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The Yankees have rebuilt without tearing down

The Yankees have rebuilt impressively. Even more impressive is how they have done so without tearing the operation to the ground.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have rebuilt splendidly this week. The trades of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltran have replenished the farm system in the blink of an eye. With every deal, general manager Brian Cashman seemed to extract the maximum value possible from each player.

The effects of the selling spree on the organization have been immediately obvious. A solid farm system that was ranked as middle of the pack prior to the season has suddenly become elite. A franchise that was stuck in purgatory, stranded ambiguously between contention and irrelevance, now has a renewed sense of direction and hope.

Yet something about this flash rebuild has stuck out, as the Yankees’ retool just doesn’t quite resemble recent rebuilds across the league. See, unlike the rebuilds undertaken by teams like the Astros, Phillies, and Cubs (to name a mere few), this rebuild has not left the Yankees’ roster in ruins. Instead, the team is still reasonably competitive, flexible, and able to move in any number of directions in the near-term.

So rarely does a team manage to build one of the strongest farms in the league without leaving behind a desolate major league roster. The Cubs posted a .391 winning percentage between 2013-2014 while building what is now the strongest team in baseball. The Astros owned an unspeakable .333 winning percentage between 2011 and 2013 as they patiently waited for a contender to emerge. Teams like the Phillies and Braves haven’t contended in years, and still appear ready to endure multiple terrible seasons in the short-term in order to ensure success in the long-term.

Impressively, the Yankees have vaulted their farm system among the league’s best while still leaving a fine baseball team on the field, this year and beyond. As far as the 2016 team goes, New York still projects as completely respectable. FanGraphs forecasts the Yankees to finish with 81 wins despite the fire sale. Baseball Prospesctus’ PECOTA projects the same. By FanGraphs’ projeceted rest of season WAR, the Yankees rank 7th in the AL. They rank 8th in the AL by PECOTA.

While fellow big market teams in Chicago and Houston were forced to put forth nearly unwatchable big league products in order to assemble their excellent farm systems, the Yankees have been able to keep a serviceable team together as they rebuild. In fact, the Yankees managed to build an excellent farm system without doing much harm to their chances next year.

With the (notable) exception of Miller, no player that was meant to play a role for the 2017 or 2018 Yankees was sacrificed in order to initiate this rebuild. Alternatively, a decent veteran core has been left in place. In Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, and Brett Gardner, the Yankees have a solid, if quite unspectacular, core of position players that can reasonably project as average to above average next year.

On the pitching side, a starting rotation that began 2016 has been left completely intact. That group certainly has under-performed, with Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, and Luis Severino all turning in disappointing campaigns so far. Still, that trio is still relatively (or very, in Severino’s case) young, and thus provide at least a modicum of upside moving into the 2017 season. Masahiro Tanaka has provided little reason to believe he won’t be great next year, and CC Sabathia has given hope to the idea that he can still perform effectively at the major league level.

This isn’t to say that this year’s or next year’s team will be great. They likely won’t be. Whatever improvements young players such as Gregorius, Severino and the like might undergo may very well be undone by the regression of the older players, leaving another middling team on the field. However, the team will still be watchable, and the 2015 Yankees provide recent proof of what a merely decent team can do if it receives a few over-performances in key places.

Plus, in the more likely scenario in which the 2017 club isn’t ready to contend, with the fruits of the excellent farm not quite ripe, Cashman and company have left the Yankees in a tremendously flexible position. Affordable players like Gardner and Dellin Betances will still have plenty of trade value, either this offseason or at next year’s trade deadline. If either Pineda or Eovaldi can bounce back, one or both could be an enticing trade target for another team in need of a pitcher. More highly paid players like McCann and Ellsbury will always be difficult to move, but both could be movable should the Yankees be willing to provide salary relief in a trade.

In essence, New York has options. They have constructed one of the game’s best farm systems while still retaining a competitive team. They have near limitless funds if they choose to flex their financial might this winter in an effort to compete in the short-term. Or, should this offseason’s paltry free agent offerings appear unsatisfactory, the Yankees could stand pat and see what happens with this roster, or continue to trade and accumulate assets. Simply put, the Yankees have done a magnificent job of rebuilding without decimating the team or hamstringing its flexibility. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the middling team the Yankees are currently fielding is a reason to rejoice.