While the Mariners scrape to make the most out of a farm system with precious few universally hailed stars, over on the other side of the country, the Yankees have the opposite problem. Imagine, if you will, having so much young talent you can’t possibly fit it all onto your roster, an embarrassment of riches the likes of which has Brian Cashman sitting back and wondering how much a single banana could possibly cost. The Mariners have sampled from the rich waters of the Yankees’ farm system before, scooping up Ben Gamel for a pair of teenage pitching prospects and James Pazos for Zack Littell, who the Yankees flipped to the Twins for like 20 innings of Jaime Garcia. The Yankees: that kid at lunch willing to trade you a bag of chips and a whole can of Coke because you have a fun-sized version of a candy bar they haven’t had before. Nevertheless, the two clubs would be well-served to do business again in the off-season, because the Mariners don’t really have prospects to trade, and the Yankees are generally looking to shed players, not acquire more for a team that already can’t find places for all their incredible talents to play ha ha ha can you imagine.
The tricky part is that the Yankees need starting pitching, and the Mariners certainly don’t have that to give. The Yankees will be losing CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and potentially Masahiro Tanaka to free agency, as well as Garcia, leaving them with just Gray and Severino to hold down the rotation. Tanaka will almost certainly exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, but it’s probable the Yankees will try to bring him back, for three reasons: 1) starting pitching is their one true area of need; 2) Tanaka had wobbles at times over the season but finished 2017 strong and pitched lights-out in the post-season; 3) they may feel that doing so will give them an edge in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, where they’re known to be major players. If the Yankees drive the Brinks truck up to Tanaka’s doorstep, they could trade from their extensive farm system to pry another pitcher away from a struggling system, like Chris Archer of the Rays. They might also opt to send another, smaller Brinks truck to Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb’s houses, but the Yankees are committed to getting under the luxury tax, or so Hal Steinbrenner says.
Enter the Mariners. OSU product Jacoby Ellsbury has been connected to the Mariners seemingly since the second he put on a Yankees uniform, but this is the year the Yankees have to move Ellsbury; there’s simply no place for him in New York’s stacked outfield, and his contract is in opposition to the club’s stated goal to get cheaper, especially if they have to splurge on starting pitching (as great as the Yankees’ system is, it doesn’t offer a lot in non-injured, MLB-ready starting pitching). This year, the Yankees paid Ellsbury about 19 million dollars per win above replacement to be a fourth outfielder, and he’s scheduled to be paid 21.4 million dollars for the next three years. That’s a bad situation for the team, and a bad situation for the player. In Seattle, Ellsbury could see regular playing time again; he could split center field duties with Heredia and Haniger; and hopefully, under the watchful eye of newly hired Director of High Performance Lorena Martin, he would be able to avoid the injuries that have kept him from being as effective as he could have been in New York. Ellsbury might be several years removed from his 9.4 fWAR 2011 campaign, but he continues to have excellent on-base skills, and even at 34, his speed hasn’t declined; he swiped 22 bases in 2017 despite having 200 fewer plate appearances than he did in 2016, when he stole 20.
The pain of taking on the majority of Ellsbury’s contract could be tempered by also collecting some prospects in the deal, some of whom the Yankees would be forced to make tough decisions on anyway. At the beginning of the 2017 season, the Yankees had at least 35 players coming eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year, and while they’ve made impressive strides in adding some of those players to their 40-man and trading others, there are still more high-upside prospects than the Yankees could ever hope to protect. A few intriguing names: Mike Ford (who is John’s Guy), a 25-year-old first baseman who walks more than he strikes out and hasn’t put up a wRC+ of less than 120 over his entire time in the Yankees system; Jake Cave, a center fielder whose prospect star has seemingly set as he’s been bypassed by other prospects in the org but had a breakout year at Triple-A with a 156 wRC+ and is still just 24; or maybe a light-hitting but defensive standout player like 2B/SS prospect Abiatal Avelino. For pitchers, there are several interesting relievers to look at, including Eric Swanson, who hasn’t pitched at advanced levels but has great raw stuff; Cale Coshow, who worked as the closer for Double-A Trenton this year; or short, soft-tossing lefty Nestor Cortes, whose deceptive delivery and excellent command has the potential to rack up strikeouts, as he did in 50 innings at Triple-A Scranton this year.
The Mariners and the Yankees match up well as trade partners, as the Mariners have a dearth of prospects and the Yankees, an excess, and the Mariners have some payroll flexibility as the Yankees look to cut costs. While the specifics mentioned above might not bear out (the Yankees might also look to move Starlin Castro or Chase Headley; Headley might be a fit at first base, and is owed almost 11 million for this year before becoming a free agent next year), the two teams seem like a natural fit for each other, which is hopefully the last time I will type that sentence about the New York Yankees. Blergh.