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Selling at the deadline could lead the Yankees to the playoffs

The Yankees suddenly got a lot more interesting.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Strange things happen in baseball. Events unfold over the course of a season that would be entirely unexpected just months earlier. The 2016 season witnessed seismic activity, the kind that comes along maybe once every three decades. In a shocking turn of events, the New York Yankees sold at the trade deadline.

It was an old fashioned fire-sale, too. They traded away big league assets for prospects. The Yankees, who have historically operated on a win at all costs mandate, conceded the season to look forward to the future. Or did they?

The law of unintended consequences states that the actions of an individual or an organization produce unanticipated outcomes. The Yankees traded away Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltran to contending teams. Those are moves teams make when they don’t see an avenue for competing down the stretch. Joe Girardi insisted that the team wasn’t waiving the white flag, and he might have been on to something.

Since August 1st, the Yankees are 8 - 4. They’ve climbed to four games over .500 in the process. They’re now three games back in the race for the second Wild Card. Over that span the team called up a parade of young players, including Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin, and Aaron Judge. All three have had big moments as well. There seems to be an electric energy with the team, an excitement that was noticeably absent for the first half of the season.

Brian Cashman says that the team is “much looser” of late. The trading deadline has passed and that pressing feeling has evaporated. The kids are up and they’re making an immediate impact. Plus, the distance to the second Wild Card is shrinking rapidly. It has been an oddly entertaining few weeks in the Yankees universe.

Does a team that sold at the deadline have any business being in the hunt for a playoff spot? Typically the answer to that question is no, but the 2016 Yankees are making things interesting. The lineup isn’t what you would expect from a selling club. Didi Gregorius is in the midst of a breakout campaign. Chase Headley has rebounded nicely after an abysmal April. Starlin Castro has been up and down, but when gets hot, look out. There are pieces here that make you think that this recent success isn’t a mirage. Believe it or not, Aaron Hicks has hit .297/.333/.568 since Beltran was traded to Texas.

The Yankees might have dealt away two of the best relievers in baseball, but Dellin Betances is a perennial All Star. Plus the recently returned Adam Warren has been dominant since he came over in the Chapman trade. To a lesser extent, relievers like Tyler Clippard, Tommy Layne, and Luis Cessa have shown that they’re capable of holding down innings out of the bullpen. More intriguing, however, is Ben Heller, who arrived in the Miller trade. He didn’t appear in a game, but he was on the roster, so if the Yankees do make a playoff run they can add a reliever with a triple-digit fastball to the roster. That’s a nice piece to have right there.

Obviously there are obstacles to the Yankees making a run at a playoff spot. Perhaps the most glaring roadblock is the team’s starting pitching. Masahiro Tanaka’s 3.32 ERA is the only sub-4 on the staff. CC Sabathia had a nice start to the season but his recent home run regression has been troublesome. Michael Pineda, the resident xFIP darling, is in the midst of another head-scratching campaign. Nathan Eovaldi is nursing a a right elbow tendon injury which is never good. Add in rocky performances from the talented Luis Severino and Chad Green, and well, that’s one shaky starting staff.

Maybe selling was the best thing for the Yankees to do, not only for the distant future, but the present too. The cleared roster spots allowed for the arrivals of young, impact talent. This energetic surge is not insignificant. Remember the morale boost when the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes last year? You can’t write those things off down the stretch. Is it likely for the Yankees to sneak into a playoff spot? Probably not, but it will be fun to root for. If nothing else, the Yankees figure to be really entertaining down the stretch.