The Yankees shocked the baseball world last season by doing something no one was accustomed to seeing from the richest franchise in sports: They became sellers at the trade deadline. The club dealt four players, three of whom were pending free agents, in exchange for a treasure trove of prospects. They did this while still in contention, causing many to wonder if the organization had forsaken its mantra of trying to win the World Series every year in favor of a retreat into rebuilding mode.
Team officials made a series of pronouncements informing fans that they expected the team to remain competitive while retooling on the fly. Skeptics snickered and scoffed, but the Yankees did indeed remain in contention for the remainder of the 2016 season. Fans were delighted when future stars Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez made an impact upon arrival. The club went from having one of the worst farm systems in baseball to one of the best, literally overnight.
The 2017 season has been one of extreme highs and extreme lows. The Yankees had the best record in the majors on May 8th at 21-9, and they achieved their high-water mark of 15 games over .500 back on June 12th. Then came an abysmal slide. Beginning with a seven-game losing streak, the Yankees dropped 22 of their next 34 games. They went from holding first place for most of the year to barely clinging to a Wild Card spot among a throng of other teams. They had sunk to three games over .500 on July 17th.
The Yankees' numerous weaknesses had been laid bare, causing many to wonder what the team would do at the trade deadline. There was no consensus among onlookers as to whether the Yankees would buy, sell, or stand pat.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman emphatically announced the team as buyers, executing a seven-player deal with the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night. The deal brought David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier to New York. Tyler Clippard, Tito Polo, Blake Rutherford, and Ian Clarkin headed to Chicago.
After the deal was announced, Cashman said, "I'm going to stay engaged. I still think we want to be careful buyers as we walk this line of trying to maximize the present as well as protect the future. We want to be bright on both ends."
Bravo. That's precisely the strategy that the Yankees should have at this time. I believe that the organization was successful in walking that line with the White Sox deal.
The Yankees improved at four positions in one shot. Tommy Kahnle had averaged 15 strikeouts per nine innings pitched this season, and is the perfect fireman to come on in relief when starters get pulled with men on base in the middle to late innings. Manager Joe Girardi can look to Kahnle to record strikeouts and escape any jams, without having to worry about going to Dellin Betances or Aroldis Chapman too early and not have them available to pitch later. David Robertson has a long and successful track record as both a closer and setup man. Todd Frazier is an All-Star third baseman whose arrival allows Chase Headley to move to first base, giving the Yankees an upgrade at that position as well.
Ian Clarkin is a pitcher, ranked number eleven among Yankees prospects, while Tito Polo and Blake Rutherford are both outfielders. Drafted by the Yankees in the first round of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft and listed as the Yankees number three prospect, Rutherford was the centerpiece of the package going to Chicago. None of the three prospects that the Yankees gave up have played above High-A.
The Yankees were clearly dealing from areas of organizational strength. The team has five major league outfielders under contract for next season in Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier. The club also has five additional outfielders ranked among their top-30 prospects: Billy McKinney, Jake Cave, Estevan Florial, Tyler Austin, and Dustin Fowler. The organization is flush with pitching prospects as well, with 13 hurlers among its top-30 prospects, while only 12 of 40 draft picks this year were position players.
I have to admit, I cringe a little every time I hear a trade rumor. I want the Yankees to improve. I want them to win now. However, I don't want them to give up potential future stars for short-term rentals, veterans on the decline, or players who might only represent a slight improvement over the ones that they are replacing.
I love watching homegrown talent rise up through the farm system, make their major league debuts, and go on to star in Yankee pinstripes. I know a lot of fans feel the same way. It's the reason that players like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra have always gotten the loudest ovations at Old Timer's Day. It's not just that they were stars, they were homegrown stars. Sure, impact players who were acquired via trade like David Cone, Paul O'Neill, and Tino Martinez are embraced and even beloved, but players acquired via trade rarely rise to the popularity level of Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams, and Aaron Judge.
The Yankees still have holes to fill. They needed a starting pitcher before Michael Pineda suffered a season-ending injury, and now they need two. I am also not convinced that first base is a settled issue. There are many potential trade partners on both fronts. Cashman has promised to remain engaged. I hope he continues to walk the line of maximizing the present while protecting the future.
The 2017 Yankees are an exciting team. They are a dangerous team. We have seen what they can do when they are firing on all cylinders, and now they have improved with the acquisitions of Robertson, Kahnle, and Todd Frazier.
We're also looking at the best and largest core group of young players that the Yankees have had in decades, perhaps ever. Some have arrived, like Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, and Clint Frazier. Others, like Chance Adams, Jorge Mateo, and Gleyber Torres are still working their way through the minors.
Whether the Bronx Bombers end up winning it all this year or not, this is a fun time to be a Yankees fan. We have reason to be very optimistic about the present and the future. If Cashman remains faithful to his stated strategy, then it should continue to be so.