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Yankees trade deadline: Episode MMXVI – A New Hope

The Yankees did the right thing. Hal Steinbrenner did the right thing. For the moment, hope has been restored. Let’s explore what exactly that hope entails.

As Luke Skywalker looks on the horizon, a new path soon awaits him. And scene!
photo by Greg Kirkland

The trade deadline has passed and the unthinkable yet hopeful result of the trade season has happened. The Yankees were sellers. Actual ninja and possible warlock Brian Cashman traded valuable, movable pieces in Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, and Ivan Nova. While “valuable” is probably too strong a word to describe Nova at this point in his career, Cashman still got two players to be named later for him. Cool.

You’ll read about all the prospects the Yankees got in other articles on Pinstripe Alley. The basic rundown is that in four to five days Brian Cashman replenished a farm system that hasn’t been all that relevant in four to five years. Impressive, Cashman. Most impressive. We are now two days removed from the deadline and what I’m dubbing “Project Aspiration” is now underway. Yes, I am naming this because I am a nerd and I need to dramatically name things. Trademark it.

Project Aspiration is what Yankees fans have wanted for a long time now. Even when the Yankees were winning from 2010 to 2012, the phrases “The Yankees need to get younger” and “The Yankees need to build a new core” were uttered so much that the word “core” started to lose meaning. Not even the movie The Core could accomplish that. Nevertheless, here we are. The Yankees farm system is better than it has been in over two decades. Hope for the future has been restored.

That’s what this article is going to talk about—the hope that comes from Project Aspiration and the fans who got their wish. Certain topics of discussion and phrases that have been repeated will be analyzed. Let’s begin with one we’ve seen a lot of people saying recently:

1. “I can deal with the Yankees being bad for a while.”

This is a phrase we’ve seen a lot of during these mediocre times, as well as in 2013 and 2014. One of the reasons why this team has been painful to watch this year is because they were just kind of there. Good teams were preparing to make a push for October while bad teams were preparing to stock up for the future. The Yankees were in the middle and the fear is that they would stay in the middle come August 1st.

Due to that fact, a lot of fans had rightfully accepted that this team was going nowhere and that it was finally time to throw in the towel on this amazing run of excellence since the mid-’90s. The Yankees should sell and prepare for the future like bad teams do. That’s exactly what they did and fans are ready for the Yankees to be bad for a while. Fans are ready to watch young players grow and give them the time they need to develop into future stars of the game.

I’d like to believe this. I really would.

This is not to say that selling was wrong. It was 100 percent the right move to make. However, this belief that Yankees fans (repeat: Yankees fans) are ready for the team to be bad or watch young players grow is like the belief that the Yankees could win this year—a false hope. That belief works under the assumption that Yankees fans are patient fans. They are not. If you think they actually are, I have a rock that scares tigers away that I’d like to sell you.

Yankees fans are arguably the most impatient fans in all of baseball. That impatience has only grown because most fans haven’t seen a bad team since 1992. Some don’t even remember that the 1993-95 Yankees were actually good teams. It takes mere months watching a prospect play poorly for many Yankees fans to call for said prospect to be sent back down to Triple-A or DFA’d.

If fans are indeed ready for the Yankees to suffer for a bit in order to rebuild, and I hope they are, that mindset has to change. Project Aspiration cannot live in the world of small sample size. Do not expect young players to come up and instantly be good. Bernie Williams was replacement-level in his rookie year, it took Mariano Rivera awhile to find his niche, and Jorge Posada even had growing pains at age 27.

Patience, everyone. You got your wish. The Yankees are going with youth and a rebuild. Patience. It cannot be stressed enough. Patience.

2. “They’ll soon free up some money and they can use it towards the free agent market in a few years.” (aka BRYCE HARPER PLEASE AND THANK YOU)

One of the primary reasons fans have been saying that they can accept the team being bad is that most are aware of the free agent market a few years down the line. There are a couple of pretty glorious names potentially headed to that market. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado immediately spring to mind. I think it’s safe to say that a vast majority of fans would like Harper and/or Machado. Who wouldn’t? They are okay at the game of baseball.

There’s no reason why the Yankees should not empty the money bin toward one or both of these players. Just understand that this is also a false hope. They should absolutely try for them, but they cannot and should not be “the plan” of Project Aspiration. Teams like the Nationals and Orioles are making a push right now. If they win a World Series in between now and then, there’s a good chance that they don’t let their homegrown superstars hit free agency. There’s a good chance they don’t even if they don’t win any rings.

Waiting for superstars to hit free agency is no longer the best strategy, which is probably one of the reasons why the Yankees did what they did this trade season. What also doesn’t help is that we’ve seen superstar players hit free agency and the Yankees have been reluctant to spend on them or give them the years they want. There’s nothing wrong for hoping for these elite players though. Just don’t expect them.

3. “They should lose so they can draft high!”

Ah yes, the classic false hope. Drafting high in baseball is not the same as drafting high in football or basketball. There’s nothing wrong with getting high draft picks. Just don’t expect them to actually try and lose to get them. If they do cut bait with players like Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, the young farmhands who will replacing them are going to want to win and prove themselves in the majors. That’s what we want.

4. The Boss vs. Hal and Hank Steinbrenner Part II: The Steinbrennering

Over a year and a half ago, I wrote this article after the Yankees did not pay for Yoan Moncada. Not signing Moncada was a huge blunder for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that he has been every bit the high level prospect that could have been signed for merely money. While it still can infuriate fans to this day, the other problem was it further enforced how inconsistent and seemingly completely directionless the front office was. The Yankees exceeded expectations in 2015, but the inconsistencies were still present.

Fast-forward to about a month before this year’s trade deadline. The signs were all there that it was not going to be the Yankees’ year. That’s fine. The fact that they competed for as long as they did over the past two decades is to be applauded. Hal Steinbrenner and the Yankees’ front office were still undecided about what to do as the trade deadline approached. This is also fine. Patience is a virtue, baseball is unpredictable, and wanting to win are all logical and respectable reasons for not wanting to throw in the towel in late June or early July.

The biggest fear of the Yankees’ recent success against good teams is that they would do something stupid like trade prospects or something valuable for a few pieces of duct tape. Fans are still in a transition period from George Steinbrenner ownership to our current ownership. Despite the fact that they’ve never had a losing season, the inconsistencies of Hal, Hank, and the front office were a legitimate concern.

In the end, Hal Steinbrenner did the right thing. It might have taken a sweep at the hands of the last-place Rays right before the deadline to sway him, but he ultimately gave his consent. Brian Cashman would hand him really good trade proposals to be approved and Hal actually did the right thing and approved them. As we reflect on this trade season, one question keeps rattling around my brain: Would George Steinbrenner have approved these trades?

Fans who lived through both the good and bad times of The Boss will most likely tell you that the answer is no. He did not like to admit defeat. The meddling and “WIN NOW AT ANY COST” thought process led to some bad moves over the years. It wasn’t until he was forced to step back that he learned to stop meddling so much. That took time. For a few years now, we’ve wanted Hal and friends to stop meddling and let Cashman do his job. They did. Look at the results.

If there’s one thing that the Steinbrenner’s love to do, it’s to make a splash in the baseball world. That’s exactly what they did, albeit in a different way from their father.

5. Set your course for the Hoth Hope System!

Baseball is supposed to be fun. The Yankees were not fun to watch. The ravages of time finally caught up with them and the current AL East standings reflect it. The constant cries for them to sell were not Yankee fans rooting for the team to lose. They were rooting for them to be fun and interesting again. They were rooting for hope and for a sense of direction and consistency.

Steering a ship without any navigation is not the best of strategies. Asking a crew, or in our case a fan base, to trust the captain to steer without any direction can lead to mutiny. That is where Yankee fans were about a week ago. It’s where fans have seen them since 2013. Whether a ship is sailing through stormy weather or calm seas, whether a team is playing good or bad, the one thing the crew/fans want to know is where it’s all leading. As of today, the Yankees have a map with directions to treasure. As of today, the fans have a new hope.

My true hope of Project Aspiration is that Yankee fans will actually learn patience, learn not to be so spoiled and entitled, and hopefully not expect another ‘90s type dynasty from all the prospects they’ve acquired. Of course one can hope for another dynasty. Just don’t expect it or demand it. It’s probably just a fool’s hope though.