July 20, 2017
First We Take Manhattan
Whenever you trade three solid contributors from your major-league team in a single deal, you expect to get something worthwhile in return. Single-A outfielder Blake Rutherford acts as the centerpiece of the return for Chicago. The Yankees' first-round pick two years ago, Rutherford was an older high school draftee now playing in Low-A at age 20. I was able to get a first-hand look at him in a series last week.
The first thing you notice about Rutherford at the plate is his smooth swing that can spray the ball to all areas of the field. He has a compact stroke, little noise, and loose hands that can adjust the barrel for consistent line-drive contact. His approach is also well advanced for his age. He’s comfortable swinging at the first pitch if it’s in his hit zone or taking pitchers deep into counts when he needs to. He remains steady at the plate, letting the ball travel and just seeing and hitting the ball where it’s pitched. He does swing over off-speed stuff at times and his lack of unique physicality will keep his hit tool from getting to plus, but he projects as an above-average pure hitter.
Defensively, Rutherford played in right field and center field the series I caught, but he’s going to profile in a corner as he grows into his fairly projectable frame. He flashes pretty much average in terms of speed, arm, and glove, which will make him a more than workable option there. That’s not to say he can’t play center in a pickle, but he just doesn’t have the plus athleticism to be more than a fringe option.
However, what’s really going to define whether Rutherford is simply a solid regular or something more will be the development of his power stroke. At the moment, Rutherford is a little skinny at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, which is to be expected for a tall and lean high school draft pick in his first year of full-season ball. He should be able to add a bit of muscle to his upper body, which will help his raw power get to plus at maturity. But when watching Rutherford, it’s clear that he'd rather play to a more gap-driven approach than pull the pitches he needs to fully translate his raw potential into game situations. I actually think this will benefit him as his swing plays more to contact than power, which is something that he probably recognizes when just watching him work the zone at 20.
Overall, Rutherford doesn’t flash with “wow” ability in any one area like some of the other top outfield prospects. He’s a safer prospect for a high school outfielder given the relative lack of holes in his game, but I’m more likely to peg him as a solid MLB regular than an All-Star due to his inability to really grow into a plus tool. Nevertheless, he’s certainly a welcomed addition to an already loaded White Sox farm system and works as the main prize of this particular trade package. —Greg Goldstein
While he has been sidelined with injuries, including various elbow and forearm strains, Clarkin still has some stuff to like. His fastball, while not plus anymore, is 89-91 and is a tough pitch to square up when located down in the zone. His command this year has been better than in the past, but still needs some projection to stick as a starter. The main attraction with Clarkin is his plus curve which comes in from 73-76 with quality depth and sharp break. He has confidence in it and uses it as his put-away pitch versus righties and lefties. With his changeup projecting to a below-average offering, Clarkin looks more and more like a seventh-inning bullpen arm, but has the floor of a situational lefty. —Steve Givarz
Clippard doesn’t exactly scream valuable trade asset, and at first blush it seems odd that he was even included in the deal. For the Yankees it appears to be yet another attempt at managing money to stay under the luxury tax threshold, but he has some value to the White Sox as well. Clippard certainly hasn’t been lighting the world on fire with his 4.95 ERA, 4.87 DRA, and 12 percent walk rate, but with Jose Quintana’s recent departure from the rotation and two key relievers heading to New York, the White Sox are left with a lot of outs to record on a daily basis. Thirty innings from Clippard may not be pretty, but it could be just enough to prevent the team from pushing prospects into the bullpen before they’re ready. It's also possible that the White Sox could get something in return for Clippard from a contender convinced he can help down the stretch. —Ryan Schultz
The biggest fantasy winner was not even involved in the trade. After waiting patiently all season at Triple-A, Moncada gets the call to Chicago thanks to the vacancy created by Frazier. The 22-year-old super prospect was hitting .282/.377/.447 in Charlotte, with 12 home runs and 17 steals in 361 plate appearances. Moncada should be rostered in all but the shallowest formats. How much his speed translates to the majors will go a long way to determining his fantasy value, but there is enough bat to make Moncada a potential $10-15 earner even if he only hits .240. In mixed leagues where he is available, he is worth a high waiver claim or a break-the-bank FAAB bid.
Many expected Anthony Swarzak to be tabbed as the Chicago's new closer but the White Sox opted instead to go with Clippard, the grizzled veteran who somehow is only 32 years old. To say Clippard has struggled of late
Acquired 3B-R Todd Frazier, RHP David Robertson, and RHP Tommy Kahnle from Chicago White Sox in exchange for OF-L Blake Rutherford, LHP Ian Clarkin, OF-R Tito Polo, and RHP Tyler Clippard. [7/18]
Most of the time, there are two sides to every two-team trade. You can identify the side for Team A and the side for Team B. Over time, you can identify if a deal was good or bad for each franchise, and MLB trades aren’t exactly a zero-sum game. In many instances a deal can be beneficial to both parties (see Yoenis Cespedes for Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa). However, there are rare circumstances in which a deal can have a notable effect on a team that isn’t even involved directly in a trade. Such is the power of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, and such is the power of this move.
Not only did the Bombers improve their own 2017 roster, they took several available assets that would fit the Red Sox off the board, leaving them with a thinner set of options as they look to improve their hot corner and bullpen issues. Make no mistake, I don’t think this trade was about damaging the Sox; that aspect of the deal is more along the lines of chocolate syrup on the old ice cream sundae. (It’s too integral to be considered frosting and, wait, can you tell that I’m trying to avoid dessert recently?) No, this deal was about fixing what ails the Yankees (dismal corner infield production) and transforming a good bullpen into a great one.
And despite not being the most valuable asset acquired in the deal, I’d hazard a guess that Frazier might have been the most integral part of the deal from the Yankees’ perspective. You can set your watch by the slugging third baseman, as he has turned into a reliable hand capable of playing 150-plus games and cracking 30-plus dingers. He has his faults—for one, his current .207 batting average is something that would make another former Reds and White Sox slugger shudder, and his .270 True Average implies an above-average bat, not a true difference-maker. But with the Yankees’ almost-league-worst production at first base, and Chase Headley’s pariah status in the Bronx, Frazier will probably be a welcome upgrade and something of a stabilizing force in the lineup.
Along with their new infielder, the Yanks brought home a few old friends to supplement an already scary bullpen. Robertson—the Yankees’ former setup man supreme—is the bigger name, but Kahnle is the bigger deal. Once possessed of a wicked heater and only the faintest notion of where his pitches were going, Kahnle somehow found the strike zone this year. This transformed the former New York farmhand into one of baseball’s finest relief pitchers, with some truly sick rate stats, including 15 strikeouts per nine innings. Even if his control regresses back to something less incredible, he could still be a dynamite seventh- or eighth-inning arm, but for now the Yankees added the most effective reliever on the market. And he’s got another three seasons before he can file for free agency.
Then there’s the prodigal son in Robertson, who's been a fairly consistent presence since his 2011 breakout. His curveball is still a wrecker of hopes and dreams, and his strikeout rate has remained above 10 whiffs per nine innings. He should be roughly as effective tomorrow as he was yesterday—not a top-tier closer akin to Craig Kimbrel, but firmly ensconced in the second or third tier of ninth-inning guys. He’ll have another year on the mammoth four-year, $46 million contract he signed with Chicago before 2015. Best of all, with all that talent, he’s probably the third- or fourth-best reliever in the New York bullpen. There’s only one thing left to say: This Yankees bullpen is one of the most amazing collections of talent I’ve ever seen.
That’s great, because the Yankees’ rotation certainly isn’t amazing in any way, regardless of qualifier. Masahiro Tanaka can go, and Luis Severino has come on strong of late, but the Jordan Montgomery Experience surely isn’t going to break opposing hitters’ hearts in October. And hey! Remember Luis Cessa from the first paragraph of this TA? He certainly exists! So the Yankees appear to be taking a page out of the 2014-2015 Royals’ playbook and hoping that a suspect rotation can be held up by a perfect bullpen. Between Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances (who may have switched bodies with Kahnle, I don’t know for sure), Chad Green, Adam Warren, and their new acquisitions, the Yankees have six very strong relievers on call at the drop of a hat. That is a party-at-Versailles kind of embarrassment of riches.
Isn’t that the Yankees that we’ve come to know and
In the last two years Frazier’s 35-40 home run and 15-20 steal potential made him more of a fantasy asset than a real-life asset, but that changed somewhat this year. This is mostly because home runs are not nearly as valuable as they have been in the past, but also ties into a drop in stolen bases. Thirty homers and eight steals with a .207 batting average is worth it in deeper leagues, but in mixed leagues you can get that kind of production without that lousy AVG. The move to New York might help Frazier’s value slightly, but going from one hitter’s park to another shouldn’t move the needle all that much.
Robertson remains a quality reliever, but in non-holds leagues his value takes a significant hit with the move to the Bronx. He might get a handful of saves if the Yankees try to give the struggling Aroldis Chapman a breather down the stretch, but moving from full-time closer to setup man hurts Robertson in every format.
Quality relievers like Kahnle are great to have in deeper mixed and only leagues, but the trade does nothing to change his value. Strikeouts are strikeouts. In holds leagues, expect a handful more holds because Kahnle is moving to a better team. —Mike Gianella and George Bissell
Bryan Grosnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @bgrosnick