Let's be honest—the Yankees don't have the most youthful, explosive, exciting, or productive team in baseball. This is an unwelcome change for Yankees fans, who are used to rooting for a team that is a perennial threat to win the World Series. The Yankees can still contend, but they aren't even a favorite in their division, let alone in the American League. Out of this disappointment comes calls for change, the most popular of which is to sell the veterans and create a monster farm system, or to rebuild.
Looking back at some of the best runs in Yankees' history, the dynasty of 1996 to 2006 is right up there. Everyone wants their favorite team to create a "dynasty," and the ten-year streak the Yankees had was one of the best dynasties there ever was. Now that the Bombers are stuck in the middle of the pack, fans are looking back fondly at this time and calling for current change to return to past heights. The roster that won four World Series and made the playoffs every season for thirteen years was largely born out of a rebuild, so naturally fans see this path as the most obvious way to create a new dynasty. Although that's a possibility, it would be the wrong choice for the Yankees.
A rebuild isn't as easy (or quick) as it sounds. The cookie-cutter formula is to (1) trade all veterans for prospects, (2) lose for a few years and get high draft picks, and (3) develop these prospects into a young and controllable roster filled with superstars. Unfortunately, things almost never work out that way...but people tend to lose sight of that. The rebuilding successes of the Cubs, the Royals, and the Astros get the spotlight, while the projects that fail are swept under the rug and ignored. Being the pessimist that I am, I'll look at several instances where those rebuilds went awry. Hopefully I can convince Yankees fans that not only is rebuilding the wrong fit (which I'll get to later), but it's also a terribly risky one.
The Reds failed to make the playoffs from 1996 to 2009, but the team sold Kyle Lohse, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., and Adam Dunn to improve the farm system. Things were looking up after their system was ranked third best in baseball by Baseball America in 2008, and playoff appearances in 2010, 2012, and 2013 made the plan look like a success. The triumph was short-lived, though, and all the sudden the Reds are rebuilding yet again. Things could have gone worse, but the Reds spent quite a few years rebuilding for just three playoff appearances and another tear down now.
The Rockies are in a unique position given their location in the thin air of Colorado, but they also represent a worst case scenario in rebuilding...the "never ending" rebuild. The Rockies haven't been to the playoffs since 2009, and a roster shakeup has yet to yield results. The team has had prospects bust, trades collapse, and signings go south, and haven't been over .500 since 2010. The team traded a franchise player in Troy Tulowitzki last season, and once again, look to be a ways away from truly contending in the National League. Rebuilding sounds nice, but a continuous one does not.
When you hear about "blowing a roster up", the best example is the Marlins' 2012 season, when they dealt Matt Dominguez, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez, Hanley Ramirez, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Jose Reyes to kick off a rejuvenation of the farm. Three straight top-10 picks in the draft and more trades should have set the team up for a "dynasty," but instead the Marlins have yet to make the playoffs and haven't played .500 ball since 2009. Despite having superstars in Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton, this shakeup has proven to be a failure (so far) as well. They may be on their way to another rebuild in the near-future, which has been foreshadowed by offseason attempts to trade Fernandez.
The Brewers spent quite a few seasons building what was considered the best farm system in baseball in 2004, but a number of players and trades didn't pan out. The team ended up with a grand total of two playoff appearances from 2004 to present day, and just a couple of seasons ago had what was considered the worst group of prospects in the league and a poor major league roster. They began another rebuild last season, and although things have looked good so far, back-to-back rebuilds are never what you want.
The Orioles were on a streak of misery for years, beginning in 1998 and ending in 2012. They never really went all-in on a selling spree until 2009, when the team traded Miguel Tejada and Eric Bedard and let several key players depart via free agency. It wasn't the most spectacular of rebuilds, but it was a rebuild nonetheless. Their 14th ranked farm system (by Baseball America) in 2008 became seventh best in 2009 and eighth best in 2010, and they finally reached the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons in 2012. They would make it to the ALCS in 2014, but finished in third place the other two years. The rebuild wasn't a complete bust given their two playoff appearances, but no pennants were won and despite a hot start to this season, the team isn't exactly looking like a dynasty.
While you can certainly pull out a few successes of rebuilds in the 21st century—including the Royals, Cubs, Red Sox, and Astros—that doesn't mean it's the right way to go. Put simply, the failures of this plan far outweigh the successes, and "dynasties" rarely turn into that. Often, selling major league players to build a farm leads to a couple of playoff appearances...and then a repeat of the same process over the next few years. Wiping out major league talent and investing in prospects is a risky and often fruitless plan, and teams rarely come out on top following rebuilds.
Even with all of these failures laid out, some fans may be willing to suffer through some losing seasons to reclaim the past glory they've experienced. There are a couple of things that need to be mentioned, though. The first is that rebuilding is hardly a quick three season process. The 1996-2006 dynasty in New York was preceded by 13 straight playoff-less seasons, and going all-in with a failed rebuild means being forced to repeat the cycle over and over. A couple of seasons of misery for years of glory sounds fine, but half a decade of misery for half a decade of an above average team is more likely, and less exciting.
In addition, the Yankees can't really "blow it all up." Yes, they have quite a few veteran players who can be traded, but most of them wouldn't fetch a big return. Aroldis Chapman didn't require a top-100 prospect to come to New York, and leaving New York wouldn't net one either. Michael Pineda's value has bottomed out, and Masahiro Tanaka has a huge contract and even bigger injury concerns to match it. A trade would be challenging to make, and the return would be diminished due to financial concerns. Brian McCann is aging and expensive, and the same can be said for the whole Yankees' outfield. There are some tradable parts to the roster, but dealing every player over 28 that other teams would want wouldn't result in that much better of a farm system. No matter how nice it sounds to rebuild, it's a risky proposition that simply doesn't make sense for the Yankees.