The preseason hype around the New York Yankees pegged them to once again be a top contender for the World Series, the favorite among many to make it out of the American League. They’ve been in this spot for many times over the past decade, and in particular with the current core that’s developed since 2017. They’ve also gotten out to some slow starts with these expectations, and this year has been no exception.
The Bombers opened up with a 5-10 record after 15 games, their worst opening since 1997, and at one point were the team with the worst record in the AL. This set off a level of panic unseen in a long time among Yankees fans — if you don’t participate in Yankees Twitter consider yourself lucky that you missed out on this particular stretch — and prompted many to worry about a lost season roughly 10 percent of the way through the year.
Now, let’s set some parameters here. Yes, the Yankees’ play was particularly dreadful to watch. They’ve looked lifeless with the bats for the most part, have gotten incredibly inconsistent starting pitching, and have had to lean on the bullpen far too much for most people to be comfortable. There’s been plenty of valid points to critique from this stretch too — from the predictable floor of the starting arms they bought in on, to their inability to get the ball off the ground at times, to their questionable management of their 40-man roster.
It’s also just a three-week stretch in a 162-game season. The turnaround can come in a heartbeat, just as it did for the 2017 and ‘19 teams that got out to less than stellar starts before rattling off big win streaks. We may be in the midst of one right now, as the Yankees have won three of their last four and look in control again on the road in Cleveland. They’re certainly not playing the best competition right now, but to be honest, they didn’t even when they were losing games — they just looked all out of sorts.
Despite this, there’s been a surge of discontent with this roster in particular, and a lot of looks ahead to if the team could sell off pieces at the trade deadline. I addressed some of this with a brief answer in our mailbag response for the week, outlining why it wouldn’t make sense, but I wanted to expand on the topic a bit more. This Yankees team isn’t going to become sellers at the deadline — not just because they’re likely to get back into contention before then, but because they’re fundamentally built to avoid such a scenario.
The Yankees don’t have much recent history with being sellers. The only time they’ve done so this century was in 2016, and it shocked a large part of the baseball world despite the fact that the team was treading water at best. Reporters and analysts alike seemed convinced that Hal Steinbrenner just wouldn’t commit to becoming sellers, and he nearly didn’t. It took a massive effort from Brian Cashman and company to convince the owner that there was tremendous value in the market that year and they would quickly be able to retool the roster.
That retool went even quicker than most imagined, with the Yankees jumping right back into contention in 2017, and the biggest factor was the assembling of the Baby Bombers. So many of the struggles of the ‘16 team were tied to the last gasp of a thoroughly-aged core that had already seen several legends retire. A new core of star players ensured that Cashman had a deep pool of talent to build around for years to come, and the team has launched numerous postseason summit attempts with them already. This core is still just entering their prime years, and despite some clear flaws there’s a lot left to work with. A team full of players who have been above-average or better don’t all become pumpkins overnight.
The flaws have certainly been exacerbated during this month, whether it’s Gleyber Torres’ subpar defense, Clint Frazier’s troubles staying consistent with the bat, or the ever-present injury bug. It’s fair to be concerned about these things, but so would rival GMs. If you were to propose a fire sale of the players who just “aren’t getting it done” right now, what could you honestly expect in return? Certainly not the kind of star prospects that kick-started the last retool, which Torres and Frazier were the headliners for. There were rumors of a Torres (and others) for Luis Castillo swap offered by the Reds in the offseason, but would a deal like that be on the table any more if the consensus is that Torres simply cannot play shortstop? It seems unlikely at best.
Another route is to trade away the veterans who are on short-term deals, a compromise that keeps the core around but concedes the season in a sense. The problem there is that the veterans who were brought on were essentially gambles — either they would succeed and the Yankees would have a top-tier rotation, or they would fail and the Yankees would scramble for help. If we’re truly in the latter case — and again, it’s far too early to tell — then what value would a broken Corey Kluber or Jameson Taillon bring back?
This roster is fundamentally different from the one that got disassembled in 2016. A disappointing run in the middle of a championship window would be difficult to stomach, but wouldn’t warrant a fire sale. There’s a lot of longevity left in the Yankees roster, enough where the only logical option for a midseason adjustment would be to double-down and trust in the talent that’s assembled. The luxury tax concerns are another matter entirely, but if they manage to find even marginal improvements that would fit under those constraints it would be a no-brainer to pull the trigger so long as they have even a slight shot at chasing down the competition.
If the Yankees put their best foot forward and somehow don’t make it by the end of the year, then that deserves a different discussion. But at this moment, even projecting a few months down the line to the deadline, the Yankees should be all-in on this team’s potential. They’re aware of that, and they have faith that Aaron Boone and company will turn the tide, so let’s wait and see for ourselves.