While the Trade Deadline looms two weeks ahead, the dominoes have already begun to fall on the MLB trade front: In the past week, the Cubs, Nationals and D-backs have all bolstered their Major League rosters in recent deals. As of Tuesday night, the latest deal has surfaced, involving the Chicago White Sox and the mighty New York Yankees.
Yes, the recently scuffling Yankees have struck a deal to make a run at a 2017 playoff spot. Swapping with the rebuilding Chicago White Sox, the Yanks have acquired 2015 HR Derby Champion 3B Todd Frazier, along with RHP relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. Going to the ChiSox in the trade is #30 ranked MLB prospect OF Blake Rutherford, along with prospects LHP Ian Clarkin, OF Tito Polo and struggling veteran reliever Tyler Clippard.
By examining what the Yanks surrender in this deal, one realizes that the price paid was no small sum. Certainly, the biggest name to leave the Bronx is Rutherford. Their first round (#33 overall) pick in 2016, Rutherford is a 20-year old with 5-tool potential, who has sustained a career .303 batting average in 103 professional games to date. Clarkin, a southpaw from Class A, was the team’s first round selection in 2013, while Tito Polo was PTBNL in the Yanks’ trading of Ivan Nova to Pittsburgh last summer. Finally, Tyler Clippard, a once steady but now struggling bullpen arm, is headed to the Windy City to provide some salary relief for the Bombers, who would have paid him over 6 million by the end of 2017.
Although seeing Rutherford go is difficult, the Yankees should rest easy knowing that the farm system is still brimming with talent, and GM Brian Cashman hauled in a solid trio of players. Perhaps the best player to date in this deal, and the one least known by the casual fan, is RHP reliever Tommy Kahnle. Touching 100 MPH on the radar gun, Kahnle has pitched to an absurd 15.00 K/9 to go along with strong ratios and a team friendly contract, remaining under team control until 2021. Curiously enough, the Yankees drafted Kahnle in 2010, and therefore must feel very confident in the skillset they’ve now paid for. Although former Major League pitcher LaTroy Hawkins once deemed Kahnle, “one of the worst teammates I’ve ever had in my life,” the Yanks can’t complain about the talent they are receiving via Tommy Kahnle’s arrival.
The second reliever, and more well-known of the two arms traded, is former Yankee and White Sox closer David Robertson. Yes, you read that right. For the third time in two years, the Yankees have reacquired a relief pitcher they once owned (Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard in 2016). Robertson, compared to the others aforementioned, is perhaps the best talent of the three. In his 2 ½ seasons since leaving the Yanks for Chicago, Robertson has collected 84 saves while posting a strong 3.04 ERA and 11.9 K/9. Now rejoining the club that drafted him in the 17th round in 2006, Robertson will likely lose out on save chances to Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, but will still provide flexibility and stability in the 6th, 7th or 8th inning.
Finally, we can assess the final piece of this deal, and the one that has certainly generated the most buzz across the industry. Courted on the same day by the rival Boston Red Sox, infielder Todd Frazier has instead found a home in pinstripes. Formerly of the Reds and White Sox, Frazier may best be known for his 2015 Home Run derby victory, and for his love of the long-ball in general (40 HR in 2016, three straight seasons of 29+ HR). On the surface, he represents an upgrade to a Yankees’ 1B group that has underwhelmed (Chris Carter, Tyler Austin, amongst others). However, his body of work in 2017 suggests that he may provide more of what Carter, who was recently released by the club, brought to the table. Take a second and try to associate these stat lines with either Todd Frazier or Chris Carter.
Player A is the newly acquired Frazier, while B is the recently released Carter. Although Frazier certainly surpasses Carter in most stats above (let’s ignore Carter’s 1-0 lead in triples), by projecting Carter’s production over the same amount of at-bats that Frazier has had, the numbers are much more similar (.201 BA, 12 HR, 40 RBI for Carter over 284 AB). In this light, Frazier only represents a handful more homers and RBI than what Carter would have provided, making him a questionable solution to a glaring need at first base. Furthermore, looking back on 2016’s numbers makes a Chris Carter comparison inevitable.
While Frazier has the steadier track record and the slight edge in 2017, last season provides a worrying sign for Frazier’s new employer. Carter, whom the Yanks felt was no longer worthy of a roster spot let alone a spot in the lineup, somewhat outperformed Frazier last season. Not only was he the NL home run leader in 2016 with 41, but also surpassed Frazier in many crucial categories: 2B, HR, walks, OBP, SLG, and OPS.
Not only should we examine Frazier’s move in the Bronx from a statistical perspective, but also from a team philosophy standpoint. The Yankees, as they stand today, are 10-21 in their last 30 games after starting a blistering 38-23. While their power hitting carried them through many of their victories (they rank 7th in baseball with 136 HR), the Yanks have grossly underperformed when it comes to situational hitting. In their Monday night loss to Minnesota, the Yankees had a man on 1st and 2nd with no one out in the top of the 8th, the score knotted at 2-2. Rather than laying down a bunt to advance the runners, Matt Holliday grounded into a double play, and no runs were scored. A similar situation almost cost them the game in their 16-inning affair with Boston this past weekend. Chase Headley decided not to bunt, and by at-bat’s end struck out, and no runs came across. While these represent just a couple of instances, they are microcosms of the Yankees’ sometimes foolhardy approach in big spots: swing big, and strike out. While advanced analytics suggest that bunting is not always advantageous, Frazier comes in with a strikeout rate north of 20%, and just one sac bunt over the past two seasons. A strikeout prone, all-or-nothing option may not be what the Yankees need in big situations.
Rather than looking past the name on the jersey, the Yanks may very well have acquired more of what they’ve already discarded: Chris Carter, unworthy of a roster spot, lines up statistically to Frazier’s past season plus. Perhaps the move for Frazier was a dual-functioning move for the Yankees: not only did they add his bat in the lineup, but they pried him away from the Red Sox’s grasp, who could have really used his power (Boston ranks 26th in HR with 97). But while Kahnle and Robertson may help bring back flashes of last year’s dominant collection of relievers, “No Run DMC”, there may have been no need to pay the extra price to get slightly improved Chris Carter. After all, it’s only been a week-plus since the Yanks have had him, and they weren’t the biggest of fans.
*All stats courtesy of baseballreference.com