Now that the Yankees non-tendered Clint Frazier (who subsequently signed with the Cubs), no one remains in the organization with a direct connection to the Andrew Miller trade.
On July 31, 2016, the Yankees traded Miller to Cleveland for a handful of prospects: Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller, and J.P. Feyereisen. The deal was considered a haul for New York at the time, as Frazier (44th) and Sheffield (81st) were top 100 prospects according to Baseball America. And yet, in hindsight, it looks like Cleveland won the trade (I know, I know: hindsight is 20/20). Prospects are exciting but oftentimes miss.
Miller was a pivotal part of the bullpen for Cleveland’s pennant-winning club in 2016 and was excellent again in 2017. Frazier had some awful luck health wise, showed flashes of excellence in 2020, but never could put it all together in The Bronx. Sheffield was spun off for James Paxton a couple of years later in a deal that worked out pretty well for the Yanks. Heller struggled to stay healthy, and the Yankees dealt Feyereisen to Milwaukee in 2019.
A trade shouldn’t be evaluated by WAR alone. There are other things to consider, such as playoff performances, contention windows, fan response, marketing, etc. But for reference, below are the Baseball Reference WAR totals for each player directly involved in this deal:
I already noted that Miller was a vital part of Cleveland’s World Series push in ’16, which isn’t wholly accounted for here. But in any case, it’s crystal clear that Cleveland got more out of these deal in terms of stats alone.
Much of Miller’s production came in 2016, though he was also brilliant in 2017. Still, the Yankees weren’t in the hunt in ’16, so losing that production wasn’t such a big deal. Could Miller have helped in 2017? Sure, though the Yankees probably didn’t anticipate a big playoff run for that upcoming season.
Now, if we layer on an offshoot (James Paxton) from this trade tree, things get a little closer. Paxton delivered 1.9 WAR in two seasons in the Bronx, along with a very good ALCS performance in 2019.
All told, just because Cleveland received a better outcome (by WAR and other qualifications) doesn’t mean the Yankees wouldn’t repeat this deal. Both teams had different timing in mind, with Cleveland in win now mode and the Yankees looking toward future seasons. The Bombers figured these prospects would help usher in a new wave by, say, 2018 or so.
With any trade comes opportunity costs. The Yankees weren’t merely negotiating a Miller swap with Cleveland. In fact, the Cubs and Nationals were two teams reportedly involved in talks.
Obviously, the Yankees moved Aroldis Chapman to Chicago rather than Miller. Chapman was a rental whereas Miller was under contract through 2018, thereby increasing the Yankees ask. The Yankees wouldn’t budge on a Kyle Schwarber ask for Miller and Chicago rejected those overtures. They weren’t willing to move a major league piece in the midst of their World Series hopes, hence the turn to a prospects (Gleyber Torres and more) swap for a rental in Chapman. It’s not clear what sort of package the Cubs would have agreed to in exchange for Miller.
Meanwhile, there were conflicting reports on the Yankees’ discussions with Washington.
for the record, yankees would not do this https://t.co/dPM9QZdJk2— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 29, 2016
Baseball America pegged Giolito has the fifth-best prospect in the majors prior to the 2016 season. That’s better than Frazier and Sheffield at the time, though we don’t know what the Yankees’ internal evaluations of those three were. If Heyman’s tweet is true, the Yankees may not have been as high on Giolito at the time, or simply liked the combo of Frazier and Sheffield more.
Now, as great as Giolito looks now, it wasn’t all roses for him until 2019. The Nats sent him away in a deal for Adam Eaton in December 2016, and the righty struggled to put things together in Chicago. He was awful in 32 major league starts in 2018, and was looking like a potential bust. In any event, the White Sox were able to get his career back on track and turned him into one of the top pitchers in the majors.
It’s easy to say now that doing a one-for-one swap for Giolito would have been the best move, but that’s assuming the Yankees would have helped him get to the same spot the White Sox did. Are you confident that would have happened? I’m not. There’s a reason the Yankees have overhauled pitching development in the organization in the last couple of years.
Ultimately, unless the Yankees indeed could have pried Schwarber (again, no evidence of that), the trade completed with Cleveland looks like the best option they had.
The one connection remaining
Note that I said there was no *direct* connection to the Miller swap remaining in the Yankees organization at the outset of this post. There is one player remaining from the trade tree, though. Brenny Escanio, a prospect who the Yankees obtained from the Brewers in return for Feyereisen in 2019, is still around.
Escanio, who just turned 19 yesterday, is a switch-hitting shortstop who’s yet to come stateside. He played in 50 games in the DSL this season, hitting .250/.401/.442 with 6 homers and 54 strikeouts in 217 plate appearances (138 wRC+). No reason to read into DSL stats, though. He originally signed with Milwaukee on July 2, 2019.
There’s not much information available about Escanio publicly. He got a brief mention in FanGraphs’ “Other Prospects of Note” section in their 2021 Yankees prospect writeup. Here’s what it said:
The Yankees got Escanio from the Brewers straight up for reliever J.P Feyeresien. Escanio is an athletic, switch-hitting infielder with a narrow frame, but I feel pretty good about him developing relevant physicality.
I guess technically we can’t close the book on the Miller trade just yet, given this last vestige. But any impact from Escanio — if any — won’t come for another half-decade. Odds seem slim, though.
It’s not possible to win every trade, and frankly, it’s OK to “lose” a trade from time to time. I wouldn’t say the Yankees lost this deal, at least not in embarrassing or ugly fashion, but it certainly didn’t pan out as the front office hoped at the time of its culmination. I don’t think they’d ask for a mulligan on this trade.
If Frazier never suffers a concussion, we could be having an entirely different conversation. Hell, if he didn’t suffer health setbacks this season, perhaps he follows up his brilliant 2020 run with another good year and is still on the roster. Unfortunately, sometimes a stroke or two of bad luck can get in the way of the best intentions.
Tough luck aside, this trade does serve as a reminder for teams to not always hug prospects too tightly. Cleveland didn’t and nearly was rewarded with a World Series title (albeit not wholly to the credit of this trade, of course). In subsequent seasons, the Yankees held on too tightly to Frazier (and others). There’s no doubt in my mind that the Yankees’ reluctance to part with some of its “top” prospects (Chance Adams!) hurt them during this current contention window.