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  • Cory Claus

Yankees Estevan Florial could decide the second half

The Yankees have watched the enigmatic Estevan Florial go from prospect to puzzle. This year alone, they've promoted him, released him, and resigned him. But what they do with him now could very well decide how far this team goes this year, and beyond.

The Yankees' offense is decidedly average.

It has taken them to a game outside the playoff picture. To have any chance to win it all this year, they're going to need to add at least one if not two, significant bats. That's even with the return of Aaron Judge, if and when that happens.

But after last year's myriad trades, the Yankees don't have as many top prospects to deal.

Enter Estevan Florial.

Ever since he was signed out of the Dominican Republic way back in 2015, the center-fielder has tantalized scouts and prognosticators with his impressive five-tool package. Here's revered reporter Joel Sherman writing about how, even before signing, Florial had been able to...

...blossom into something special with quick-twitch, wiry athleticism that brought a power arm and center-field speed and all the hints of lefty power as the dollop on top that begins to make even seasoned scouts like Donny Rowland giddy.
“It wasn’t just us, it was the industry,” said Rowland, who heads the Yankees’ international efforts. “He was at all the major showcases. He was among the most desirable players.”

All those tools, however, came with a caveat: Florial hadn't played that much baseball. But Hakeem Olajuwon hadn't played that much basketball before he started slammin' and jammin' in Houston, and he ended up with a dream of a career, so why not take a chance?

It's One, Two, Three Strikes Your Out...

So the Yankees signed the high up-side prospect knowing that progress might be slow. Florial rewarded them by working hard and working his way up to their number one prospect by 2019.

But there was and is one big problem: strikeouts.

In 2017, for instance, he struck out 148 times in 476 plate appearances while splitting his time between High and Low A ball. That's thirty-one percent, and that's not good. Two years later, he was still stuck at High A and still stuck striking out over thirty percent of the time.

The two were clearly linked.

As a comparison, Oswaldo Cabrera and Billy McKinney, two of the players manning left field, are at 22%.

However, Estevan's tantalizing tools and the club's needs often outweighed the Yankees' concerns. The oft-injured and even more often ineffective Aaron Hicks opened the door for several call-ups over the years, as well as a shot at the left-fielders job this spring.

But the results followed the same script, as summed up so well by Max Goodman:

In 63 plate appearances with the Yankees over the last four years, Florial struck out 21 times, batting .185 with only three extra-base hits. This spring, Florial hit .163 with a .536 OPS and 19 strikeouts in 23 games.

Perhaps you know the rest of the story so far: Florial was called up to the Bronx in the face of injuries and ineffectiveness, an ineffectiveness he only added to.

So Florial was finally released.

A New Yankees Beginning

But somewhat surprisingly, no one else in baseball was willing to take a chance on a player who costs nothing. There is generally at least one club that thinks it can fix a talented toolsy player with a hitch in his swing. Not this time, though, and back he came to the Yankees.

Estevan Florial is batting .295 with a .992 OPS and 21 home runs in 66 games with the RailRiders entering play on Friday. Only Cardinals prospect Luken Baker has more homers (22) this season in the International League...

He even cut down on his strikeouts this year, if only slightly, to 28%; Florial's stock has never been higher. And now, with the trade deadline approaching and the Yankees still searching for a premium left fielder, it's time for the team to decide what to do with him once and for all.

That leaves them three interesting options.

Break Only in Case of Emergency

The Yankees could decide to keep him at Triple-A and call him up only in case they have an emergency. Then, when the crisis has passed, they would release him again for the last time. Barring any real need, they could also call him up in September as a defensive replacement and speedy pinch runner, depending on what they do with Greg Allen.

This seems like the plan when they resigned him. But, while this is the safest and most likely route, there is a risk here.

Let's pretend that Florial has finally figured it all out. Now, all he needs is a consistent spot in a lineup to allow this version of himself to come out. And now imagine him getting that chance and becoming a stud for the Red Sox or Rays or Astros.

That doesn't feel very good, does it?

We've seen it happen. It happened to the Mets with Daniel Murphy. It happened to the Mets with Travis d'Arnaud. It happened to the Mets with--well, you get the point: the Mets are hilarious.

No, wait, while that's true, that's not the point. The point is, you never give up on a player just when they are about to deliver on their promise. It can really hurt an organization. It's like failing to score when the other team commits an error, then that team wins the game by a run.

It seems that the baseball gods are offended when a team doesn't take advantage of every opportunity to win. Just ask the Mets.

The worst part, however, would be knowing he could have helped to get the team over the top this year, but the Yankees gave up on him just a minute too early. That would be a very Metsian thing to do, and it would hurt.

A far better option is, of course,...

Trade Him

As noted, he's killing it at Triple-A. And he still has his same amazing skill set. Remember, he is a true centerfielder. That might be enough to tempt some teams who weren't so interested just a few weeks ago. At least, then, the Yanks would get something for him, instead of just letting him go.

Now, he's not going to bring back a significant player on his own. But his success at Scranton might make him attractive enough to be a cornerstone piece of a big deal.

That's especially true because of how the Yankees have used him. Florial has always needed time to adjust to any new level, and he's never been given the Anthony Volpe treatment. I'm sure his argument is that given time, he can be a five-tool force at the major-league level.

And he could be right.

After all, he's not arbitration eligible until 2026 and won't be a free agent until 2029. If the Cubs are going to give up Cody Bellinger (.298/.355/.491 with nine home runs), then getting a promising project back might make sense.

That's even more true for a team such as the Rockies. They might be willing to ship Randal Grichuk (.294/.359/.453) to the Yanks for Florial, a low minors pitcher like Matt Keating or Manny Ramirez, and the rest of Grichuk's salary for the year.

Either team could afford to plop Florial down in the outfield for the rest of this year and the first half of next to really see what he can do. The same is true for other potential trade partners, from the Padres to the Guardians.

But if no one bites, the team still has one other option.

The Yankees Could Finally give him the Volpe Treatment.

The Yanks might not have the prospects to bring back any real player of note, not after getting rid of so many upper-level minor leaguers at last year's deadline. And not if they want to keep the best of the rest, such as Austin Wells, Trey Sweeny and Oswald Peraza.

That would leave the players they have now to man left field and fill in for Harrison Bader on his days off. And while Jake Bauers, Billy McKinney, and Willie Calhoun might be better than Hicks, that's still a pretty low bar. Especially when none of them is batting over .240.

Plus, it still seems easy to believe that with enough reps, Florial could produce at the Oswaldo Cabrera level (.204/.259/.309).

But maybe not. Right now, we don't know.

What we do know is that this option has the highest upside while carrying the greatest risk. If Estevan proves to be a Quadruple-A player, he could sink the season. If he instead breaks out and becomes most of what he is at Triple-A, he could save the season.

And the postseason.

A Segment I Like to Call, Choices

So what will the Yankees do?

If they can use him as part of a package to bring Juan Soto (.265/.419/.475 with fifteen home runs) to New York for the next year and a half, they would vault to the top of the AL. But even bringing back Bellinger would have a huge impact.

Of course, these teams would need to value getting salary cap relief over bringing back a slew of top prospects. Soto, for instance, is set to earn twenty-three million this year and next for a dysfunctional team six games out of the Wild Card and four games below .500.

They might want to reallocate those funds next year for a more balanced, less top-heavy line-up. I realize this is a long shot but, like Aaron Judge, I like to swing for the fences.

But if Florial's value is so low that he can't help bring back a game-changer, then the Yankees are going to have a hard time winning it all; the offense is simply not good enough. On the other hand, if they can't move him and he once again finds his way to the Bronx, his play could tip the season one way or another.

When the Yankees signed Florial, they hoped he'd one day have a major impact on the club.

And now he will.


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