With the All-Star break and the trade deadline on the horizon, it is time for teams to figure out their true identity as contenders or pretenders. For the Yankees, they find themselves loosely on the fence, swaying back and forth between both labels.
As the team’s current eleven game stretch heats up, all against squads below the .500 mark, the Bombers hoped to make that leap off the fence and land on the contender side of the yard. So far, they have fallen flat on their face.
After dropping both games in Colorado to start the once promising “light patch” in the schedule, the Yanks find themselves in the midst of a four-game skid, when they were planning on taking advantage of seemingly inferior teams and jumping right back in the playoff chase. Instead, they find themselves at the bottom of the AL East.
This is not nearly the start the Yanks hoped for this week. Yes, they now begin a four-game set with the Twins, who they have owned for eternity, but would a turnaround in Minnesota and back home against Colorado really be a breath of life into the fairly young season, or an illusion that halts an effort to reload for the future?
The million dollar question in recent weeks has regarded shopping around a member or two of the coveted bullpen trio, likely Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller, or perhaps the club’s hottest hitter, Carlos Beltran, who has only just returned from a sore knee. Any of those pieces could bring in young talent to potentially help the Yanks in the coming years. Miller, in particular, can be exchanged for high quality talent to a club seeking bullpen help with two years left on his existing deal.
Of course, the issue for the fans, and likely some in the front office, is a lack of patience. The Yankees are supposed to contend every year. They are not supposed to wave white flags instead of raising championship banners. Rebuild is not in the dictionary of many Yankee fans.
Ambitious? Sure. Logical? Perhaps not in this case.
Finishing this stretch strong may raise hopes, but may also cause another holdout on getting younger and better for the future.
Let’s say the Yanks emerge from this stretch, maybe even up to the All-Star break, and find themselves within arm’s reach of a playoff spot. Then what? Do they maintain faith in the pieces they have and ride the season out, with maybe a tinker here and there, and shoot for another playoff berth? The results of slapping Band-Aids on an aging and inconsistent lineup could be disappointing, in the form of continued mediocrity.
If the Yankees find themselves somewhat in the hunt when the Midsummer Classic arrives, Brian Cashman will have to take a hard look at what to expect the rest of the way. Is losing out on solid young bats or arms worth a run at another appearance in the Wild Card game, if that?
Would Yankees fans like to see a team with a ceiling of early playoff exits, or a crop of young talent with future championship aspirations? It is an important question to ask, because the coming weeks could play a factor in which outcome we can expect the team to shoot for. So far, the picture is clearing, and a look to the future should be considered. Seriously considered.
It is important to remember how the stretch run went for the Yanks last year. Sure, they ended up in the postseason, but the Bombers entered the 2015 playoffs in reverse. The offense was sputtering, and the team’s age was crystal clear. Therein lies the problem: they have not gotten any younger.
The deadline can come and go with little to no moves made by Cashman before the closing bell rings. They can be just a couple games out of a playoff spot, or even clinging to a wild card lead. Does Cashman then cross his fingers and hope that the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran find the fountain of youth and help prevent a late season slide? It is possible with the acquisition of a solid bat, we could see another appearance in the Wild Card game. However, a deadline deal to set the Yanks up for a deep playoff run sure seems like fantasy.
Looking back to 2013, the Yankees refusal to part ways with star second baseman Robinson Cano at the deadline proved costly. He eventually signed with the Seattle Mariners and the Yanks were left with a gaping hole in the infield and zero draft picks to ease the wound. The team was eight games out of first at that time, trying to make a run with the likes of Lyle Overbay and Travis Hafner. Do they replicate that formula again with the likes of Chase Headley and who-knows at first?
The distance between a championship contender and a Wild Card contender is major. The Yankees need to ask themselves what they want out of this season and the coming seasons. It is unclear if they are a playoff contender to date, but it is safe to say this team, the way it is shaped right now, is not a championship contender. Is it worth trading away some pieces now to be contenders down the road, or test the risky waters, whose temperature fluctuates between playoff contender and pretender?
The Yankees find themselves in a crucial stretch that can play a pivotal factor in the 2016 campaign. It has not been kind to them so far. Would a winning streak be a beacon of hope, or a fancy veil draped over the inevitable truth?
A baseball-less October in the Bronx is never seen as acceptable, but since when has anything but a ring been acceptable in New York? The 2016 Yankees are not on their way to a ring. What are they willing to sacrifice to get back to that plateau? We will find out in the coming weeks.