The late, great Yogi Berra once said, “when you come to the fork in the road, take it!” The Yankees came to “the fork in the road” last season and they took it in the right direction.
The “fork in the road” actually began after Derek Jeter’s final season of 2014 but the Yankees were in denial until last season.
The Yankees made the playoffs in 2015 but it was a “one, score none and done” as they were blanked in a Wild Card game loss at home to the Houston Astros. As my NY Sports Day colleague, Wallace Matthews, wrote today in his column, “the team has won just two playoff series in the past seven years despite spending more than a half-billion on free agents.”
Earning that “pseudo” playoff berth was the worst thing to happen to the Yankees in 2015. Why? Because it stalled the inevitable.
When the word “rebuild” was invoked to the Yankees decision makers, a “Scrooge-like” reaction of “bah humbug” was usually the response that followed.
The Yankees have laid claim to this credo that “we’re the Yankees, we don’t rebuild”. You heard some of that early last season when it became increasingly apparent that the Yankees were not a playoff team and that an overhaul of the roster was needed to improve their future chances.
Lo and behold, even though they won’t admit it, the Yankees are rebuilding and they’re going about it the right way.
The “rebuild” began last season when the Yankees used relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman in trades that enhanced the farm system.
The additions of Glyber Torres, Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, among others, elevated the Yankee farm system from being unranked (according to MLB.com) at the beginning of the 2016 season to number two overall at the end of the season.
Torres’ play in the Arizona Fall League has the scouts salivating and he’s still only 19. Yankee fans have yet to see Frazier but sources who follow the minor leagues intently, tell me that the 22-year old will be a keeper and is a better all around prospect than Aaron Judge.
The Yankees needed to get more athletic and it appears that they’re trying to build a more versatile offense, one that will have power, but will not be so reliant on the long ball. Teams that “live and die” by home runs are usually the ones that come up short in the post-season.
With that in mind, the Yankees traded slugging catcher Brian McCann to the Astros in exchange for Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman, a pair of hard throwing right handed pitchers.
According to Baseball America, the 20-year old Abreu would’ve been listed as Houston’s 10th best prospect. That’s impressive when you take into account that he wasn’t even “on the radar” at the beginning of last season when it came to Houston’s top prospects. Guzman is being projected as a reliever who can “bring it” in the triple-digit range.
There’s been some mixed reaction to the deal. Some are saying the Yankees could’ve gotten more but you have to remember this, McCann had full control over his involvement in any trade so the Yankees were limited in their options.
The trade does appear to be a salary dump as the Yankees will be paying only $11 million of the remaining $34 million dollars over the next two years, but excuse the pun, it makes “cents” and goes right along with the program. If I may paraphrase that commercial for a car’s oil filter, the Yankees are not “paying now so they can pay later”.
Now, we all know that prospects are just that, prospects. There is no guarantee that any of these players will “pan out” or live up to their projections, but a little revisionist history is in order.
In the strike shortened season of 1981, the Yankees benefited from the work stoppage as they were awarded an automatic playoff berth from having been in first place in the AL East when play was halted.
The Yankees managed to beat the Milwaukee Brewers in five games and a young, but not ready to win, Oakland A’s team in the ALCS to make it to the World Series where they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games. With a full season, the ‘81 Yankee team may not have even made the playoffs, but they had the right ingredients for a run in the playoffs with solid starting pitching (Ron Guidry, Dave Righetti, Tommy John) and a dominant back end of the bullpen in Ron Davis and Goose Gossage. The Yankees, however, were an aging team (sound familiar) that was trying to duplicate their previous success in the late 1970’s.
The failure of the organization to come to grips with that fact set the team back. For the remainder of the decade Steinbrenner’s impatience produced teams that occasionally flirted with a post season berth, but they were “spinning their wheels” and were never strong contenders for a World Series title.
Steinbrenner was suspended in 1990 and after their fourth consecutive losing season in 1992, the hierarchy that ran the team in the owner’s absence knew they needed to go in a different direction.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Derek Jeter was drafted with the sixth overall pick; a key culture changing trade was made with the addition of Paul O’Neill and the rest of the “Core Four”, along with Bernie Williams, developed into a team that won four championships in five years. It didn’t hurt that the Yankees had Don Mattingly who was an underrated factor in the development of the young players.
During the past two off seasons, the Yankees actually began to get younger with the acquisitions of shortstop Didi Gregorius and second-baseman Starlin Castro but the youth movement went into another gear with the emergence of catcher Gary Sanchez last August.
What has gone somewhat unnoticed with their recent moves is that the Yankees have enhanced the overall depth throughout the organization. This gives the team the flexibility they would need to make a trade or two down the road.
The Yankees can’t expect to unveil another “core four” but with the moves they’ve made in the past few months and with Sanchez as a player to build around, they’ve got the beginnings of a return to “Great Expectations.”