40), WHIP (0.778), opponent average (.147) and batting average on balls in play (.241).
If David Robertson declines the Yankees qualifying offer (the offer is expected, per ESPN Insider Buster Olney; subscription required) and signs elsewhere, it's unthinkable that Cashman would trade Betances, who would become the next closer in such a situation. And with Robertson and Betances, the Yankees are lights-out with a late lead.
But losing Betances doesn't automatically deteriorate the Yankees pen in 2015 with Warren, Kelley and, potentially, Ramirez and Lindgren all ready to contribute.
Again, this most certainly isn't a call to trade Betances this offseason, but if the Yankees could pull off a blockbuster, he'd be the first name inquired about and the most tradable asset for a potential partner.