Justus Sheffield was rated as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect when he was dealt for James Paxton, but it seems the organization had soured on the southpaw.
Whenever the Yankees trade a top prospect, it’s inevitable that some fans will start to push a narrative that the organization had soured on his long-term prospects. In the case of Justus Sheffield, there are serious reasons to believe Brian Cashman and company were really starting to doubt his ability to impact the big league club.
Buster Olney of ESPN is reporting that the Yankees “seemed to be pushing” Sheffield in a potential trade for Paul Goldschmidt before pulling the trigger on the Paxton deal. Evidently, the Diamondbacks weren’t quite as high on Sheffield as the Mariners.
The fact that Cashman was willing to use Sheffield as a centerpiece for a deal for a first baseman makes it very clear they were starting to lose faith in the left hander. Everyone in the Yankees front office has made it crystal clear that upgrading the starting rotation is the team’s top priority this winter. In theory, Sheffield was the team’s best trade asset. Using him to acquire an upgrade at another position wouldn’t make much sense from a value perspective.
In fairness, it’s always possible Cashman could have used free agency to fill both holes in his rotation. Signing both Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ, for example, could have eliminated the need to trade for a player like Paxton. Still, the financial constraints of the team’s payroll always made that feel unlikely. Trading for one starter and signing one in free agency always seemed like the more probable course of action.
Trading for a potential ace without Sheffield in the deal would have been very difficult. The organization clearly doesn’t want to move Estevan Florial if they can avoid it. The fact that they were pushing him in a deal for a position player indicates the rumblings about command issues with Sheffield are probably true.
If he can’t find a way to really harness his pitches in the next year or two, it’s very possible Sheffield could end up in the bullpen. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a positive impact at the MLB level, but it would drastically reduce his value. The market assigns a much higher value to starters than relievers at the current point in time.
Time will tell whether or not the Yankees’ doubts about Sheffield’s future turn out to be justified, but it’s clear his stock inside the organization had dipped. That’s not revisionist history, it’s just a simple reading of the team’s aggressive efforts to move him.