Yankees' left-handed relief aces have immense value on trade block
By Jim Duquette
Being a big league general manager, while a dream job, certainly comes with a fair share of tough tasks.
One of the hardest jobs is deciding when to become a Trade Deadline "seller" -- when talented players are shipped off during the summer, rather than acquired. The 25 men in the clubhouse -- consumed with winning now, not tomorrow -- rarely embrace the decision to "raise the white flag." And the fans -- even with the big picture in mind -- are never pleased with the prospect of a losing year.
These feelings, as you might imagine, can be amplified in Yankee Universe, where winning has long been the expectation, not the hope. But this year, general manager Brian Cashman could end up in unfamiliar territory, looking ahead to 2017 before the dog days of August come about.
The Yankees -- four games back of an American League Wild Card spot -- are certainly not out of the postseason chase. But if the Bombers do sell, they have two shutdown lefty relievers -- Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman -- worthy of an impressive prospect return.
Let's take a look at some possible fits among the 10-plus contenders that could come calling.
(Note: Number next to each prospect's name denotes said prospect's organizational ranking, per MLBPipeline.com.)
Cubs: Chicago's National League team has all but officially clinched the NL Central crown, meaning a major midseason overhaul won't be necessary. Still, the North Siders could use a left-handed relief arm to complement closer Hector Rondon and setup man Pedro Strop, who both toss from the right side. With a K:BB ratio over 18, a WHIP of 0.67 and an affordable pact paying just $9 million per year, Miller is easy to like. As a result, acquiring him would be costly.
Possible package: Catcher Willson Contreras (No. 2) and left-hander Carson Sands (No. 23).
Red Sox: With a rotation ERA in the bottom third of baseball -- currently at 4.60 -- Boston's primary need lies with its starting staff. Eduardo Rodriguez -- acquired by Baltimore from Boston for Miller in 2014 -- has struggled, and the fifth starter's spot is also in flux. But if the club can piece together the back of its starting five with internal options such as Joe Kelly and Henry Owens, then it could instead reacquire Miller in an attempt to "shorten the game," a strategy that led the Royals to the World Series in each of the past two years.
The Yankees would have to overcome the mental hurdle of helping their fiercest rival, but Red Sox president David Dombrowski is motivated to improve and could end up overpaying for the chance to build a "super" 'pen.
Possible package: Third baseman Rafael Devers (No. 2) or Andrew Benintendi (No. 3), plus two midlevel prospects.
Indians: The Tribe's offense has been a pleasant surprise this year -- even with stud outfielder Michael Brantley out for most of it. Hoping for his eventual return, Cleveland could address another key need by combining Miller with closer Cody Allen to form a formidable righty-lefty punch at the end of games.
Possible package: Outfielder Bobby Bradley (No. 3) plus lefty Braden Aiken (No. 4) or righty Triston McKenzie (No. 6).
Orioles: The Red Sox are not the only club that could welcome back Miller, with the O's also in search of pitching. Although Baltimore clearly needs to improve its starting staff, a relief-corps upgrade could help if a rotation fit does not manifest. But just to caution: O's GM Dan Duquette could run into some of the same obstacles as Boston, as the Yankees may not be so keen on trading Miller to a fellow AL East foe.
Possible package: First baseman Trey Mancini (No. 4) or southpaw Chris Lee (No. 7) plus righty Dylan Bundy
Possible Chapman suitors:
Nationals:Jonathan Papelbon won't be moved to a co-closer's role upon his return from the disabled list -- unless Washington deals for someone of Chapman's caliber. And while he'd be on a new team, the Cuban southpaw would have some familiarity in a reunion with longtime manager Dusty Baker. Set for free agency after this season, Chapman would cost less than Miller and likely would fare best in a role in which he did not have to pitch on three consecutive days. Papelbon, of course, could alleviate some of that pressure.
Possible package: Nationals GM Mike Rizzo could give up a package front-lined by a right-handed starter -- say Eric Fedde (No. 4) or Reynaldo Lopez (No. 5) -- before focusing on re-signing Chapman during the offseason.
Rangers: Like the Cubs, Texas is also motivated to improve despite its clear talent and depth. A bullpen boost, therefore, may be the least disruptive way to do just that. Sam Dyson has filled the closer's role admirably since replacing Shawn Tolleson early in the year, but Chapman's presence would certainly be a boon. If teamed up with the flame-throwing southpaw, Dyson could move back to his more familiar eighth-inning role, while the club would buy time for ace Yu Darvish to work back from a recently strained shoulder. And despite exhibiting some improvements in June, Rangers relievers still sport a 4.68 ERA -- the third-highest mark in baseball.
Possible package: Right-hander Dillon Tate (No. 3) or a similar upside arm.
Cardinals: The St. Louis bullpen has been fine overall with Trevor Rosenthal closing games, but the ninth-inning man has endured his share of struggles in the control department. While Rosenthal -- with a 0.64 ERA in save situations this year -- will likely remain the Cards' long-term preference at the end of games, Chapman would provide some protection for '16 -- not to mention some dominant stuff.
Possible package: A righty -- either Jack Flaherty (No. 2) or Luke Weaver (No. 3) -- plus a midlevel prospect.
Giants: San Francisco has always been adept at making impactful deals in July -- as evidenced in '12, when it acquired outfielder Hunter Pence en route to the World Series crown that fall and in '14. If this year's Giants have one critical need, it's in the bullpen, especially with the currently injured Pence expected back later this season. Manager Bruce Bochy is one of the best at handling matchups and understanding his personnel, and a lockdown stopper like Chapman would only improve the rest of the relief corps.
Possible package: Look for GM Bobby Evans to dangle one of his top prospects, say righty Phil Bickford (No. 3) or shortstop Lucius Fox (No. 4) to go along with outfielder Mac Williamson (No. 7).
Tigers: Detroit could use a deeper bullpen to help compensate for an average starting rotation, and a dominant closer like Chapman could push current Tigers fireman Francisco Rodriguez into an eighth-inning role.
Possible package: Detroit is short on prospects, but right-hander Beau Burrows (No. 1) might be enough to get a conversation started.
Mariners: Seattle had one of baseball's best bullpens during the early part of the season, but struggles have overcome it of late. And while he's been solid, closer Steve Cishek is versatile enough to shift to a setup role on a team employing a true bullpen ace.
Possible package: The Yankees may be hesitant to take outfielder Alex Jackson (No. 1), who has struggled as a pro, but righty Edwin Diaz (No. 2) and a position prospect such as shortstop Drew Jackson (No. 3) could help get something done.
Jim Duquette is an analyst for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.