Matthews: Yankees Keep Getting Younger, and Maybe, Better

There is a better than good chance that when the Yankees take the field for their first full-squad spring training workout next February, the position player with the longest tenure in pinstripes will be Jacoby Ellsbury.

Assuming the Yankees trade Brett Gardner this winter — not an outlandish assumption considering their apparent efforts to remake the entire roster virtually overnight — Ellsbury will also be the oldest position player on their roster, heading for his 34th birthday in September.

Youth movement, here we come.

The trade of Brian McCann to the Houston Astros for a couple of minor-league pitching prospects leaves Gardner as the only position player holdover from the 2009 championship team and Ellsbury as the only other everyday player to even have been a Yankee for more than three years.

For a team that showed remarkable consistency of personnel for nearly a generation — the Core Four played together for the better part of 15 years and Bernie Williams was with them for 10 — it is almost nearly as remarkable a transformation.

McCann put up decent numbers as Yankee, averaging 23 homers and 75 RBI per season, but I think more was expected from him out of homer-friendly — especially for lefthanded hitters — Yankee Stadium 3.0. And the emergence of Gary Sanchez in August and September only emphasized how much more the Yankees thought they could get out of the catcher’s spot in the lineup.

The trade of McCann, one of the clubhouse leaders and a universally respected handler of pitchers, means that next year, the oldest player in the Yankees infield will be Chase Headley, at 32 on Opening Day, and the reading from right to left it might well be 24-year-old Greg Bird, with 157 lifetime big-league at-bats, at first; Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius, both 27, at second and short, and Headley at third. Assuming Aaron Judge (24) cracks the starting outfield, and perhaps Tyler Austin (25) at DH, the average age of the Yankees lineup could drop from a league-high 30 to a very competitive 24.3. And that’s with Gardner remaining in left.

It is a stunning admission by the Yankees front office that the team rebuild (or reload, if you prefer) following the 2009 World Championship has not been a success; the team has won just two playoff series in the past seven years despite spending more than a half-billion on free agents.

Since last July, the Yankees have divested themselves of Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and now McCann. That is not only nearly $80 million in salary but nearly 150 years  of combined age. Like all pro sports, Major League Baseball is a young man’s game and the Yankees certainly will be that.

The tradeoff, of course, is in experience, and it may be asking a lot, and maybe too much, to expect Bird, Austin, Judge and AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Sanchez to immediately jell into a contending team. There will undoubtedly be growing pains and setbacks and regressions, because quite frankly it would be unnatural if there were not.

But if nothing else, the Yankees are building the kind of nucleus that carried the Cubs to their historic World Series win this year, and the type of foundation from which the last Core Four sprung.

Time will tell if these players are good enough to develop into that kind of a team.

But of all the criticisms we are likely to hear about the 2017 New York Yankees, strike one from the lexicon.

No one will be able to say they’re too old.


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