23017691-mmmain

The Clint Frazier Conundrum

The Yankees seem to have as many capable outfielders in the organization as they have pinstripes on the team’s home uniform. Clint Frazier is one of them. In a group that includes stars like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, a veteran leader like Brett Gardner, the skilled Aaron Hicks, and Jacoby Ellsbury, there isn’t much room for Frazier in the Bronx this year. With Judge, Stanton, Hicks, and Ellsbury still under contract in 2019, perhaps Frazier will be out of luck next year too. Not to mention another top outfield prospect, Estevan Florial, ascending in evaluators’ eyes. Folks, this is how trade rumors are born. It’s no surprise that Frazier has become a focal point of trade speculation given his situation in the outfield hierarchy.

Despite a crowded outfield this year and next, the Yankees don’t need to trade Frazier at this time. The 23 year-old struggled during his stint in the majors last season, but that doesn’t mean his career in New York is suddenly at a crossroads. Sure, he may be blocked at the moment, but the front office can still bide its time with the previously 16th-best prospect in baseball*.

*Side note: Frazier exceeded rookie eligibility in 2017, so you won’t see him on any prospect lists for 2018.

Even though he’s been a subject of trade rumors, Frazier isn’t necessarily in the eleventh hour of his Yankees career. He won’t be 24 until September, has a couple of more minor league options to burn, and hasn’t dominated Triple-A to the point that there’s no purpose in sending him back to the level this season. Even though the Yankees have five bonafide outfielders under contract for this year and only one’s contract expiring at season’s end (Gardner), Frazier could still become a long-term piece in the Bronx.

In terms of usage, 2018 could be another season similar to last year. Frazier can play full-time in Scranton and look to build on a solid but not spectacular .277 TAv posted at the level in 2017, while being the first in line for promotion when there’s an injury at the big league level. As hinted at, Frazier still has room for development and more time in the minors could be beneficial. For instance, his bat-to-ball skills could use work, as his strikeout rate in his big league stint was just north of 30 percent. Again, as a 23 year-old for most of the season, it’s not urgent for him to deliver at the big league level immediately.

As long as Frazier remains in pinstripes, 2019 will really be the make or break season. Should the franchise hold on to him, it will be his final season with a minor league option, though ideally, it wouldn’t be needed. Barring a return, Gardner will vacate left field following 2018. That means the Yankees can do one of two things: one, play Judge and Stanton full time in the outfield corners; or two, rotate Judge and Stanton in right field and at designated hitter while seeking a new left fielder. The latter situation is where Frazier can grab the bull by the horns. That’s the most rosy development path for Frazier as long as he’s with the Yankees. It’s not some pie in the sky storyline, either. Hence, grooming Frazier for 2019 makes some sense. He’s talented and could help save some payroll room (Manny Machado, anyone?).

There are other competing scenarios, of course. The Yankees could re-sign Gardner after this season. Florial could surge past Frazier in the organization’s rankings and seize the theoretical 2019 outfield opening. A free agent or trade acquisition could take over. Even worse, Frazier could stall in 2018, though there shouldn’t be too much worry about that given his past performance in Triple-A and his skillset. Any of those possibilities would effectively end of Frazier’s employment with the Yankees and make him trade bait.

All of those competing scenarios are partly why the Yankees are dangling Frazier now, and that makes sense. The outfield depth chart is very deep, and there are other areas the Yankees can improve upon, so why not trade from a surplus? It’s all very logical, but it also doesn’t mean that the Yankees should feel compelled to deal Frazier now. The front office has the luxury of waiting. Though it would be nice to have another starting pitcher like Gerrit Cole, it isn’t a necessity at the moment. Frazier could also be used in a trade to acquire a second or third baseman, but then again, Gleyber Torres and a free agent could address those openings. As the saying goes, patience is a virtue, so perhaps it would be best to hold out for the best trade. Whether that’s this week, this summer, or next offseason (or not at all!) is up for the front office to determine.

Since the Stanton acquisition, it’s been a quiet few weeks and trading Frazier could change that. Everyone wants a shiny new toy, and Frazier could help the Yankees get that, but there are certainly other routes to take with the young outfielder. Though he’s in an organization loaded with outfielders near or in the big leagues, there’s still a chance that he could become a fixture in the Bronx by 2019. The Yankees don’t have to commit to that now, nor does the team need to decide dealing Frazier is the best path, either. In this situation, time is still on the side of all parties involved.

Photo credit: Kim Klement | USA Today Sports

Related Articles

Leave a comment

Use your Baseball Prospectus username