After a disastrous month, it appeared the Yankees were finished. They looked overmatched in every aspect of the game. Since June 12th, the team has gone 16 - 23. That abysmal stretch is enough to sink most seasons. Pair that with a slew of injuries, and one could expect the Bombers to start thinking about next year.
Something funny happened over that month and change, though. Instead of crashing to the bottom of the race, the Yankees somehow stuck to the top Wild Card spot. As of this writing, the team sits just one game behind the Red Sox in AL East. In fact, that number could shrink even more when one considers that New York has played four fewer games than Boston.
No one has run away with the division. Each team has notable flaws. The Red Sox have a lineup that has yet to fire on all cylinders. Their struggles at third base have been well documented. It’s such an issue that the team turned to Eduardo Nunez for help. The Rays have also slipped of late. They just dropped six of their last ten. It’s an imperfect collection of teams with no clear front runner.
Given the Yankees’ hot start, and the general mediocrity in the division, it makes sense for the team to go for it. Brian Cashman seems to agree, having traded Blake Rutherford and others to the White Sox for David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier. As much as that trade was meant to build on the future, it also helped right now. Think about how it allows Joe Girardi to wield end-game relievers as early as the sixth inning.
Cashman shouldn’t stop there, though. He has to shore up the rotation. Rumors have connected the Yankees to both Sonny Gray and Yu Darvish. Either would do fine, although I prefer Gray because of his contract status. It’s not wise for a contending team to rely on Caleb Smith in the starting rotation down the stretch.
There are a few points here that I find important to make. First, the Yankees are contenders. I know this was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but the timetable moved up. With a young core established and the division clearly winnable, it’s time to strike. Plans change as the season unfolds. Sticking to the original strategy is foolish when variables change.
Second, prospect costs will sting. That’s the case when any team buys. The Yankees, however, can absorb these blows better than most other clubs. Building around youth is the path to sustainable success. The Bombers have that now with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Clint Frazier, and Luis Severino. That’s not to mention Gleyber Torres who’s essentially waiting in the wings. This young core gives Cashman the luxury to tap into the cache of prospects. Not all of them can play for the Yankees, of course.
The final point worth mentioning has to do with the names connected to the Yankees. Yesterday, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post wrote that the Bombers don’t need Gray because Severino emerged as an ace this season. That logic is ludicrous. Teams aren’t allowed just one good pitcher. Plus, the rotation is also shaky, with an inconsistent Masahiro Tanaka, an aging CC Sabathia, and a pair of rookies rounding out the staff. Gray would be an impact addition, regardless of who’s pitching well.
I understand that there’s a hesitance to trade the farm away. The Yankees worked so hard to build up their young talent. That said, prospects are a renewable resource and the division is winnable. It’s time to make a move when no one else has run away with it. Win the AL East for the first time since 2012. I promise that will be a lot more enjoyable than a top-rated farm system.