The Yankees just went shopping at Costco. Now that doesn’t sound especially optimistic at first, but let me explain.
First of all, Costco is great. I’ve never walked away from a trip to Costco unhappy with my purchases. Maybe I didn’t get exactly what I came for, or maybe I got way more than what I came for, but the deals were so good that it was just too difficult to pass up.
And that’s basically what happened here with the Yankees. They came into the trade market looking for a starting pitcher and a first baseman, and they kind of got neither in this deal.
Please indulge my silly analogy for a moment, and let’s pretend that Brian Cashman used to shop at Ralph’s in the past. He’s very comfortable with his name-brand granola bars, and when he sees those Chewy bars in Costco, he knows that he just has to have them. He’s familiar with them from previous consumption, and he’s willing to pay fair market value for them for that level of safety. He’s also aware that he may be trying new brands of other items during this trip to Costco, and he wants at least one known quantity.
The Chewy bars are David Robertson. He’s a known quantity with an extensively long track record, and he was never going to go for far above or below his market value. Other than the fact that he’s throwing his curveball a career-high 42.7 percent of the time this season, there’s nothing else I need to tell you about Robertson that you don’t already know. He’s still the same durable, high-strikeout, spotty command reliever that he was back in his previous tenure in pinstripes, and he comes under team control for this season and 2018.
Now, as Cashman continues walking through Costco, he comes across something else — trail mix! He didn’t come into Costco looking for trail mix; he didn’t even come to Costco necessarily looking for granola bars, either. The trail mix is slightly redundant in that niche snack category with granola bars already in the cart, and Cashman already knows that he has plenty of other quality snacks in that similar category in his pantry at home. Further complicating things is that it’s Kirkland-brand trail mix. It looks excellent, and he’s heard great things about it from a friend that recently tried it, and it looks like a similar quality to the name brand but at a cheaper price per ounce, but because this is Cashman’s first time to Costco, it’s still an unknown quantity to him. He finally decides that it’s too good of a deal to pass up, and he’s just going to own the best collection of healthy, outdoorsy, travel-safe snacks in the neighborhood.
The trail mix, as you’ve probably guessed, is Tommy Kahnle. FanGraphs recently wrote an excellent piece on how good Kahnle has been this season, and how much value he represents because of the three remaining years of team control he comes with after this season. I highly suggest reading that FanGraphs piece, but to sum it up, he’s basically figured out how to throw strikes this season, catapulting him into the elite tier of relievers. He’s always been incredibly good at missing bats, and if this newfound control is here to stay, then he is absolutely a lockdown, high-leverage reliever. He may be a more generic name than some of the “name-brand” relievers that we’ve seen moved in recent deadlines, like a Mark Melancon or an Andrew Miller, but he has shown similar skills to suggest that he may not be all that different. Now, out of the three pieces that the Yankees received, he could easily be the one that produces the least amount of value in the stretch run and possibly into the playoffs simply because he’s had a short track record of elite pitching and because relievers are volatile in short samples anyways. However, he’s also the piece that easily represents the most total surplus value, and if we compare what the Yankees gave up to previous hauls for elite relievers in the recent past, it could be argued that the entire package was worth Kahnle by himself.
Now, Cashman looks back at his shopping list and realizes that he’s already put two items in his cart, but neither were the two items that he had on his shopping list going in. Cashman came in looking for steak and a T-shirt. It turns out that Costco doesn’t have any more appealing steaks. They had one prime piece, but Jed Hoyer had just walked into the store right beforehand and purchased it. All of the other steaks Costco has left look to be either too old or otherwise unappetizing, so Cashman decides to just forego the steaks on this trip.
Cashman then heads to the T-shirt section. As it turns out, Costco does have one type of T-shirt in stock that Cashman would like, but the price tag is way, way out of Cashman’s budget. See, Mr. Cashman is saving up for something really nice down the road, and he doesn’t want to sacrifice something in the long-term by exceeding his budget right now. However, he does find a sweatshirt in stock that he kind of likes. Is it a T-shirt? Well, not exactly. But it seems to be of nice quality, and it is incredibly affordable. There are a couple issues with the sweatshirt. First, it’s made of cheap materials and is likely to wear down after a few wears, when he will likely let it go to another owner. However, this is what makes the sweatshirt so affordable. The second issue is that, well, it’s not a T-shirt. But Mr. Cashman is creative, and he’s planning on cutting off the long sleeves and hood, and it’ll kind of be a T-shirt. Its best purpose is as a sweatshirt, but it’s still a great value as a makeshift T-shirt, so Cashman decides to buy it rather than risk going to another store, where he won’t know whether it will have any T-shirts in stock, or if they would be within his budget.
Todd Frazier is obviously the sweatshirt here, and he’s an interesting get. It’s true that the Yankees would be wasting a lot of his positional value, as Frazier rates somewhere between fine and very good at third base. By all accounts, the Yankees plan on keeping Chase Headley at the hot corner and shifting Frazier to first base, where he does have a little bit of experience. But it isn’t maximizing his value, and Yonder Alonso probably would’ve made more sense. That doesn’t mean that Frazier isn’t an upgrade, though. Don’t be fooled by Frazier’s season line. After a rough start, fueled mainly by extremely poor luck, Frazier has hit .233/.363/.504 since the beginning of June. On the season, Frazier has suffered a .214 BABIP despite no obvious changes to his batted ball profile from the previous two seasons. He’s rocking a career-high 14.3 percent walk rate, and his BB/K ratio is also the best of his career because his strikeout rate hasn’t risen with the walk rate.
Now, as I mentioned before, why would the Yankees go after Frazier if they didn’t plan on using him at his natural position? Well, acquiring a different first baseman, like Yonder Alonso, would’ve required negotiating with another GM and giving up a second package on top of this one, and that still doesn’t address the starting pitching issue. The Yankees were already at their proverbial Costco, and it made sense from a value perspective to simply buy in bulk. It also makes sense for the White Sox. As we’ve seen with the J.D. Martinez deal, the trade market for rentals has seemingly dried up across baseball. Martinez is a superior player to Frazier, and the White Sox probably saw the writing on the wall that Frazier wasn’t going to return much on his own. So it made more sense to package him and extract the best prospects possible.
It’s not like the Yankees gave up nothing. Blake Rutherford is an incredibly toolsy prospect that was pretty universally a top-50 prospect coming into the season, and nothing he’s done as a 20-year-old in full-season ball has greatly changed that. Ian Clarkin has lost some shine from his draft day, but he still represents value, as does Tito Polo, an outfielder with power and speed that has produced everywhere he’s gone each of the last two seasons.
But for the amount of help they got across their MLB roster, and the price at which it cost, this deal was definitely worth taking. It would become more questionable if this deal precluded the Yankees from going out and acquiring a starting pitcher, but they have more than enough ammunition in their deep farm system to do so as well.
At the end of the day, value is value, and Cashman got quite a bit of it in his trip to Costco.