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The Yankees are more than one arm away from true contention

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As Brian Cashman noted, adding a pitching star would help, but would it really be the difference for the Yanks in 2017?

MLB: New York Yankees at New York Mets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Yankees GM Brian Cashman was refreshingly honest in his end-of-the-season press conference while addressing the idea of going after a top tier starter in the off-season to bolster a weak rotation, specifically Chris Sale of the White Sox. A deal had been discussed to acquire Sale around the trade deadline this season, but Cashman and the Yankees pumped the brakes on those talks when the asking price for Sale included Gary Sanchez. I’d say, for now, the Yankees made the right move by ending those discussions.

So when asked about another crack at adding a piece like Sale, Cashman decided to give his true assessment of the state of the Yankees for 2017, which happened to be an accurate one. Here’s what he had to say:

“I think that type of deal is a deal where you're that final piece away. I think we have an exciting young nucleus that's coming ... But there are some flaws, honestly, in this roster still. That doesn't mean you can't compete for a postseason berth. That doesn't mean you can't play in October.

But the type of concept that you're speaking of — I'm sure that everybody knows who you're talking about by asking that question — but that to me (is an idea if) you're an organization that's one piece away. You back up the truck (and trade) four and five players. You have to be one piece away, and I would not recommend that type of decision as we approach the 2017 season. I think that would be dangerous."

Of course the “everybody knows who you’re talking about” reference is to Sale. Cashman correctly pointed out the fact that the Yanks are not just one dynamic starter away from becoming serious contenders for the American League crown in 2017, especially considering that with additions come some kind of subtraction. Sale is a proven major-league star at a time when the free agent pitching market is so thin that Ivan Nova is one of the best available starters (may he stay in the Steel City).

If the Yankees were to pull the trigger on Sale (and if they did, make sure he leaves his scissors in Chicago), they would likely have to part with one of their prized youngsters who are already proven to be major-league ready. It is not an outlandish thought to think Sanchez, or more likely an Aaron Judge, would be a part of those discussions. Regardless of the specifics, the Yankees would have to give up an enormous amount for a starter who would immensely improve the Yankees rotation, but not enough to put them in any kind of World Series talks for 2017.

This rationale goes for any trade opportunities for an All-Star right now. Cashman is right: the 2017 Yankees are not just one player away. This is an opportunity to jump into the rebuild with both feet, and let the young players develop and get a full major-league season under their belts. The middle of the Yankees’ order has the potential to become a major force in the American League, but they need time to materialize. Greg Bird was a solid contributor in 2015 and carried plenty of promise, but he is still a youngster with less than a year of major league experience and is coming back from a major injury. He may need a season to find his stride.

Trading away prized prospects for a proven veteran makes plenty of sense when the team is clearly in the race. The Indians gave up plenty of young talent for Andrew Miller, and it paid off in the ALDS. So if the Baby Bombers come out in 2017 and perform ahead of their expectancy with the Yankees in the thick of the divisional hunt come summer, then revisit the option of getting a reliable arm to help the pitching staff make an October push. Right now, given the state of the Yankees, patience is a priority.

Many trade opportunities were disregarded in the mid-nineties due to a “wait-and-see” approach from the Yankees front office (minus the Boss), and as a result, the Yankees hung on to Mariano Rivera, while also giving Derek Jeter a shot (instead of Felix Fermin, phew). That mindset paid off in full and then some, and it may pay off now as well. The Yankees have a stocked farm system for the first time in forever, and there’s no need to gut it right now if the return isn’t going to propel them into World Series contention.

The 2017 campaign should be a year of development, and also of excitement. These younger players gave new life to the Yankees this season, and a full season with them leading the charge could very well find them back in a Wild Card conversation if they carry over their success and experience from 2016. The Yankees will likely have a much better idea of what they have by then, and can shop around in July if need be.

If they still stay put, that’s fine too. More money will be coming off the books from the expiring contracts of CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez after 2017, just as a much better crop of starting pitching become free agents at that time, including the likes of Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.

The free agent class looming in 2018 should be even better. That will be on a level of craziness that even the 2010 NBA free agent class couldn’t touch. That is still awhile away though, and plenty of contracts could be extended between now and then. The Yankees’ return to a league powerhouse has not arrived yet either, nor would it with the arrival of one prized arm, and that’s just fine for now. Cashman had a great 2016, and fans should trust his process going forward.