As a prospect enthusiast, I am always hoping the Yankees will hold onto guys who came up through their system. Fortunately, the Yankees are a team in perpetual contention, and this makes it more fun to be a Yankees diehard than a fan of any other team. The side effect of that greatness is that the team is always looking to win now, so prospect followers such as myself are often disappointed with trades that send homegrown talent away for a quest to win a championship. This has never been more apparent than in 2012 with the Yankees outfield.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I would rather contend year in and year out anyday than hold onto prospects and only try to win in the future. At the same time, it is interesting to look at the guys we have traded away and wonder what it would have been like if they were still here.
Today we will look at four former Yankees farmhands, only one of which is still with the team, and play the always entertaining “where are they now?” game.
First comes Melky Cabrera. He’s one of the great stories in the majors this year. Going from castoff to hitting a homerun in the all-star game in two years ain’t half bad, and now everyone knows who he is. His numbers are nothing short of phenomenal. He’s hitting a nasty .353/.398/.529, with 11 homers and 12 stolen bases. The power numbers aren’t through the roof, but he has consistently mashed all year long. It’s fair to say that the Yankees didn’t have many reasons to keep him around when they let him go, but it’s not a stretch to say the Yankees could still have him today. Alex Rodriguez begged the front office to sign Melky before the 2011 season, and he would have been incredibly cheap. They didn’t.
Austin Jackson is next on the list. Jackson is hitting .322/.407/.515. He has cut down on his strikeouts tremendously this season, and is hitting for more power than he ever has (11 homeruns). He has 10 stolen bases. He is largely considered to be the second best leadoff hitter in the American League (Trout being the best). His career has not been without it’s adversity though. Last season he hit just .249/.317 with little power. If he did that in New York, there would have been hell to pay. A strong argument could be made that this was just his sophomore slump though, and his rebound this season would support that.
If you are going to discuss the successes, you have to discuss the failures as well. The Yanks didn’t get much in return for Jose Tabata, especially considering they gave up Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Daniel McCutchen as well. At the time he was a top prospect, but alas he is now rotting away in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system with no signs of returning any time soon. I think it’s safe to say he would not be a factor in the Bronx outfield discussion.
The last former Yankees farmhand is Brett Gardner. We all know and love Brett, but he’s been injured all year with what seemed to be a nagging injury but has turned into the end of his season barring pinch running and fielding duties in the playoffs. He’s a tremendous talent and has contributed greatly to the team’s success when healthy. In the future, he will likely contribute even more. He was off to the best start of his career before injuries stole his season.
So now that we know what our old prospects are up to, the question is whether you would rather have the current outfield or the outfield that could have been. Just to clarify, this is not a blame game. Holding onto Melky Cabrera with his work ethic and apparent attitude would have been a major problem. While I may disagree with who the team got in return for Melky, I cannot blame Cashman for moving the Melkman out of New York. Boone Logan did have much more value to the team than Melky Cabrera would have if he continued to be as lazy as he was. The Austin Jackson trade isn’t quite as clear. Giving up two top prospects in any trade is tough to justify, but Granderson’s performance has made this trade a win for all involved.
All of that being said, I would have to take the hypothetical outfield over the current outfield, even putting contracts aside. Melky Cabrera is hitting out of his mind and has turned the corner on his career. Austin Jackson has cut down on his strikeouts and is now one of the best leadoff hitters in the league. Cabrera has an OPS of .927, and Jackson .922, compared to Swisher and Granderson at .791 and .832 respectively. It’s hard to argue with the numbers. Cabrera and Jackson are also younger and significantly cheaper than Granderson and Swisher, even though all four are on team friendly contracts. Just about the only thing the Yankees are missing out on by trading Swisher and Granderson for Cabrera and Jackson is homeruns.
It’s important to note here that this article is not judging what the Yankees have done. They are far more expert at evaluating talent and making the right moves than I ever could be. There were valid reasons to make the moves they made, and I am not here to say whether they were right or wrong. The only statement I am making is that the Yankees would be better off in 2012 if their outfield consisted of Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson, and Melky Cabrera than they would with Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher. There. I said it. I feel better now.