The Yankees completed their fire sale on Monday with the trades of Carlos Beltran and Ivan Nova, and the reason for it had as much to do with the present as about building for the future.
At 52-52 after a sweep in Tampa Bay over the weekend, the Yankees made the tough assessment that they were not going to be more than a Wild Card team. And a World Championship was very unlikely.
“I don’t think you ever want to feel that it’s that time, in a sense because I really believe in the guys in that room,” manager Joe Girardi said on Monday afternoon. “I think we put the organization in this position. Me, the players, coaches, where we didn’t perform at the level that we were supposed to perform, so we put them in this spot. I understand why they did it. Obviously, I had good relationships with the players that we lost, and that’s tough, but i completely understand why they did it.”
This team entered the season with hopes of winning the division, and with their elite trio at the back end of the bullpen, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller setting up Aroldis Chapman, that they could go deep into the playoffs.
Instead, their starting pitching was not consistent, and they have gotten disappointing years out of Jacoby Ellsbury (.264, 4 HR, 26 RBI), Mark Teixeira (.192, 9 HR, 24 RBI), and Brett Gardner (.259, 7 HR, 26 RBI),not to mention the fact that Girardi basically relegated Alex Rodriguez to the bench.
The Yankees would have had to add so much to improve this team, and with a depleted farm system, that didn’t seem possible.
Since it hasn’t happened in over two decades, it almost is unthinkable that the Yankees would essentially give up on a season in favor of the future.
“I believe that during years whether I was here or not here that it was a possibility, just because, in today’s game, it’s different than when I first got here,” Girardi said. “The way the rules have changed, the way that revenues are shared, the locking up of young players for a long time. The groundwork has changed, you know, how much you can sign in the international market, the slotting systems. I think it’s more difficult, in a sense, to do what we used to do.
“I figured it was a possibility, you know, I think you’re hope is it’s never under your watch, but it always is a possibility, for sure.”
Ever since the Core Four of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada retired, there has been a feeling of how long the Yankees could keep it up.
This is something that championship teams have to go through after prolonged success, like the Cowboys taking years to find a quarterback after Troy Aikman retired and the Bulls rebuilding for a long time after the Michael Jordan era ended.
Teams don’t win every single year forever, and the Yankees formula of winning with veterans has been tested.
“I don’t think it’s fair for me to say whether it’s a smart move or not, Girardi said, “I understand why they did it. There is age on this team, I think there are needs on this team, and Brian (Cashman) and his staff and the organization is trying to put this team in a position to have a good run, not just playing well, but winning championships.
“I think this is what this organization has been about. This is not about being the second wild card team and winning one game. We want championships, I mean, that’s what we’ve always been about, and I think what we’re trying to do is position ourselves to do that, put ourselves in a better position to do that.
“It’s been frustrating the last couple of years. I’ve been frustrated with things that have gone on, in a sense, that we haven’t been where we should be, and I think that’s why changes were made.
“I think you put the uniform on, you win championships, and I don’t care how well we do, if we make the playoffs, make the American League Championship Series, and we lose. If we don’t win, it’s hard. I don’t watch the playoffs if we’re not in it. It’s hard. Once we’re out, I don’t watch because it’s hard.”
The trade deadline occurred just hours before the Yankees were set to take on the Mets, and Girardi was asked if it went the way he expected.
“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen today,” Girardi said. “Obviously when Andrew (Miller) was traded yesterday, we felt that anything was possible. We lost Carlos and Nova today, so you know, obviously lose some really important pieces to your club. It’s a chance for some young players to step up and show what they can do.”
Girardi said on Sunday that the Miller trade did not mean they were waving the white flag, and he continued that defiant message on Monday.
“It’s the same, I’m not (waving the white flag),” Girardi said. “I believe that you can win. I believe that you can win with the players in that room. Did we lose some really good players? Absolutely. Some people are probably going to think that I’m delusional, but there’s no reason to put the uniform on if you don’t think that you can win.
“Well, I mean, as I said, did I say it would be tougher, yes, but you’re still going to try to win ballgames because that’s what we’re paid to do, we’re paid to go out and compete at the highest level, and there’s still talent in that room.
“Did we lose probably, maybe the most important hitter in our lineup? Yes we did, yes we did. The other guys have got to pick it up.”
Just like the Chapman and Miller trades, the Yankees traded Beltran to the Texas Rangers for top prospects, right-handed pitchers Dillon Tate, Erik Swanson and Nick Green.
Tate, 22, was 3-3 with a 5.12 ERA (65.0IP, 37ER) in 17 games (16 starts) with Single-A Hickory in 2016. Originally selected by the Rangers in the first round (fourth overall) of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of California-Santa Barbara, he made his professional debut in 2015, posting a 1.00 ERA (9.0IP, 1ER) over six starts with Hickory and short-season Single-A Spokane. Entering the 2015 draft, he was tabbed by Baseball America as the top pitcher and third-best prospect overall. Following the 2015 season, the Claremont, Calif., native was ranked by the publication as baseball’s 69th-best prospect.
Swanson, 22, was 6-4 with one save and a 3.43 ERA (81.1IP, 31ER) in 19 games (15 starts) with Single-A Hickory in 2016 and was a South Atlantic League mid-season All-Star. The Terrace Park, Ohio, native was originally selected by the Rangers in the eighth round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. Over three minor league seasons, he has combined to go 8-6 with two saves and a 3.52 ERA (120.0IP, 47ER) in 44 games (15 starts).
Green, 21, was was previously drafted by the Yankees in the 35th round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft but did not sign. The Fountain, Colo., native was 2-2 with a 4.98 ERA (34.1IP, 33H, 22R/19ER, 14BB, 44K, 0HR) in seven starts with short-season Single-A Spokane in 2016. Originally selected by Texas in the seventh round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, the right-hander has posted a 6-8 record and 5.15 ERA (108.1IP, 100H, 67R/62ER, 45BB, 85K, 3HR) in 31 career appearances (21 starts) over three minor league seasons.
“I think we obviously added some really, really good prospects to our organization, different position, outfield, infield, pitchers, a number of players, and obviously, they need to continue to grow and come up and help us,” Girardi said.
These moves are about the long term, and about building the franchise from the bottom up.
“I know that’s part of this job,” Girardi said of accepting the long-term moves. “You know I’ve been very fortunate with the players that we’ve had here the years that I’ve been here, whether it’s since I was a player or coach or manager or whatever I was here, it’s been a long run. I’ve been blessed to be on good things as a player and manager. I never worry about my job, I just don’t. I’ve been extremely blessed and had opportunities that I never imagined that I would have. It’s my faith that carries me through that.
“It’s a new chapter, as I said, and there’s going to be some new guys that get a chance, and I’m excited about that.”
The Yankees are a team with a high standard, and eras defined by legends. The excitement is which one of these youngsters will rise up and join the likes of Ruth, Mantle, and Jeter.