Warning! Do not trade minor league pitching depth

The Yankees have a plethora of pitching options at the MLB level and a superfluous amount of “arms in waiting” in Triple-A ready to pitch in the major leagues at the drop of a hat. Fans see this with the impending vacancy in right field, and feel the Yankees should deal from a position of strength and go after a cost controlled, young stud right fielder. I’m here to tell you they don’t need to make a move in order to clear space for other rising prospects, and that this type of move would actually be a bad idea. Let’s get into it.

Starting with the major leagues, the Yankees have eight options for the rotation. Of those, Pettitte, Garcia, and Kuroda are on one year deals. This leaves five options for the major league team next season. Hughes’ contract ends after the 2013 season, and besides that he may not be a starter for much longer. This leaves Sabathia, Nova, and Pineda as the only definitive options for next season. Hughes and Phelps are options, but there are many questions surrounding these two and they may not be options for 2013. Now that Pineda’s health is a concern, even he is a question mark.

D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances of Triple-A Empire State will compete with Hughes and Phelps for the last two spots. These players are not guaranteed to be ready. Warren, Banuelos, and Betances have all struggled out of the gate this season, and DJ Mitchell has historically been considered a future reliever. Hughes has had a sluggish start to the season, but Pineda’s injury probably bought him some time. Phelps, Mitchell, and Hughes are the only players who’d be ready for the MLB if the 2013 season started today. The others are all question marks.

The upper minors starting pitching situation is not as much of a logjam as you might expect. There are four legitimate prospect starters in Triple-A right now, with one open slot. There are only two players in Double-A projected to even be Triple-A starters, let alone MLB starters. Those are Brett Marshall and Graham Stoneburner. Stoneburner is currently on the 7-day DL, and we haven’t seen enough of him in Double-A to know whether he’ll be a future starter or not. Marshall should be ready for Triple-A by next season. Shaeffer Hall and Josh Romanski project more as left-handed relief pitchers. The Yankees have to go year to year with Romanski’s contract, so he may not be with the organization next year if other opportunities beckon. Craig Heyer is more of a Lance Pendleton type.

There are also players in High-A Tampa who will probably be in Trenton before the season’s end, and a few more could be there by next season. Nik Turley, a big lefty who throws hard and has great stuff, is mowing down batters in High-A. He’ll likely be in Trenton this season. Mikey O’Brien is another pitcher dominating the competition at this level, and may be in Trenton soon. Shane Greene, Zach Nuding, and Jose Ramirez will stick around longer, but any of them could push their way to Trenton with strong performances.

Now, to summarize. There is currently one starting rotation position available in Triple-A, and two people capable of seizing that spot, but realistically one. There are two to three starting rotation positions that could be occupied in Double-A, and there are two guys looking to occupy those positions soon. If Marshall and Stoneburner get promoted as they should, there will be three slots in Double-A for Greene, Nuding, and Ramirez next season.

With the major league team in need of back of the rotation pitching and, as always, relievers, next season some of the starters in Triple-A will undoubtedly be with the major league team. This adds more space to the rotation there. Assuming only one of the Triple-A starters gets promoted, there’s room for both Marshall and Stoneburner next season.

Long story short, the team is two seasons away from having a logjam that would prevent appropriate promotions. This cannot be used as a reason to trade some of the starting pitching depth.

There are a few sayings that apply here. The first is “you can never have enough pitching.” Another is “a position of strength and depth can turn into a position of weakness at the drop of a hat.” We saw this at catcher in the preseason. The team went from having an abundance of upper level catching talent to having no major league ready catchers behind Francisco Cervelli. This led to the trade of Kontos for Stewart, which has worked out well. At the time it looked like Stewart would be a downgrade from Cervelli though.

You can never have enough pitching because pitchers get hurt. They are delicate and can lose a season with one awkward pitch. They go down with nagging injuries that force them to miss starts, etc. Not only that, but pitchers are prone to inconsistency and failure. Even Tim Lincecum has struggled out of the gate this season. As a matter of fact, the Yankees are having trouble with this right now. There’s talk of replacing Hughes and Garcia in the rotation with Pettitte and Pineda.

In order to obtain a young, cost controlled, Nick Swisher caliber right fielder or a young catcher for that matter, the team would have to part ways with a considerable package of prospects. This likely means Banuelos (teams aren’t that interested in Betances anymore), and more pitching depth.¬† Couple this with losing three MLB starters after this season, and all of a sudden the depth for 2013 is obliterated. Obviously if the perfect trade comes along you jump on it, but those opportunities are few and far between.

A closer examination of the pitching depth in this organization shows us that this is not yet the time to trade from a position of power. The major league team is riddled with one year contracts and question marks. There are only a few legitimate options from the minor leagues for the back end of the rotation in 2013. The minor leagues are not yet in a state of logjam so as to necessitate a trade, and finally, the cost of a young, cost controlled right fielder or catcher would kill the team’s depth. Not only is a trade uneccessary, it is actually a big time no-no.

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7 Responses to Warning! Do not trade minor league pitching depth

  1. Tanned Tom says:

    So how would you replace Swisher? It seems unlikely the club will re-sign him for financial reasons, and there's no way Nunez can do the job. Now if Jeter's moved to LF, Gardner to CF and Granderson to RF then okay. But then who plays SS? This sort of vacancy is exactly why you stockpile talent, to trade them for ESTABLISHED PLAYERS. We might all love the orgizational depth you cite, but very few of these guys will make it as starters. Since Andy Pettitte how many starters have the Yanks successfully developed who is still with the team? Answer, one. Ivan Nova. One in 22 years (Andy was drafted in 1990) is a pretty discouraging statistic. So before you rush to fill the rotation with these guys, perhaps it is exactly what is needed to trade some to fill needs. Prospects make it, what? 10 percent of the time, if that?

  2. Greg Corcoran says:

    I'm not advocating filling the rotation with these players. I'm advocating holding onto them so that when the players we fill those rotation spots with get injured, we have formidable options to replace them with. In point of fact there will likely be free agent acquisitions that will fill empty rotation spots. The team is going to have to pay for something. It's either going to be pitching, or it will be a right fielder, or it will be a catcher. Or it will be some combination of the three. By keeping the pitchers, Cashman will be betting that you're better off making a free agent hitter signing than a free agent pitcher signing. You can debate the merits of that bet, but I tend to think that pitchers are more variable in their success when you sign them as free agents. Your question is how do we replace Swisher. The answer is the free agent market. A solid right fielder, albeit maybe not one as good as Nick Swisher, can be had for cheaper than a solid pitcher on the free agent market. No need to move Jeter to LF.

    I agree that you stockpile talent so you can trade it for what you need. The point of this article is that we have not yet stockpiled enough pitchers to start trading away our depth. If the team should venture in that direction, I believe we would be one or two injuries or failures away from repeating the catcher situation that occurred this season.

    Finally, as far as the starters the Yankees have "successfully developed," I would direct you to my article on the subject… http://bronxbaseballdaily.com/2012/04/yankees-are

    Also, remember the team has only recently started to emphasize pitcher development again.

    Excellent points though.

    • Bronx_Knight says:

      Greg, you say, "…[H]ow do we replace Swisher[?] The answer is the free agent market. A solid right fielder, albeit maybe not one as good as Nick Swisher, can be had for cheaper than a solid pitcher on the free agent market."

      Certainly it is true that a solid free agent pitcher will generally cost more than a solid free agent right fielder. But Swisher-level right fielders still cost a lot of money, in excess of $10 million per year. Our problem is that the Yankees ownership has decreed that we have to get payroll under $189 million, and it looks like we can't have both a Swisher-level right fielder and a Martin-level catcher.

      Good catchers are harder to come by than good right fielders, so I say, if forced to make a choice, we have to keep Martin and jettison Swisher. Given the team's payroll constraints, if we want an All-Star caliber right fielder, we may then have no choice but to trade pitching for it.

      Another option is to NOT have an All-Star right fielder replace Swisher, but just somebody decent offensively and solid defensively. In addition to lots of pitching, we also have a plethora of offense. We don't need to have All-Stars 1 to 9 on the lineup to win games. Maybe the thing to do is, let Swisher go, and trade a lower-level prospect for a decent/solid right fielder.

      Come to think of it, maybe we have one or two decent/solid OF prospects we can bring up.

      • Greg Corcoran says:

        Yes, that's why I said that a solid right fielder maybe NOT ONE AS GOOD as Swisher. You can still get a solid right fielder for less than $10 million/year. I agree with you that we don't need an all-star right fielder.

        Someone else brought up the point that maybe you use Nunee as a platoon stopgap in right field, since he has played a bit of outfield lately, and then sign a guy to play against righties. Or maybe we find a guy like Maxwell or Dickerson to fill the position. Or maybe some of our OF prospects can fill the void for now. Who knows, but I think there are plenty of options that don't involve trading away our valuable pitching depth.

  3. Really good work here, Greg. I had been thinking about such a move to replace Swisher, rather than sign him or anybody else at his level. But couple the complete loss of depth, and Nunez looking like he could possibly be an option, I'm changing my tune.

    • Greg Corcoran says:

      Thanks Bryan. It's certainly going to be a challenge while trying to stay under the $189 million mark regardless of what they decide to do.