By Sweeny Murti
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The Winter Meetings have come and gone, and the Yankees got some things accomplished.
But there’s still more to do.
Here are some thoughts on what went down in Nashville:
— The trade for Starlin Castro puts the Yankees’ middle infield in a spot they haven’t seen often over the last few decades — a combination of young and experienced. Both Didi Gregorius and Castro have several years of big league playing time and were both born in 1990.
The last time the Yankees fielded a regular SS/2B combo where both players were under the age of 30 was 2003 with 29-year-old Derek Jeter and 27-year-old Alfonso Soriano. To get a combination where both players are 26 or younger I think you have to go back to 1977 (and 1978) with 25-year old-Bucky Dent and 22-year-old Willie Randolph.
To get both of these players in trades one year apart for back-of-the-rotation starters is pretty good. Castro has to rebound with another full season at his previous All-Star level and Gregorius has to be the player he was in the second half of last season after a shaky first half. The Yankees are betting on young and athletic players continuing to show improvement. That’s called upside, and it’s the same principle that drove the Yankees to get 26-year-old Aaron Hicks from Minnesota.
A Yankee executive once told me a good goal for this organization, with so many players tied into expensive long-term contracts, would be to get younger at one position every year. Well, the Yankees have done it the last two winters to get a new keystone combo they hope will take them to places like the ones mentioned above.
— The Justin Wilson trade is a little harder to understand when you consider how big a strength the Yankee bullpen has been. The two pitchers the Bombers got back appear to be Triple-A starting depth at this point, although one scout I spoke to believes both are major league bullpen options eventually.
Still, it leaves the Yankees a little short for 2016. Wilson, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller were the only three relievers Joe Girardi could trust in big spots by the end of the 2015. Wilson being a lefty is significant, but not when you consider his splits didn’t make him a true left-on-left weapon.
I think it speaks to the confidence the Yankees have in lefties like Jacob Lindgren and James Pazos, as well as Chasen Shreve, who was a trusted arm who seemed to simply fatigue by season’s end.
Realistically, though, it leaves the Yankees with a decent hole in their bullpen and indicated there is some more maneuvering to be done.
— That last part is actually quite obvious — the Yankees aren’t done dealing, not by a long shot. They have improved their second base situation, but have weakened their bullpen and done nothing to improve their rotation, which is full of bodies and equally full of question marks.
When the offseason began and I considered the possibility that Ben Zobrist might be a decent fit for the Yankees despite what was sure to be and what ended up a hefty price tag. I was told the Yankees were focused on “pitching, pitching, pitching.” Since I knew they weren’t going after David Price, Zack Greinke, or any of the guys who were knocking around the nine-figure neighborhood, I took that to mean the Yankees were focusing on the trade front to improve their rotation.
And that’s where all the Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller rumors began to come into play. Brian Cashman is still trying to figure out if he can get good value for some tradable parts or if he’s better off holding onto them. I don’t think he will make a trade for the sake of making one, but I do think he has to move either a significant prospect or a productive player with value like Gardner or Miller to get the type of starting pitcher he is after.
— The young, controllable pitching you hear everyone talking about is not just what the Yankees are after. It’s what everyone is after. Here’s why:
Teams used to protect their young pitchers by slowly breaking them into the bullpen and easing them into the rotation over a two-to-three-year period. That is beginning to shift now. The philosophy is pretty simple — they don’t want to waste talented arms when they are the cheapest they will ever be and haven’t gotten hurt yet.
That second part may or may not be true in all cases, but the growing number of injuries and Tommy John surgeries is leading teams to believe they need to get the most out of their young arms before they blow out, which at times now seems almost inevitable.
The Yankees have only one arm that fits into this category and it’s Luis Severino. He is the one guy other teams covet. Nathan Eovaldi is a good one too, but he is now entering his arbitration years so he’s a tad less desirable from a financial standpoint.
Even if there are other good arms in the minor leagues, they are not as close to major league rotation-ready as Severino, so the demand isn’t as heavy. In other words, the Yankees only have one pitcher that is the type of pitcher every team is trying to acquire. It is logical that nearly every major trade proposal the Yankees receive has his name in it, and the Yankees will most likely reject every one of them.
And you know who has oodles of that type of pitching? The Mets. Maybe not in every way shape or form, but in regards to starting pitching the Mets are what every other team wants to be right now.
Follow Sweeny Murti on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN