Our next Pinch Hitter is 26-year-old Ben Wolinsky, an IT professional living in Manhattan. He is a contributing blogger at www.nyat.net, with some television work mixed in. Ben’s family has followed the Yankees going back to his great-grandmother, who lived in the same Morris Avenue apartment building as many of the 1927 Murderers’ Row Yankees.
Ben his first Yankees game before his first birthday, and he has since attended the last game at the old stadium and the first exhibition game at the new stadium. Born in Manhattan and raised outside of Albany, he spent four years at Brandeis University outside of Boston and still managed to survive the 2004 World Series.
For his post, Ben considered Brian Cashman’s history of dealing — or keeping — the Yankees top prospects.
In Cashman We Trust
As the head of baseball operations for the New York Yankees, Brian Cashman is responsible for building a strong farm system while at the same time entertaining and evaluating ways to improve the Major League club. He often speaks of “holding onto the future” and not sacrificing talented prospects for immediate fixes. Yet, the Yankees are always focused on the present. Such polarizing demands put Cashman in a difficult position.
The most recent example of this conundrum is Jesus Montero. At the beginning of the off-season, Montero was tabbed as the front-runner to earn the position of starting catcher next season. However, Cashman decided to award the position to free agent Russell Martin. With Cliff Lee having returned to the Phillies, this would seemingly leave Montero available to be traded for starting pitching. Yet, it appears that Cashman is not ready to deal Montero (despite his inclusion in last year’s near deal for Lee). If Montero is not going to be given the opportunity to contribute on the Major League level in the near future, what is the point in holding onto Montero?
Given Cashman’s reluctance to deal his most valuable trade chip, we must take a critical look at his ability to evaluate Minor League talent and determine its Major League potential. Let us take a look at a couple of the deals in which top prospects were dealt for veteran Major League talent and a few of the prospects that — despite having been heavily rumored to have been included in deals — were kept for the benefit of the Major League club:
Brandon Claussen – In 2003, Claussen was considered the top pitching prospect in the organization, yet the Yankees decided he was expendable if they were to acquire Aaron Boone. I, like many others, did not agree with trading away a young left-handed starting pitcher in exchange for an average hitter in Boone. However, it appears that the Yankees were not worse as a consequence of this deal. Claussen made 57 starts for the Reds from 2004-2006, going 15-27. Boone hit one memorable home run before a knee injury indirectly led the Yankees to acquire Alex Rodriguez. While Claussen may have been able to provide rotation depth, it is apparent that they did not deal away a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Dioner Navarro – Navarro, a switch-hitting catcher, was ranked as one of the top prospects in the Yankee organization and was their top prospect heading into 2004. However, with Jorge Posada entrenched at catcher, he was deemed expendable in favor of acquiring Randy Johnson. Johnson did not perform as expected, but Navarro never turned into the player he was expected to be. With the exception of his All Star season with the Rays in 2008, Navarro has largely been a disappointment. After being sent down partway through last season, he was non-tendered by the Rays this past offseason.
Alfonso Soriano — From 1999-2000, almost every deal that the Yankees were rumored to be a part of included Alfonso Soriano. Yet Cashman held onto him and in the end, his patience paid off. Soriano had three productive seasons for the Yankees, including a near 40-40 season in 2002, before being dealt for Alex Rodriguez prior to 2004. Soriano continued to produce after departing the Yankees and his inclusion in the deal for Rodriguez was well warranted. Needless to say, we would have been quite sorry to see him dealt prematurely for a player such as the oft-injured Rondell White.
Phil Hughes – Phil Hughes was twice ranked the top prospect in the Yankee organization and was undoubtedly one of the top prospects in all of baseball. In his second Major League start, he no-hit the Texas Rangers into the 7th inning before leaving with an injury. Going into the offseason, Cashman was given the opportunity to acquire to Johan Santana from the Twins in exchange for Hughes. However, Cashman decided to hold on to Hughes. While the move initially looked to be an incorrect one, as Hughes went winless in 2008, Hughes went on to be a critical cog out of the bullpen in 2009 and took major leaps forward as a starter in 2010. At 24 years old, most agree that Hughes has not reached his ceiling.
To be fair, many of the veterans Cashman has acquired via trade did not work out as well as he would have liked. However, can we honestly think of one transaction in which the Yankees received a player who provided little value while the prospect traded away went on to superstardom? This is not to say that none of the prospects he has traded have gone to success (i.e. Tyler Clippard, Juan Rivera, etc). But have any of them lurked around the way Ken Phelps-Jay Buhner turned out?
So in conclusion, let us have confidence that if Cashman chooses not to trade Montero anytime soon, it is with good reason and much to the benefit of the New York Yankees.
Associated Press photo