New York Yankees

Thairo Estrada has emerged as the Yankees biggest trade chip

Lots of teams are calling the Yankees about the status of infielder Thairo Estrada, but that doesn’t mean the team should trade him.

Thairo Estrada may be back in the Minor Leagues for the moment, but the Yankees have no doubt that he’s capable of being a Major League starter. He’s just a victim of overcrowding in the team’s infield at the moment.

It’s safe to say that other teams around MLB have taken notice. General manager Brian Cashman admitted in a recent interview on WFAN that he’s gotten “a lot of inquiries” about the 23-year-old infielder. The question now becomes whether or not Cashman should sanction a deal for Estrada.

It’s important to remember that Estrada was a highly-regarded prospect in the organization until a gunshot wound cost him his entire 2018 campaign. His emergence as a quality Major Leaguer this season was unexpected, but it wasn’t out of nowhere.

Estrada has been solid, but unspectacular, in every aspect of the game during his 25 games with the Yankees this season. He’s a very steady infielder who is capable of playing both shortstop and second base. He’s slightly better suited to play second due to his lack of arm strength, but there’s no reason a team couldn’t acquire him with the idea that he could play short everyday. Estrada isn’t a flashy defender, but he makes all the plays required to be a quality starter.

His performance with the bat is where he was a bigger surprise to Cashman and company. Nothing was too sexy about his .280 batting average with three home runs and 11 RBIs, but he certainly looked to be very confident at the plate. No team is going to project him to be a massive offensive star, but it’s now reasonable to think he can hit enough to be an above-average regular. Add above-average offense to his above-average defense and you have a recipe for a truly valuable starter.

Unfortunately for Estrada, the Yankees are blessed with a talented middle infield. Didi Gregorius’ early return from Tommy John surgery pushed Estrada back to the Minors. DJ LeMahieu has arguably been the team’s best hitter on the season and he can play anywhere in the infield. The fact that he’s won a Gold Glove at second base makes it pretty clear he’s the superior fielder when compared to Estrada.

Finally, Gleyber Torres has too much offense to leave on the bench. He’s a natural shortstop who has been forced to move to second base because of Gregorius. Aaron Boone already has to juggle his middle infield to accommodate all three players. It’s difficult to see a way that Estrada can muscle his way back into the mix without an injury aiding his cause.

That leaves Cashman and his front office with a difficult choice to make. On one hand, Estrada is a quality young player who can be cost-controlled for several more seasons. That could be important as the team enters into contract negotiations with Gregorius after his contract expires at the end of the 2019 campaign. It’s conceivable the Yankees could elect to let Gregorius walk and plug Estrada in to play every day at one of the middle infield spots.

That isn’t the most likely scenario though. Estrada’s stock will probably never be any higher than it is at the current moment in time. Cashman understands that better than anyone. Combine that knowledge with the organization’s need to acquire a quality starting pitcher down the stretch and it’s easy to see where things might be headed.

Estrada has now become the team’s best asset in their quest to add a top-flight arm. There are lots of teams who could plug him into their starting lineup immediately. He may never turn into a star, but he’s got a high floor as a solid starter. Estrada has the ability to be the best piece headed to another team in a deal for the starting pitcher the Yankees so desperately need.

Next: 5 realistic deals the Yankees can make for a starting pitcher

Estrada won’t be moved in a minor deal though. If the Yankees can’t acquire a pitcher who can be a proven difference maker they will be more than happy to hang on to him. It’s possible that Estrada may never play another game for the Yankees, but he could play a large role in giving the team the starting pitcher they need to win a World Series in 2019.

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