Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Problem With Slade Heathcott

Back in late March I wrote an article looking ahead at the possible 2017 Yankees, while pointing what they'll cost the team compared to this year's squad. That '17 team included youngsters like Greg Bird, Rob Refsnyder, and Aaron Judge. It's pretty exciting to think about, as that season could be the start of a new-look New York Yankees team... one which could lead them well into the future.

But there's another youngster that's been turning heads since being called up, and he throws a wrench into my future plans.

No, that's not him.

Yeah, there we go.

It's great to see somebody come up through the Yankees system and succeed in Major League Baseball. However, Slade Heathcott is one those cases where I see a problem, and the solution to that problem is sure to upset some people.

The Yankees currently have two outfielders under contract, both of whom are contributing quite a bit to a very inconsistent lineup. And the organizations top prospect looks to slide perfectly into the lineup and outfield. And then there's Carlos Beltran, who we will likely have to deal with through next season, thanks to a silly contract given to him a year and a half ago.

So what do we do? Well, here are four ideas, listed in order of likeliness...

1. Trade Jacoby Ellsbury - I listed this first, meaning it's the one that's least likely to happen, due to the time and money left on his contract. He's going to turn 32 in September, and will still have five years and over $105 million left on his deal. I'm not sure anybody would be willing to take on that contract, while at the same time giving up much in return. And that truth multiples by a thousand if his current knee injury turns out to be anything close to serious.

2. Trade Aaron Judge - Even though Aaron Judge is killing it at AA Trenton with a batting line of .291/.357/.479, with six home runs, we have to remember that he's still a prospect. And prospects do not always pan out. Ruzz Canzler was the International League (AAA) Most Valuable Player in 2011, after slashing .314/.401/.530. However, since 2012 he's only appeared in 26 MLB games (Russ actually played for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season). But Aaron could very well be that big bat in the middle of the Yankees lineup in a couple years, and he's also been praised for his defense in right field (where he has an obvious spot waiting for him on the Yankees), so I don't seem them willing to trade him away unless it's for a very good player.

3. Trade Brett Gardner - Gardner has a team friendly contract, is productive at the plate, and plays great defense. But his legs are probably what makes Brett valuable. If it wasn't for his speed he wouldn't cause as much havoc on the basepaths, which helps boost his offensive contributions. That same speed is what makes his defense great, too. Take away that speed and what do you get? Not a whole heck of a lot. And it's rare for a guy dependent on speed to retain his value heading into his mid-30s. For the time being he's very much outplaying his contract, and is a part of an extremely formidable one-two punch atop the Yankees' lineup. Along with Ellsbury in centerfield, opposing hitters have a very tough time being successful while hitting the ball anywhere around them in the outfield.

4. Trade Slade Heathcott - Let's face it... he's young, and you can never be sure of what you're going to get out a player like that (see my spiel on Aaron Judge). Will he continue to do well, or will MLB catch up to him and turn him into a bench player or worse? And we can't forget the problems he had with his left shoulder a few years ago, and the problems he had with his right knee just last season. When he's healthy he's been a good player, putting up a batting average of .285 this year at Scranton, and hitting well in his short stint so far in the Majors. But what makes him the most likely player to be traded is the fact that there is no spot for him in the future, as long as those other three guys I mentioned are healthy. There's a very good chance that the starting outfield in 2017 is Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Aaron Judge. That leaves Heathcott on the bench. And if he continues to hit well in MLB, what's the point of keeping him around with no clear future outside the dugout? Especially when a kid with MLB experience, especially as part of a package, could fetch a nice return in a trade?

Chances are some of you reading this said the word "no" aloud after reading each of those, and I don't blame you. I don't want to see any of those guys sent away. But facts are facts, and unless MLB adopts slow-pitch softball rules, then only three players will be allowed in the outfield, meaning somebody will be left out. And if somebody is going to be left out, then it's in the team's best interest to get as much out of them as possible, and a trade would be that way.

And keep in mind I'm not saying the Yankees have to do this before the trade deadline this season. During the season there are going to be teams that are "sellers" rather than "buyers", but during the offseason everybody is in "buy" mode. No team goes into a season thinking they don't have a chance, and therefore look to sell off players to build for the future. If that were true the Astros wouldn't be looking at their first postseason since Ronald Reagan was elected president... the first time.

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