Friday, November 20, 2015

Could Yankees trade BOTH Gardner and Miller?

We’ve heard it over and over; the New York Yankees will not be active in the high-priced free agent market in a season in which big money is not coming off the books.

Brett Gardner
Photo: Keith Allison
Instead, they will follow a strategy which got aggressive last season in which the club traded from surplus and from their major league roster to acquire MLB-ready players tagged with the “upside” label. The effort paid off in 2015 with pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and shortstop Didi Gregorius playing important roles to the Yankees wild card berth.

This offseason began much the same way as last, with general manager Brian Cashman pulling off a trade of his backup catcher (John Ryan Murphy), this time nabbing a promising 26-year-old outfielder in Aaron Hicks. Cashman immediately touted Hicks as a potential full-time player (though he never said in 2016) and just as quickly the rumor mill surrounding Brett Gardner heated up.

The team also has Jacoby Ellsbury in the outfield, meaning two players with much the same style of play. Trading Gardner is the more reasonable option for the Yankees because he has three seasons and $38 million left on his deal. Meanwhile, Ellsbury is under contract for five more seasons with close to $110 million left on his pact.

So far, Gardner has been linked to the Seattle Mariners (who seem to be out now after trading for Leonys Martin) and the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees want another starter and the Indians have a surplus; namely Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Each pitcher would necessitate more from the Yankees, but both pitchers fit the Yankees' desires for hard-throwing young pitchers. Most recently, Gardner was connected to the Chicago Cubs for infielder Starlin Castro according to New York Daily News reporter Mark Feinsand.

Now, if the Yanks cannot find a suitable partner for Gardner, the rumor mill has also been hot around the team's 2015 closer and the American League Reliever of the Year, Andrew Miller. Miller has three years and $27 million left on the deal he signed last offseason. The Yankees, seeing what the San Diego Padres received for closer Craig Kimbrel, might pull the trigger on a deal that nets the club some prospects to fill any perceived voids in the system.

The Yankees have the luxury of being able to move BOTH Gardner and Miller because of what’s currently on the roster and in the farm system, along with who they might receive in return.

If Gardner goes, the Yankees could slide Ellsbury to left field and place the better-fielding Hicks in center. Or, the Yankees could dip in the wallets earlier than expected and go after a free-agent outfielder to play left, keeping Ellsbury in center and making Hicks a very versatile fourth outfielder. A right-handed hitting bat would be a nice addition for the Bombers and there are a few available.

The Yankees still have players like Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott, both of whom received time in 2015, and performed well, when Ellsbury was hurt. But, they hit left-handed and also have similar styles to Ellsbury. Aaron Judge, the mammoth outfielder is likely a full season away, but in a pinch the Yanks could call upon the 23-year-old to provide assistance. The point is there is some depth at Triple-A.

Andrew Miller
Photo: Arturo Pardavilla III
The bullpen might take a bigger step back as a whole if Miller was dealt. Dellin Betances could surely take over the closer role, and if used properly (three outs, maybe four every once and while) he could flourish. But, after Betances things become a little murky.

Justin Wilson was perfectly fine pitching in the seventh inning in 2015, but would a bump to the eighth inning be smooth? Wilson was used for one inning on average per appearance, so the club essentially loses Betances’ ability to lock down more outs. Outside of Wilson, who do the Yankees turn to?

Chasen Shreve was great for most of the 2015 season, but he folded over the final month-plus of games. Adam Warren has been told to prepare to compete for a spot in the rotation. But, if Miller is gone and they do not sign another reliever, can the Yankees afford to utilize Warren as a starter? Warren could be every bit as productive as Betances where it concerns high-leverage performance for more than one inning of work. Plus, Warren might not be as needed in the rotation IF the Yankees acquire a starter either in a trade for Gardner, or via free agency.

The Yankees do have a handful of young relievers who were shuttled back and forth last season to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre – Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos, Branden Pinder and Nick Rumbelow among others could have a chance to make the 25-man roster depending on the whereabouts of Miller.

I look at the entire circumstance in this way.

Any deal with Gardner would likely necessitate a top prospect or even two for the likes of Carrasco or Salazar, or a similar pitcher on another squad. The Yankees have been hesitant to deal from their top prospects of late, but if a young, peaking and controllable pitcher is dangled in their face they might jump on what they consider a solid option.

And that type of scenario could push the Yankees to refill the coffers of the system by trading Miller. The package the Red Sox gave away to San Diego included two of their top-10 prospects. This would certainly interest the Yankees if they had to package top prospects in a Gardner deal.

Also, do not underestimate the importance of the 2016 salaries here to getting involved in the high-price free agent market. Gardner's salary ($13 million) and Miller's ($9 million) provides plenty of room for a player like right-handed hitting Justin Upton (expected to make about $120 million over six years according to FanGraphs’ crowdsourcing).

The Yankees do not need to make one or both of these moves, but the chances of improving their club in multiple ways are certainly possible if they do. By trading both players, the Yankees get younger, fill immediate voids and potentially allows the club to maintain a prospect level similar to what they have now.

Salary information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for His baseball commentary has also been published on The Cauldron, Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.