Over the past decade or so, middling baseball teams, in what I like to call “baseball purgatory,” have recognized that the clearest path to long-term success is the modern rebuilding strategy: trade your veterans, lose a lot of games, make successful, high draft picks, and after three or four years, have a cheap, young, and dominant team. While it’s never that simple, clubs like the Cubs and Red Sox have patented a process that almost all rebuilding teams now use. The Yankees managed to pull off a much more nontraditional and expedited rebuild thus far, but they’re now at a perplexing crossroads that all developing rosters face.
The Yankees’ front office now must go through perhaps the hardest process thus far—objectively evaluate the team they’ve painstakingly built. It won’t be easy to self-reflect and determine just how good of a team they have right now. However, it’s essential for the team to figure out when the club will pass the threshold from “young and electric team” to “legitimate playoff contenders.” It’s fun to have former top prospects Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and Aaron Judge mashing home runs in Yankees Stadium, but that alone won’t be enough to win games. Exciting isn’t the same thing as successful, and before the Yankees continue with their next steps, that’s a question that needs answering.
You may be wondering why, exactly, it’s key for the Yankees to figure out when they’ll be ready to compete. Put simply, they can’t do anything substantial until defining the real beginning of their window of competition. The Baby Bombers might be the strongest fleet of young talent we’ve seen in years, but those players alone won’t navigate the Yankees into a perennial title contender. Brian Cashman and New York will have to do what they’re best known for now: big-time trades and big-name signings.
While fans may not be thrilled that the Yankees aren’t putting complete faith in their rebuild, it’s actually a classic part of the rebuilding process: the Cubs did it, the Red Sox did it, and just about every other club that has gone through this process has had to do it. And now, the Yankees are gearing up to make a splash. You’ve heard plenty about the celebrated 2018-2019 offseason—Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and a million other stars are slated to be free agents—but the Yankees seem to be ready to make things happen soon. They signed Aroldis Chapman to a long-term deal this offseason, and trade rumors have been circulating since the start of this offseason.
Although the Yankees traded veteran Brian McCann in November for prospects, it wouldn’t have been shocking to see them turn around and deal prospects for a proven big leaguer, such as Chris Sale, right after, and a deal like that could still happen. Jose Quintana might be the Yankees’ first post-rebuild move, and reports have been appearing recently of the White Sox scouting New York prospects for a possible deal. If the Yankees think they’re ready to compete this year or next, it’s a reasonable trade to make...but that’s a big if. As Ben Kabak of River Avenue Blues tweeted, Jose Quintana will be a free agent in two years, so the Yankees would have to believe they’ll be World Series contenders before then if they’re entertaining that deal.
Significant moves like the Quintana one stress the importance of the Yankees’ self-evaluation. I can provide a reasonable guess of when the Yankees will be ready (next year, conservatively), but all that matters will be what the front office believes. If Brian Cashman feels he has a playoff-caliber team on his hands, then there’s no reason not to start making moves to build his young roster into a winner. Cashman can keep his big league-ready pieces, as well as a select few top prospects he can’t stomach trading away, and then flip the rest for proven, dependable big leaguers. Doing so may seem like a departure from their rebuilding ways, but it’s simply a natural and inevitable step in The ProcessTM. It’s not a question of whether the Yankees end up making these moves—because they will—but instead, when? It all depends on when the Yankees feel they’re ready.