By Sweeny Murti
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The Yankees traded three very recognizable names and high-ceiling prospects to get Sonny Gray from Oakland. Here is the reality: The Yankees’ “rebuild” is in the rearview mirror. They are contenders again. And this is the kind of deal that contenders make.
Jorge Mateo is an elite prospect, but he has spent less than two months above Double-A. James Kaprielian is coming back from Tommy John surgery and still hasn’t pitched above A-ball. Dustin Fowler’s story is a sad one because of the knee injury he suffered in the first inning of his major league debut. He still has a full recovery and good potential in front of him.
The point is that none of these three have contributed to the Yankees in 2017, a year that has turned into one in which the Yankees can make the playoffs. And in baseball these days, if you’re in it, you can win it. Gray helps that cause.
Not only that, but, with Gray, the Yankees added a pitcher under team control for two more years after this. Taking the injuries and development timeline into account, the Yankees will get infinitely more from Gray in the next 2½ years than they would from Mateo, Kaprielian and Fowler. With affordable starting pitching always at a premium, the Yankees made a move that fortified a need beyond this season.
That’s not to minimize the trio of prospects the Yankees gave up. All three are highly regarded around baseball. But that didn’t keep rival scouts and executives I spoke with from praising the Yankees for pulling the trigger on a deal that was both difficult and necessary.
I spoke to several executives who believe the Yankees are now in the legitimate conversation for best team in the American League. No, their rotation, bullpen and lineup aren’t perfect. But can they compete with Houston, Cleveland, Kansas City or Boston? Absolutely.
Everybody has flaws right now, which is another reason that bolstering the rotation helps the Yankees chances heading into the final two months and beyond.
And speaking of Houston, most of the folks I spoke to who like the Yankees’ chances in October now do so partly because the Astros didn’t step up to add a big-time starter who could have helped them validate their historic start. The Astros have the best record, but injuries and a little uncertainty in their rotation made this the perfect time to get Gray or Yu Darvish. This is exactly the kind of year the Astros have been building toward. Their window of opportunity is finally here, and they did nothing at the deadline to keep it from potentially closing on them.
We all know things can change without warning. The Astros could have a healthy Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. ready to lead them to their first World Series title. But after Monday’s activity, the consensus is that the Yankees did a lot more to make themselves better than anyone else in the AL.
I’m not telling you the Yankees will win the World Series this year. But they are lot better equipped to get there than they were two weeks ago.
And for those worried the Yankees are undoing what they’ve constructed with these young building blocks, don’t. The rest of the league knows there is plenty more in the pipeline.
The Yankees already have Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, Clint Frazier and Chad Green playing key roles in the majors. Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar and Chance Adams are still at Triple-A. Justus Sheffield and Domingo Acevedo are still at Double-A. Albert Abreu, Dillon Tate, Estavan Florial, Freicer Perez, Jorge Guzman and others are lurking below that. The cupboard isn’t near empty yet, and that’s why the Yankees are so excited about what the next few years can mean here.
Florial planted his name firmly among the Yankees’ top prospects in the last few weeks of July. Scouts have been raving about the speed and power combo in the 19-year old center fielder.
Yes, in their two big July trades, the Yankees gave up some names you started to get excited about (Blake Rutherford was traded in the White Sox deal two weeks ago). But the process is still in place, with some new names such as Florial’s jumping into the mix.
The Yankees seem genuinely excited about what they’ve done here. We shall see if that excitement carries through the summer and into the fall.
Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN