Brian Cashman continued the trend of upgrading the roster and adding marginal wins without sacrificing the future at yesterday’s trade deadline by buying low on good players having off years. Most fans read into a player’s current season stat line and expect that to be what a player will produce the rest of the season. Recency bias is huge in all sports. Cashman seemingly understands that player performance can move around a lot while true talent level stays about the same. Both moves highlight the idea that he expects both players to perform closer to their true talent levels (above average regulars) for the remainder of the season. The fact that both players are having down 2014 seasons enabled them to be acquired for little cost to plug obvious holes.
Stephen Drew for Kelly Johnson: The Yankees traded Kelly Johnson to the Red Sox for Stephen Drew. Johnson was expected to provide depth at second and third base but ended up playing 208.2 innings at a foreign position, first base, and struggled, at times, defensively. Johnson didn’t give them much with the bat either (.219/.304/.373 for an 88 wRC+). Johnson, a free agent after the season, was expendable. Drew will take over at second base for Brian Roberts (.237/.300/.360), an exactly replacement level player this season, and projects to be an upgrade. ZiPS projects Roberts for 0.0 WAR the remainder of the season while Drew projects to be worth 0.4 WAR. Drew, despite not hitting this season (56 wRC+), is still an above replacement level player. The catch? Stephen Drew has never played a single inning at the keystone in his major league career. An optimal alignment of talent would feature Drew at shortstop, newly acquired Martin Prado at second, Carlos Beltran in right field, and Derek Jeter at DH. That almost certainly won’t happen for a couple of reasons, namely Jeter’s ego and Beltran’s injured throwing arm. The best two defensive shortstops on the team don’t play shortstop. Go figure. Also, Drew, a free agent after the season, likely will be auditioning for next season’s starting shortstop role if the Yankees want to go that route. Stephen Drew will help the Yankees for the remainder of this season for just about $3.65 million in salary.
Martin Prado for Peter O’Brien: The Yankees traded minor leaguer Peter O’Brien to the Diamondbacks for Martin Prado. Prado will play right field and push Ichiro back to the role he is currently cut out for, 4th outfielder. As with Drew, Prado doesn’t have any experience at the position he will be playing for New York. He only has 2 career innings out there with the Braves back in ’09. Prado also hasn’t hit much this season (89 wRC+), but still projects to be worth more wins than Ichiro the remainder of the season. ZiPS projects Ichiro at 0.2 WAR the remainder of the year while Prado projects for 0.9 WAR. Again, a slight upgrade. O’Brien, catcher and first baseman, has tremendous power but has holes in his swing and lacks plate discipline (K/BB of 302/71 in his minor league career). O’Brien is not really a catcher either and lacks a position to play. Power gets overrated all the time and it’s unlikely O’Brien will be missed. As a bonus, Prado is under contract through 2016 at a very reasonable $11 million per year. Having Prado gives them flexibility in free agency as Prado can play 3rd, 2nd, or right field depending on whom they are able to acquire and what happens with Alex Rodriguez.
Both of these moves are certainly upgrades, but it is hard to make that much of an expected difference over the course of just 55 remaining games. However, this was a great outcome for the Yankees, a team that had the 5th biggest increase in division odds (+1.6%) and 4th biggest increase in championship odds (+.3%) according to FanGraphs. The minuscule changes reflect how little difference any 1 (or 2) player(s) can make over just 2 months in a season. They now have a 7.3% chance to win the AL East and 8.9% chance to win the Wild Card. It would have been short-sighted to gut the farm system for rental players in a season where the team didn’t have a great chance of making the postseason going into the trade deadline. Buying low on 2 above average players for minimal cost during the season is exactly what a Wild Card contender should do. Punting the future to slightly improve the chances of playing in a Coin Flip Game would be a step backwards. Hopefully Masahiro Tanaka and/or Michael Pineda can return and move the needle a little more.