The Yankees must keep Clint Frazier around when Aaron Hicks returns

This week Yankees general manager disclosed that upon the activation of Aaron Hicks from the DL, the up and coming rookie Clint Frazier will be sent back down to AAA. With the activation of Hicks, the Yankees would have five outfielders on their big league roster, so obviously one has to go.
Photo Credit: Julio Cortez | AP

The decision to make Frazier the odd man out is poor at best. Since his promotion, Frazier has been the best bat in the Yankee lineup. We’ve all witnessed his “legendary” bat speed and he’s showing why he’s been projected to develop into a star hitter with 30 homer potential – especially in Yankee Stadium. He has nothing else to learn in the minor leagues and sending him down to face inferior competition may actually hurt his growth.
Frazier brings some youth and, for lack of a better word, fun, to a Yankee team that has otherwise been old and lackluster in recent years. Many fans have enjoyed his antics on social media which gives them an up close and personal feel with Frazier – something Yankees fans have seldom experienced.
Sure, his vigor and energy have wrongfully made him the source of controversy regarding an aging and ultimately pointless hair policy and a Yankee legend’s jersey number (that Frazier says he didn't actually ask for). But I believe most Yankee fans see through the smoke and mirrors and genuinely appreciate the enthusiasm Frazier brings to the table.
All this said, it’s clear another Yankee outfielder is more deserving of the cut in order to keep getting Frazier every day MLB at bats.
It should go without saying I don’t think Aaron Judge is that cut. If the season ended today, Judge would be an obvious choice for not only rookie of the year, but the MVP award. While his recent All-Star break and potentially derby induced slump has been frustrating, Judge is clearly capable of making the adjustments necessary to return to MVP form.
This leaves Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Hicks as the other potential candidates to axe in order to ensure Frazier’s stay on the big league roster.
I believe most Yankees fans would agree Ellsbury is the weakest link here; in fact many have been saying it for a while now. Ellsbury has hit a paltry .249 with 17 RBIs and four homers this year which is good for a subpar 86 wRC+ and 0.5 WAR in 56 games.
Photo Credit: AP
By comparison Cardinals' starting pitcher Adam Wainwright has 10 RBIs in 21 games, which would average out to be 28 in 56 games. Nobody has ever labeled Ellsbury as a clean up hitter, but the fact he’s spent 30 games hitting in either the fourth, fifth, or sixth spot in the lineup means he’s had opportunities to drive in runs and he’s squandered them, as he sports a meager .179 average with runners in scoring position.
In terms of a WAR comparison, Clint Frazier has accumulated a 0.3 WAR in just 13 MLB games, which is right on the heels of Ellsbury in 33 less games. At Frazier’s current pace, he’d have a 1.3 WAR in 56 games, which is over double what Ellsbury has done. He also has a .944 OPS (albeit in a smaller sample size), which outshines Ellsbury's .685 OPS, which would be the third worst among American League outfielders if he qualified, only ahead of Jarrod Dyson of the Mariners and Alex Gordon of the Royals.
At this point most fans are aware of the detriment Ellsbury is to the team. So why hasn’t the organization done something? Well the answer is also something most fans are aware of – his albatross of a contract. Ellsbury is owed $21 million a year through 2020 with a $5 million buyout in 2021. By now most Yankee fans should be sick to their stomach. Quite obviously there’s a bit of a discrepancy between the contract and on field performance.
Further complicating things is the fact he has a full no-trade clause. Even in the off chance the Yankees could somehow find a trade partner willing to eat a chunk of Jacoby’s contract, perhaps by adding a prospect or two into the deal, he could shoot it all down to stay with the Yankees which may be a more likely contender than the team he’d be traded to.
That’s why I’ll boldly suggest the Yankees just DFA Ellsbury. Will it be tough to simply burn $63 million in remaining guaranteed money on the contract? Incredibly. However, Ellsbury is doing nothing to even come close to making it feel like he’s earning that money and his previously mentioned 86 wRC+ shows he’s actually bringing the team down offensively. In a sense it actually is worth it to the Yankees to pay Ellsbury to go away in exchange for the far more productive Frazier – that’s just how awful Ellsbury has been.
By now I’m sure many readers are rolling their eyes thinking this will never happen. To an extent I do believe that it’d rather unlikely, but at the same time, I don’t think anyone ever saw Alex Rodriguez's release coming last August.
Sure, A-Rod's release is different than releasing Ellsbury. Rodriguez only had one year left on his contract so his release theoretically only created a financial wound for a year. However, I think the sentiment here remains the same in the case of Ellsbury – cut your losses with aging, unproductive players in an effort to make room for younger, productive players.
Clint is simply a talent worth paying Ellsbury to disappear for. At this point it’s clear Ellsbury is only going downhill and won’t be a contributor in what will hopefully be an extremely competitive team in years to come. Think of it in an elementary manner: Would you rather pay the remaining $63 million for poor performance or good performance? If you chose good performance, then it’s best to cut Ellsbury and let Frazier play, because that contract is getting paid whether Ellsbury plays or not and he’s shown he won’t put up good numbers when he does.
A few alternatives do exist. Perhaps as previously mentioned, the Yankees could send Ellsbury to another team alongside a few prospects in an effort to “pay” another team to take his contract, much like the Texans and Browns did with Brock Osweiler. Perhaps Ellsbury wouldn’t veto it. Don’t count on it though. Or, perhaps the Yankees could look to trade Brett Gardner or Aaron Hicks.
After an early season tear which saw him hit .327 with nine homers in May, Brett Gardner has returned to the inconsistent player we all know and love by hitting .239 in June and .218 so far in July. By this point we all know what Brett Gardner is what he is – slightly above average at best.
Photo Credit: Winslow Townson | USA TODAY Sports
Thus, it would also make sense to move him to make way for a player like Clint Frazier who has star potential. Gardner is owed only $12 million next year making him relatively affordable for his average offense and above average defense. Trading Gardner may even bring back a decent prospect, or perhaps Gardner is used to add value to a deadline deal to help the Yanks solidify their starting rotation or first base. No matter what the case, trading Gardner is far more likely than trading or cutting Ellsbury.
Trading Aaron Hicks may be the shrewdest move here, however. Hicks has been fantastic this year, hitting .290 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs in 60 games before getting sidelined with an oblique injury.
I’ll be the first to admit these are fantastic numbers, but it’s important to remember Hicks hasn’t exactly had this level of sustained success at any point of time in his career as he returns from an injury, it’s fair to question the legitimacy and sustainability of his breakout year.
Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun
A switch hitting outfielder with a 145 wRC+ and 2.7 WAR would certainly have some value at the deadline whether he be traded to a contender for a solid prospect or to a selling team alongside a few other prospects to bring back help for the big league roster. Either way, I certainly wouldn’t fault the Yankees for selling high on Hicks in an effort to improve the organization and make room for Frazier at-bats.
No matter who has to go, it’s absolutely in the best interest for the Yankees to give Clint Frazier routine playing time at the big league level. After all, they didn’t give away arguably the best reliever in baseball to get him and keep him stuck behind inferior players.
Getting Frazier big league playing time is not only best for his personal growth as a player, but for the team’s chances in the playoff race that Yankees have firmly committed their selves to as evidenced by the swap with the White Sox this week.
The decision has allegedly already been made, but I certainly hope that between now and the time Hicks returns, the team will have chosen a different course to keep their star prospect up to help contribute to the team. It just makes too much sense not to do at this point.
Article By: Nick Scott

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