“It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run twice as fast as that,” said the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.
Those very well could also be the words of Brian Cashman in the conference room at Yankee Stadium. With the trade deadline on the horizon, there are potential franchise-altering decisions to make. The team has played well of late, but it has been thoroughly mediocre for three months. The Yankees performance to date suggests that management should do something it hasn’t fathomed since the first Bush presidency: sell.
The recent winning streak, yesterday’s loss notwithstanding, shouldn’t deter the front office brass from selling. Right now, the Yankees are 5.5. games back of the second Wild Card spot with three teams ahead of them. The team won seven of their last eleven games but made no movement in the Wild Card standings. Winning is keeping them in the exact same position, and that’s mediocrity. It’s going to take a prolonged winning streak to gain ground, and there’s nothing that this team has done this season to suggest that’s possible.
Heading into spring training, most acknowledged that if the Yankees wanted to contend, a a number of variables had to break in their favor. Instead the exact opposite has happened. Alex Rodriguez is playing like a 40-year-old with two surgically repaired hips. Mark Teixeira has struggled to stay healthy, and when he’s on the field, his bat is anemic. Starlin Castro has an on-base percentage of .294, well below league average. Jacoby Ellsbury has been prodigious at drawing catcher’s interference and nothing else. That’s not to mention that the starting rotation has been inconsistent at best, and that middle relief is a veritable dumpster fire.
There have been bright spots, of course. Carlos Beltran thinks that it’s 2006 again. Didi Gregorius is in the midst of a breakout season. And how about Joe Girardi’s bullpen end game? That three-headed monster is stupid good. However, that’s not enough to reasonably think that the team can crawl their way back into contention. The trade deadline is less than two weeks away and the Yankees have yet to climb three games above .500.
The scary part about this winning streak is that it might convince Hal Steinbrenner to not sell off pieces. Maybe he decides to stand pat because he thinks that the team has shown that they can win. Or worse, he instructs Cashman to buy all because of a few games against the Indians, Red Sox, and Orioles. After all, the financial implications of folding are giving Steinbrenner every excuse to veto a fire sale.
For a month now the mantra has been “wait and see.” The Yankees have won seven out of their last eleven games, and they will continue to wait and see how they do for the rest of the home stand. The problem here is that the rest of the home stand features a who’s who of dominant pitching. When the San Francisco Giants come to town this weekend, they’ll be starting Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, and Johnny Cueto. It doesn’t get any easier after that. The Astros follow and with Houston comes Dallas Keuchel. Even though the follow-up to his Cy Young season has been disappointing, I can’t imagine the Yankees are particularly thrilled to face their bearded nemesis.
I don’t want to watch the Yankees lose. I would love nothing more than to see them storm into playoff glory, riding on the backs of the bullpen Big Three. Realistically though, the odds are overwhelmingly against that happening. The prudent thing to do is to look to the future and sell off assets at the trade deadline. It’s a seller’s market and the Yankees are in an envious position to infuse major league ready talent into an already good system.
The worst-case scenario is come September, the Yankees are ten games out and they traded no one because they thought the team turned itself around with this mini-winning streak. A handful of wins in the middle of July shouldn’t erase from management’s memory that the team has been utterly mediocre all year. The second Wild Card increases competition, but it doesn’t reward mediocrity. Say no to the mirage, and sell, sell, sell.