How the Yankees landed one of the most exciting young arms in baseball

MLB: New York Yankees at Los Angeles Angels
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Luis Gil has been the Yankees’ best pitcher this season posting a 1.99 ERA across 11 starts and having one of the best pitching months we’ve seen in a while. There’s a lot of excitement about his upside and potential, and while he has spent the entirety of his Major League career with the Yankees, he didn’t begin his journey with New York. An international free agent out of the Dominican Republic, he was signed by the Minnesota Twins, where he would spend the first three years of his professional career.

The Yankees had to pull off a trade to get him, but the outrageous part of it is that it was a late signing in Spring Training to bring in Neil Walker that led to them landing one of the best pitchers in the game.

Brian Cashman’s Fleece Job Landed the Yankees Luis Gil

MLB: Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees
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On November 17th, 2017 the Yankees selected the contract of Jake Cave to place him on their 40-man roster and protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. After trading for Giancarlo Stanton to join Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Brett Gardner in the outfield, the Yankees would have a logjam on their roster. They’d need some extra depth in their infield, and a slow free agency left a quality utility piece on the market for the Yankees to sign on the cheap.

It was announced on March 12th, 2018 that the Yankees had officially signed Neil Walker, who had a very mediocre season for the Bronx Bombers as a versatile bench piece. Across 113 games, he had a .309 OBP and 82 wRC+, spending just one season in the Bronx with a -0.6 fWAR. He also had an RBI in the postseason when the Yankees fell just short of rallying to win Game 4 and extending the 2018 American League Division Series.

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MLB: ALDS-Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees
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What gets lost in his story is how his signing affected the Yankees’ 40-man roster. The corresponding move was designating Jake Cave for assignment, which placed him on irrevocable waivers and left him available for any team in baseball to claim. He wasn’t some scrub, he was a 25-year-old outfielder with a 156 wRC+ in Triple-A the year prior, and the Minnesota Twins felt as if he could be a nice piece for their roster.

Instead of waiting for their turn in the waiver-wire order to claim him, they worked out a trade with the Yankees to acquire the left-handed hitting outfielder. In this deal, they would send over Luis Gil, who had yet to pitch above Rookie Ball due to injuries and command issues. For the first few years of this deal, the Twins reaped the benefits of a 111 wRC+ and 21 home runs through 162 games, as he looked like he could become a reliable outfield option in Minnesota for years to come.

Since then, the power has completely disappeared, as Cave has recorded a 68 wRC+ and .269 OBP in the five years following, as he’s been on three teams in the last three seasons. As for Luis Gil? He would undergo Tommy John Surgery in 2022, but this season he’s firmly in the early Cy Young conversations. The right-hander has a 1.99 ERA and 31.7% strikeout rate across 11 starts, and it looks like a fleece in the making.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at New York Yankees, luis gil
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

This season alone, Luis Gil (2.3) has more rWAR than Jake Cave (2.1) does in his entire Major League career, and while it’s unfair to criticize the Twins for trading Gil away, the Yankees deserve a ton of credit here. They identified a lower-level arm that they truly believed could be excellent and gave him multiple opportunities to succeed at the Major leagues. It’s a massive win in terms of player development, and if Luis Gil can continue to excel, the Yankees could be looking at an ace.

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