By Ernie Palladino
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Think what you will about how Monday’s trade of Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs affects the Yankees’ playoff hopes for this season.
The point is, general manager Brian Cashman pulled off quite a nice deal. In fact, he may just have set up the Yankees for a “Big Four” a couple of years down the road — the fact that the two main prospects came from elsewhere prohibit a “Core Four” repeat — while also securing some bullpen help for the current campaign in old friend Adam Warren.
Slightly altered history aside, here is what the top half of the Yankees’ lineup might include in the not so far off future: Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Gleyber Torres, and Billy McKinney. And if he’s lucky, perhaps Rashad Crawford, the fourth player in the blockbuster deal, will join Judge and McKinney in the outfield.
Right now, this of course is all lollipops-and-rainbow thinking. A lot can happen between now and the point where Judge and Bird, the Yankees’ farmhands, and newcomers Torres and McKinney have ripened. Especially the shortstop Torres, the Cubs’ top prospect who currently toils in Class A.
At only 19, he’s doing well there, slashing at .275/.359/.433 with nine homers, 47 RBI and 19 steals in 356 at-bats at Myrtle Beach this year. He caught fire this month, knocking in 20 runs while hitting .338/.416/.506.
He’s Baseball America’s 27th ranked prospect, a fact not lost on Cashman as he continues to build from below while stepping away from the fossil fuel that has powered previous lineups.
The thing about Torres is that he’s versatile. The Daily News reported just after the trade that the Yanks plan to switch Torres to second base. With Didi Gregorius having a breakout season at short and with three more arbitration-eligible years ahead of him, Torres’ future might well be at second or third.
McKinney, a left-handed hitter, has made just one error in 77 games, primarily in left field, for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. He’s the Cubs’ fifth-ranked prospect on MLB’s list.
And Crawford is plugging along in the outfield behind Torres at Myrtle Beach.
It’s really Torres, Judge, and Bird who are the focus here, though. If Bird comes back strong from the labrum surgery that ended 2016 before it ever began, he will potentially become Mark Teixeira’s replacement at first. Judge, the power-hitting outfielder who struggled with his swing before landing on the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre DL with a strained posterior cruciate ligament and a bone bruise, remains a key prospect who still could see himself with the big club before the year is out.
Assuming health — always an iffy proposition — and a smooth learning arc, Torres could well become a centerpiece of the Yankees’ future middle defense, as well as a contributor to the offense. Baseball Prospectus describes his swing as smooth and level, and reports his ability to hit to all fields.
WATCH: Gleyber Torres Highlights
The Yanks will undoubtedly monitor his progress closely over the next couple of seasons.
None of that helps with this year’s race, though. For that, they brought back Warren, the reliever/spot starter they sent away for second baseman Starlin Castro.
Now he’s back, ready to take that seventh-inning spot and push Dellin Betances to setup. Andrew Miller, last year’s closer, goes to his old familiar spot opened by Chapman’s departure.
That doesn’t assure the Yanks of anything. They need more than Warren in the coming days to make a real run at the playoffs.
That may come before Aug. 1. It may not. It all depends on whether the general manager feels there’s enough potential left in this season to make a run.
But that wasn’t the real point of this trade, anyway. Cashman dealt a powerful-yet-expendable arm to make a sound investment for the future. With two highly-regarded prospects in the system already in Judge and Bird, adding the promising Torres and a progressing McKinney offers a look past the 2016 horizon.
Right now, it looks bright.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino