Even after sweeping the rival Red Sox this week, the New York Yankees are off to an uneven start this season. They are 8-9 with a plus-20 run differential and have lost home series to the Orioles, Tigers, and White Sox. Ouch. It is the first time since 1982 that the Yankees lost their first three home series.
The 2016 Yankees started slowly as well, dropping 10 of their first 17 games and not getting their heads above .500 for good until August 10. As a result, the Yankees did something that year they hadn't done in three decades -- they sold at the trade deadline. Shipped out were Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Ivan Nova.
The Chapman trade has already paid big dividends. That trade netted the Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres, who finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting last year and looks like a long-term keeper. Dillon Tate, the headliner in the Beltran trade, was sent to the Orioles for Zack Britton last summer, so that trade has had an impact as well.
It was not until recently that the Yankees started to enjoy some production from the Miller trade, however. As a reminder, the Yankees sent Miller to the Indians for four prospects at the 2016 deadline:
Frazier and Sheffield were two of the top prospects in baseball at the time and they were the two headliners in the trade. Following the deal GM Brian Cashman joked he "needed two twin firstborns" to trade Miller, meaning he wanted two top prospects, otherwise the Yankees were going to keep him. Two top prospects he received in Frazier and Sheffield.
In both 2017 and 2018, Frazier had brief stints with the Yankees as an injury call-up, though injuries of his own (a concussion, most notably) limited his time. Giancarlo Stanton's biceps injury opened the door for Frazier to return to the big leagues this year and he is taking full advantage with a .333/.347/.622 batting line in the early going. Frazier had a home run Tuesday and three hits Wednesday as the Yankees swept two games from the Red Sox.
"I'm trying to live in my shoes right now and not too far ahead," Frazier told reporters, including Erik Boland of Newsday, following Wednesday's win. "It's difficult because obviously I want to stay here and I think that I deserve to be here. I mean, the numbers, I think, are speaking for themselves. I know it's a small sample size, but I feel comfortable here. I'm just happy that I'm getting an opportunity and we won two games in a row."
Sheffield, meanwhile, made his MLB debut as a September call-up with the Yankees last season, allowing three runs in 2 1/3 innings. Not a great debut, but whatever. It happens. Sheffield's not the first player to begin his career with three bad innings and he won't be the last.
Over the winter the Yankees decided Sheffield was most useful to them as the trade chip, so he was sent to the Mariners as the headliner in the James Paxton deal. (Erik Swanson, another pitcher in that trade, originally went to New York in the Beltran deal at the 2016 deadline.) Paxton struck out 12 in eight shutout innings Tuesday night.
"It was a big start for me, just to get my feet under and to show myself that I can be here and do this," Paxton said following the game. "That was awesome and special."
Heller spent some time with the Yankees in 2016 and 2017 before blowing out his elbow last spring training. He is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Feyereisen is in Triple-A and a phone call away from the big leagues. Heller and Feyereisen were not inconsequential third and fourth pieces in the Miller trade.
Clearly though, Frazier and Sheffield were the headliners. The Yankees traded Sheffield for Paxton, who is essentially Sheffield's best case scenario, and now Frazier is helping cover for the injuries. Even when Stanton returns, there will be at-bats available for Frazier because Aaron Hicks and Greg Bird are weeks away from returning.
When the Yankees decided to sell at the 2016 deadline, they did so with the knowledge that it could be years before those trades had a meaningful impact on their roster. That impact started to arrive last year with Torres. In the early going this year, Frazier seems to be establishing himself as an everyday player, and the trickle-down effect of the Miller trade brought Paxton to New York.
Ironically enough, the Yankees beat Miller and the Indians in the 2017 ALDS, though that didn't justify the trade from their end. It was always going to come down to Frazier and Sheffield, and to a lesser extent Heller and Feyereisen. From 2016-18, the trade had yielded little for New York. Now, in 2019, they're starting to get some impact, and it's not a moment too soon given their injuries.