The trade deadline is still six weeks away, but the Yankees are fast approaching a big decision. Or, at least they should be. Although an upcoming stretch against bad right handed pitching has thrown the Bronx Bombers a life line that will last until the end of June, the team’s decision makers should be focused on lessons learned from the last three years and two months, not the next eight games.
If the Yankees continue to struggle against the Twins and Rockies, there should be no doubt about how the team approaches the trade deadline. However, even if the Yankees were to breeze through what is by far the easiest portion of their schedule, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner should at least begin to lay the groundwork for a grand scale fire sale. Granted, the Yankees have never been an organization to throw in the towel so early in a season, but until recently, they weren’t the kind of team to eschew top free agents, including their own incumbents. By choice, and not necessity, the Yankees no longer operate as a franchise dedicated to winning at all costs, so, now, they must make the hard decisions that come with operating on a budget.
While the Yankees debate their deadline status, the rest of the league will be paying close attention. Perhaps no other team on the fringe of contention has as many marketable players as the Bronx Bombers. Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller might arguably be the three most coveted players who could be made available in July. By trading these three players alone, the Yankees could not only bolster their farm system with high-end prospects, but, perhaps, also acquire major league ready talent and/or shed an onerous contract or two.
How would Chapman look in Flushing? You can bet the Mets would love to find out. After all, they saw firsthand how important a dominant bullpen can be in the postseason. But, would they trade Zack Wheeler to get him? What about taking on half of Chase Headley’s remaining contract to boot?
Then there’s the Texas Rangers. Despite leading the AL West by a healthy 6.5 games, Texas also sports the second worst bullpen ERA in the majors. And, although the Rangers are a good bet to make the postseason without adding a reliever, Jeff Banister would probably love to have an arm like Miller available should there be another October rematch with Jose Bautista. What price would Texas pay for such a luxury? Is Joey Gallo too much? It wouldn’t hurt for the Yankees to ask.
Because of the extra wild cards, and abundance of mediocrity, the trade deadline has become a seller’s market, and this year, the Yankees have plenty of wares. In addition to the three chips mentioned above, the Yankees could also market the likes of Dellin Betances, Ivan Nova, and Brett Gardner. Who knows, even Mark Teixeira could become a potential rental if he returns healthy and productive (and would waive his no-trade clause). Regardless of the players involved, or the teams to which they are traded, the Yankees will have plenty of opportunities to make acquisitions that could positively impact the team down the road. The only obstacle to taking that course is the Yankees’ willingness to cut its losses and rebuild for the future.
Over the last four years, the Yankees’ commitment to fielding a championship team has rightly been called into question by its systematic reduction in payroll. That lack of investment has placed the team at a crossroads. Should the Yankees continue to pursue mediocrity, and hope the illusion of contention is sufficient to stabilize business interests (i.e., attendance, ratings and other brand-related derivatives)? Or, is it time for the Yankees to tear down the facade of competitiveness, and lay the foundation for renewed success on the field? As the team’s brain trust tries to wrap its head around that conundrum, hopefully a sober view of the recent past and a realistic outlook for the future will play a larger role than how well today’s Bronx Bombers perform against the Minnesota Twins.