There’s been much banter in Yankee Universe over the past few years about the team’s proclivity for going with – and more importantly, sticking with – veteran players whether they produce or not, versus giving opportunities and regular playing time to prospects. Fans often cite that the late 90s dynasty was built on the backs of prospects that developed into stars such as Bernie, Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte. This is true of course, but taking out the checkbook to sign veteran free agents and/or to take on contracts that other teams no longer wanted was just as big of a factor in the team’s success. Jimmy Key, Wade Boggs, John Wetteland, David Cone, David Wells, El Duque, Roger Clemens, Chuck Knoblauch, and David Justice, among others, had a pretty significant impact on the Yankees championships of the era (he wrote, in an understated manner…)
Yet what’s often left out of the discourse is that those are not the only two ways to improve the roster. Perhaps because it’s not as binary or simplistic as young vs. old or cheap vs, expensive, making key trades is often overlooked as a factor when building championship rosters. (The 90s dynasty had several key players arrive via stealthy trades – the 70’s dynasty was built almost entirely on trades.) Yet in some ways, trades can be even more powerful factors in roster development than the other two pathways for one simple reason:
Yes, if you acquire a player that will help your team more than the player you’re giving up, that’s a net positive. But sometimes, the player you’re sending to another team opens up a spot in the lineup for a better player that’s already on your team – that’s when the trade essentially becomes a two-for-one.
When the Yankees acquired Paul O’Neill for Roberto Kelly prior to the ’93 season, that was a great move. Kelly, despite being an All-Star with the Yankees and then again with the Reds, was not going to help the Yankees as much as O’Neill did. But far more importantly, Kelly’s absence allowed Bernie to be the everyday center fielder. In essence, the trade was really Roberto Kelly for O’Neill and Bernie because it got Bernie in the lineup every day which was even more impactful than O’Neill’s considerable contributions.
Flash forward to present-day Yankee Land: It’s time to do it again. It’s time to trade a very good young player on your team not only for what you can back in return but for what options it opens up for you on the current roster.
Gleyber Torres will be 26 years old in December, is coming off a 4.1 WAR season, has averaged 3.2 WAR per 162 games as a Yankee, has been to two All-Star games, and can’t be a free agent for two more seasons. All of that is to say, that’s a very desirable player to many teams. For some perspective, let’s look at Tampa Bay when they were in a similar situation not that long ago.
Willy Adames was 25 years old and had averaged 3.7 WAR per 162 for the Rays when they decided that making room for their young phenom Wander Franco necessitated moving the young, likable, and talented Adames. So the Rays sent Adames and no one who’d be missed to Milwaukee for JP Feyerheisen and Drew Rasmussen. Feyereisen has only thrown 89 big-league innings but Rasmussen was a better-than-league-average starting pitcher for the Rays in 2022.
Of course, there are other variables, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s say the Yankees could get a plus starting pitcher and a flyer on a bullpen arm for Torres. That would be a hard choice because Gleyber is legitimately a better-than-average MLB player who’s young and might even get better, as Adames did.
But when we frame the conversation as the Yankees would receive a plus starting pitcher and…Anthony Volpe – the conversation changes, because Gleyber’s absence opens up a spot in the infield. No one has a crystal ball on Volpe’s progress but I don’t think anyone believes he (like Wander Franco not that long ago in Tampa) is going to be in the minor leagues for much longer, if ever.
I don’t know about you, but an infield with Oswald Peraza at shortstop, Volpe at second, and DJ at either first or third sounds pretty good. Or Peraza at short, Volpe at third, DJ at second, and (sign) Anthony Rizzo at first sounds pretty good as well.
(I’m assuming Peraza would play short and Volpe would move just based on defensive reputations as they rose through the ranks and what we saw from Peraza in limited time last season.)
Let’s not forget that Oswaldo Cabrera is a shortstop by trade and was turned into a super utility player in part because Volpe and Peraza were clearly better shortstops – I don’t want to speak for you, but I know I’d be fine with Cabrera getting regular PA at any infield position as well.
There are too many possible lineups to cover today because as we speak, the team does not have a first baseman and no, I haven’t forgotten the team’s love affair with Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson. But the point is, trading Gleyber could both bring back a legitimately good pitcher and open up several possibilities that would make the everyday lineup better.
For some perspective, and there’s no way to know if Volpe will be as good as Wander Franco (although it’s not unrealistic to think he might be) Franco has played in 153 games and posted 6.1 WAR. In other words, trading a good player like Adames wasn’t easy for Tampa, but in return they got a monster into the lineup every day AND a plus starting pitcher. Despite how well Adames has played for Milwaukee, that’s a huge net positive for the Rays. It’s time for the Yankees to do the same. If trading Gleyber results in a plus arm in the rotation and the flexibility to get the young prospects on the field every day you have to do it.
Both Yankees’ team history and recent MLB history with the Astros and Dodgers’ success have taught us that championship rosters are built by a combination of signings, trades, and young players from within. Additionally, the Astros and Dodgers have both shown that depth in the pitching staff is very difficult for opponents to overcome, both over 162 and in a short series. When every single pitcher you put on the mound for an entire season is better than average, that’s a serious issue for the other team.
Sorry, Gleyber, you’re a damn good player, but I’ll take a plus arm and Anthony Volpe right now.
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