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How the Yankees have rebuilt and secured a bright future

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Following the 2012 season, it became clear the Yankees were in trouble. With an aging roster and weak farm system, it was time to retool for the future. Over the past three seasons, the Yankees have rebuilt the only way they can, but have done so successfully.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If the Yankees Instagram account wanted to partake in "transformation Tuesday," they could have a great post comparing the 2013 and 2016 roster side by side. The 2013 season is the worst Yankee fans have experienced in over two decades. A case can probably be made for 2008 or 2014, but in my opinion, 2013 was worse than both.

For one, they didn't make the playoffs. This was following a successful era from 2009-2012 that saw three ALCS appearances and one championship, so it hurt even more. I think the biggest reason 2013 seemed so dire was the lack of hope fans felt. The Yankees were an aging team filled with expired superstars and spare parts, and there wasn't much hope on the horizon as they didn't have a very strong farm system.

The full team and their statistics can be found here, but be careful, as it could trigger PTSD.

Looking back on those names brings back some dark, dark memories. That was a bad team. I remember sitting at Opening Day that year, seeing the roster announced featuring names like Ben Francisco, Brennan Boesch, and Travis Hafner, and thinking I must be having a nightmare.

For the Yankees, though, 2013 was actually the start of a new beginning. After getting swept by the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 ALCS, the front office must have realized change was needed. Their once-superstars were aging and riddled with injury concerns. Their two best players, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, were on the wrong side of 30 and approaching free agency. To make matters worse, the farm system was bleak and commonly ranked in the bottom half of baseball; Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Slade Heathcott were commonly ranked as top-five prospects in the system.

Fast forward three seasons, and the Yankees are much younger, have multiple players nearing or in their primes, and top talent either breaking into the big leagues or still seasoning in the minors. So, how'd it all happen? It began in 2013; the year most fans look back on with disgust was actually the turning point for the franchise.

From then until now, the Yankees have operated under the mantra of  "Do everything we can to win now, but not hurt ourselves for the future." Basically, the Yankees have rebuilt the only the Yankees can. They've had the luxury of rebuilding with a 200 million dollar payroll.

In the 2012-2013 offseason, the Yankees uncharacteristically did not sign any major free agents. Instead, they chose to keep their first round draft pick, and instead take gambles on low-risk players like Youkilis, Wells, Hafner, etc., and hope they could replicate past success. Obviously, most of the signings didn't pan out, but they still remained competitive that season and made moves to improve themselves, like acquiring Alfonso Soriano and Mark Reynolds.

The Yankees, however, did not give up anything other than money and low-end prospects for all these acquisitions. They kept their promising prospects and used the 2013 draft to rebuild the farm system. Aaron Judge, Eric Jagielo (traded for Aroldis Chapman), Ian Clarkin, and Tyler Wade are all viewed as solid prospects, Judge especially. Of equal importance, they showed patience with and held onto prospects like Greg Bird, Luis Severino, Jorge Mateo, and Gary Sanchez.

In the 2013-2014 offseason, the Yankees conducted business in their more typical fashion, signing Carlos Beltran, Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, and Jacoby Ellsbury for almost a half billion dollars. Some may view these moves as questionable and not typical for a rebuilding franchise. The Yankees, however, are not a typical franchise. Knowing the fans demand a contender, and knowing they need to still generate ratings and attendance, the Yankees knew they needed to stay competitive. Instead of trading prospects, they spent money to improve themselves. The Yankees couldn't afford to give up talent, so they wisely chose to just open the checkbooks.

All those signings, in addition to the trades for Brandon McCarthy, Martin Prado, and Chase Headley, kept with the Yankees mantra of "Do everything we can to win now, but not hurt ourselves for the future." They gave up their first round pick, but they signed four guys, so it was worth it. Beltran was a temporary stop gap who will be gone after this season. McCann is still in his prime and will be under contract no later than age 34. Tanaka was a promising pitcher signed at just 25 years old. Trading for and then re-signing Headley didn't cost top prospects, just money, and he also won't be under contract later than 34. The days of crippling their future by signing guys to large contracts until the age of 40, not being patient with and trading away prospects, and underestimating the value of a first round pick were over. All the moves the Yankees have made are consistent with their new way of thinking. The one question is choosing Ellsbury over Robinson Cano, but that could be as simple as choosing to have a 37-year-old Ellsbury instead of a 40+ year old Cano, and saving almost $100 million.

The 2014-2015 offseason saw the rebuild continue. Signing Andrew Miller was not a large contract and gave them a dominant lefty reliever in his prime. Then, Brian Cashman chose to be aggressive in trading, and did a great job. He acquired a young shortstop in Didi Gregorius, and a young starter with tons of potential in Nathan Eovaldi, for nothing but spare parts. Both had successful seasons in 2015; Gregorius looks like the shortstop of the future, and Eovaldi is looking like a legitimate 2 or 3 starter after developing his splitter. In November they traded for Aaron Hicks, and in December they traded for Starlin Castro, not giving up significant pieces in either deal. All four of these trades were low-risk deals, trading from a surplus for high-upside guys under team control for the foreseeable future... the new Yankee way. Even the Chapman deal didn't require a top prospect and acquired a young superstar, but only for one or two seasons.

So, it's been a three year process and it's still not done, but it's hard to look at the Yankees 40-man roster and not get a little excited. They have a great mix of players. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Beltran, and CC Sabathia provide winning pedigrees and veteran leadership, the former three looking to defy odds with another strong season, while Sabathia looks to bounce back. McCann, Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Tanaka, Miller and Headley are all in their prime, albeit not all coming off strong seasons. Michael Pineda, Dellin Betances, Eovaldi, Gregorius, Castro, and Hicks are in their mid-twenties and could be on the brink of fully realizing their potential. Then, most importantly, thanks to shrewd drafting and a persistence to keep their top prospects, the Yankees have a slew of guys either rounding out the big league club, or waiting for their turn in the minors. This includes Judge, Bird, Mateo, Severino, Sanchez, James Kaprielian, Ian Clarkin, and others.

It's safe to say that is a significant upgrade from the 2013 Yankees. Overall, for three seasons the Yankees have operated under that "Do everything we can to win now, but not hurt ourselves for the future" mission statement. They've rebuilt, yet stayed competitive through the previously mentioned front office strategies. With a young core and money soon coming off the books, the Yankees can use free agency (like the unbelievable 2018-2019 class) to supplement that core, instead of relying on free agency as the end-all, be-all.

For the first time in a long time, the Yankees not only have a competitive team, but also a bright future. It's a good time to be a Yankee fan.