This morning’s trade between the Indians and the Yankees represents a definitive statement for both the team acquiring the superstar and the team giving him up. For the first time in recent memory the Cleveland Indians are truly pulling out all the stops and are truly going for it. For the first time in the Brian Cashman era the Yankees are truly sellers who are entering rebuild mode.
Andrew Miller is arguably baseball’s best relief pitcher and, once you account for the fact that he’s under team control through 2018 he’s undoubtedly the most valuable relief pitcher in the game. There is not a single contender who would not have loved to have him. The fact that the Indians were the ones who pulled the trigger represents a sea change in organizational philosophy. Cleveland has, in the past, tried to make do with what it had, even when the playoffs were in reach. They have eschewed taking on any big contracts, even if they were sensible ones like Miller’s is. They have a 4.5 game lead in the AL Central and none of its divisional competition appears to have a higher gear with which to run them down, but they are taking no chances. This is how a major league team with its talent should operate. It’s a way the Indians have rarely if ever operated in recent years.
The Yankees too are doing something new: rebuilding. Not simply shuffling a few deck chairs while paying lip service to championships still being their only goal, but truly selling like they have never sold in the Brian Cashman era. The deal of Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs might’ve signaled that for most teams, but even after it, the Yankees could’ve said “hey, we still have a lights-out closer in Miller” and pretended that they were truly shooting for the playoffs. But giving up Miller any words they offer in that direction — and just this morning Joe Girardi denied that this is a “white flag” trade — are really just words. Make no mistake: this is a selloff.
But it’s a damn good selloff. J.P. Feyereisen, Clint Frazier, Ben Heller and Justus Sheffield — the players New York got for Miller — is an outstanding package that, along with the haul they got for Chapman, instantly catapults the Yankees’ farm system to the upper echelon. Frazier, who has excelled at levels where he was far younger than the competition, is probably the most projectable young position player the Yankees have had since Robinson Cano. Sheffield, a 20-year-old pitcher who is also facing older competition, is a top-100 prospect who most scouts think will be a mid-rotation starter. Heller can throw 100 miles per hour. Feyereisen has averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings in three minor league seasons and projects to be a solid major league reliever.
It wasn’t long ago that baseball’s critics lamented that teams like the Yankees will always have a competitive advantage and teams like the Indians will never be able to compete. Maybe that’s still true when it comes to the financial ledger, but it’s certainly not true on the field. At the trade deadline, in 2016, the Cleveland Indians have landed one of the biggest fish in the lake. The Yankees have cut bait.