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As the Yankees take on the Cubs, they witness a rebuild they can emulate

With a combination of high payroll and a great farm system, the Yankees should model their rebuild on the system Theo Epstein has built.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Chicago Cubs Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

In a recent FiveThirtyEight article, Neil Paine made an interesting point about the Yankees’ hot start, that while the team could very well regress this season, it could very well be a harbinger of good things to come:

“[T]he team’s combination of the No. 2-ranked farm system and the No. 2-ranked payroll in baseball could easily have the Yankees cracking 90 or even 95 wins within a couple seasons. According to Matt Swartz’s research on the relationship between farm rankings, payroll and wins, the second-ranked farm system is worth four wins above average two years into the future and the second-ranked payroll is worth 11 wins, which would add up to a 96-win season.”

So, this is a team likely on the rise. The Yankees are facing the Chicago Cubs this weekend, and albeit they have completely disparate histories, these are two teams with a few things in common as of now. The Cubs have the ability to spend with the Ricketts family owning the team, as do the Yankees with the Steinbrenner family. They have a legendary general manager in Theo Epstein, and the Yankees have a pretty great one in Brian Cashman. Sure, Theo is better, but you can guarantee both are going to the Hall of Fame. The Cubs are a team that just rebuilt, and the Yankees are in the midst of one now.

The Cubs rebuild is one that will probably fascinate viewers of baseball for decades to come, but it’s fair to think that the Yankees can somewhat emulate the model set forth. Even though Chicago had to initiate a complete tear-down, the Yankees put together one of the on-the-fly variety—signing a bevy of international amateurs and developing them, making smarter picks in the draft (namely, starting with Aaron Judge, and then the likes of James Kaprielian and Blake Rutherford), and making three savvy trades last July to bring in a massive haul of Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and more.

This isn’t the first time someone’s drawing a comparison. Our own Miles Park wrote about the Cubs being one blueprint for a rebuild, where Epstein was able “to acquire key players through all different avenues,” namely free agency, international amateurs, trades, and the draft. And in the New York Post on Thursday, Rick Sutcliffe made a similar observation himself. He said:

“You go back to what Theo did in Boston and now here, the years they won, there was one, two, three players that came from the farm system who had an impact... Aaron Judge says Clint Frazier ‘hits the ball a long ways further than me,’ if you could believe that. I saw [Gleyber] Torres for two years in spring training. This is an everyday, impact player. The Yankees have those type of players that if someone got hurt or was to falter, these guys can come up and help or be packaged in a deal to bring in someone else to help. That’s why I feel like the Yankees can sustain the success that they have.”

It’s not crazy to think the Yankees have this in them, if things can break right. If we assume Gary Sanchez comes back, and Greg Bird comes back healthy, this is a really, really good team. Are they fully complete? Absolutely not. There’s a clear hole at the back-end of the rotation, but this is a largely competent team. I mentioned a couple of a days ago that the Yankees came into the season, by ZiPS, with a single 2+ WAR position player, Gary Sanchez. After a month and changed expectations, they have seven.

The sustainability is the harder part, and that’s on ownership. The Cubs eventually boosted their payroll to match their growing core, signing Jon Lester, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and trading for the final piece in Aroldis Chapman. Are the Yankees going to do that when the free agent market has plenty to offer? Are they going to maintain their strategy in the draft? Will they once again open the checkbook when they’re able to spend internationally again? Will they be able to make a blockbuster trade when the moment is right? These are the questions we’ll all be asking ourselves over the next few years.

It’s always exciting to see two historic franchises duke it out, especially when they’re both quite competent. But it’s also interesting as a Yankees fan seeing what could be, and a model that is entirely within reach viewed in plain sight.