Not sure if you heard, the Yankees made a trade yesterday. It was treated as big news and a big trade as it was all over social media as well as during the Simpleton Summer Camp game broadcast Tuesday night. Wednesday morning it was the talk of multiple radio stations on my commute, even the non-sports stations.
Here’s my partial take: After doing some research, this was not a big trade: Neither team got markedly better and neither took much of a risk. Before I give you my final take, let me give you the thought process and some pertinent information:
The trade: The White Sox sent Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson and Todd Frazier to the Yankees who sent Tyler Clippard, Blake Rutherford, Ian Clarkin and Tito Polo to the White Sox in return.
Let’s start with this: There’s no reason to discuss Clippard or Frazier. This was you take my guy off my hands, if I take your guy off your hands. Neither player was helping their teams currently and had no place on them ongoing. For those of you who still think of Frazier as the Home run derby winning, former all-star, he’s currently in the bottom 3rd of Major League 3rd basemen (or, “3rd basemens” as Paul O’Neill says) in on base percentage, slugging percentage, wins above replacement and OPS+. He’s not an improvement over Chase Headley or Garrett Cooper and has no future with the Yankees, despite the wishes of the hometown kid comes home crowd.
As I wrote this past Saturday, Blake Rutherford, despite being a 1st round pick of the Yankees and very highly regarded, was not even the best player on his own team (A level Charleston). I think he’s a legitimate prospect, but overrated by most.
Ian Clarkin, like Rutherford, was not the best on his own team and was middle of the road in the Florida State League – maybe slightly above average. He’s shown slight improvement in his 2nd season in Tampa. To me, that alone is a small red flag – two seasons at the same level with only moderate improvement.
Tito Polo was having a good year for A ball Tampa, but joined the theme of not the best player on his own team. And he’s had a few AA at bats, but nothing off which one can make a judgment.
Tommy Kahnle is having a great year, although he did get very good all of a sudden (red flag?). This season among 149 qualifying* relief pitchers, Kahnle is 5th in strikeout to walk ratio, 4th in strikeout percentage and 3rd in fielding independent pitching.
David Robertson is in the top third in all the above categories as well and also has displayed longevity and consistency, two extremely rare traits in relievers. His 2017 season is pretty typical of his 10 year career, which is to say, pretty good.
Factors to be considered:
- Relievers are a fickle group. As mentioned, longevity and consistency are rare among them which is why I don’t generally like giving up position players for them. To me it’s the equivalent of giving up a good defensive lineman for a kicker in football. Don’t trade a valuable commodity for an easily replaceable one. I bet Boston still has nightmares about Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey.
For further perspective, there were only two relievers last season worth 3 or more wins (WAR), Zach Britton and Andrew Miller. Two of the best seasons any relievers have ever had and yet there were 48 starting pitchers and 77 position players who were more valuable.
- Yes, the Yankees gave up good – I’d say B prospects – 2 of two of them position players, but not their best prospects. Remember the names Nick Solak, Taylor Widener and Estevan Florial – they are the players who are currently better than those the Yankees gave up.
- The Yankees improved their bullpen depth, not necessarily bullpen performance. Hard to believe, because Robertson and Kahnle are pretty good, right? Well, Adam Warren and Chad Green might be better.
Check out this chart:
These are Robertson, Warren, Green and Kahnle, with their names removed. Can you tell who’s best?
Those are four good pitchers with similar production. Pitcher A’s K’s stand out as does player D’s value. It doesn’t matter which is which, as you can see, any two are pretty much just as good as the other two, so the Yankees performance didn’t get much better if it did at all. But since you asked, A is Kahnle, B is Robertson, C is Warren, D is Green.
And again, as I’ve said before, Joe “Joey Bullpen” Girardi is still the king of all that which is bullpen mismanagement. This bullpen can be great, but it’s still like putting a 150lb jockey on Secretariat.
Final take: I don’t like to say who got the better of trades, as they aren’t zero sum games. There aren’t trade winners and losers, just varying degrees of success or failure. That being said, individually…
The White Sox did pretty well. They got B level prospects, not A level, B level. But they gave up nothing – nothing that’ll help them anyway. Yes, Kahnle and Robertson are good, but good relievers on a team that’s on pace to win 68 games are as useless as tits on a bull.
The Yankees went laterally. They went from 5 good relief pitchers to 7. Unless you have other plans for Warren and Green, (Starting? Another trade?) is the depth necessary? And even if you do consider Kahnle and Robertson upgrades, how many wins are they worth, two? Is going from 84 wins to 86 worth three B prospects?
As always, we shall see.
*30 innings pitched, 90% of appearances as a reliever.
Thanks as always to Baseball Reference and Fangraphs.