Faced with the prospect of a meaningless season and holding a number of tradeable assets, New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman was asked by NJ Advance Media’s Joe Giglio in June about the last time the team was a seller at the trade deadline. Cashman was stumped.
“Couldn’t remember last time,” he said. “I’d have to run through the transactions. We’ve done it. We just don’t do a lot of it because we’re always trying to win today. That’s the job description. All moves, for the most part, are designed to help you immediately.”
Cashman can be excused for not having an immediate recollection of the Yankees’ last fire sale. He had just graduated from college in 1989, when New York sold off Rickey Henderson to the A’s and Mike Pagliarulo to the Padres. Most of the players the Yankees acquired in a flurry of deals over the past week or so weren’t even born yet. But now the franchise is hoping that those prospects eventually will become the faces of the franchise down the road.
It was quite a haul: Shortstop Gleyber Torres, acquired in the deal that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs last week, is just 19 and was immediately ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Yankees’ farm system when the deal was made, according to MLB.com. His reign lasted all of six days. Outfielder Clint Frazier, one of four minor leaguers acquired from the Indians on Sunday in exchange for Andrew Miller, is only 21 and is the franchise’s new No. 1 prospect. New York also got 22-year-old right-hander Dillon Tate (No. 11) from the Rangers in Monday’s Carlos Beltran deal with the Rangers and 21-year-old outfielder Billy McKinney (No. 16) as part of the Chapman trade.
Whether those prospects ever pay off obviously remains to be seen, and history suggests there could be some immediate pain in the Yankees’ future: New York finished 74-87 in that last fire-sale year in 1989 and was even worse the next season. Things didn’t turn around for good until the mid-’90s, when the team’s homegrown talent (Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettite and Mariano Rivera) combined with some savvy veteran moves (Paul O’Neill, David Cone, Tino Martinez, etc.) to form a title-winning monster. The Yankees haven’t been sellers since.
Whether the team’s fans — who have spent two decades warming to the idea of the Yankees as World Series contenders if not favorites — stick with them is another matter. Here’s Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News:
Losing is not in the DNA of Yankees fans, including the ones who buy those high-priced season ticket subscriptions. With the Bombers in rebuilding mode, are these fans going to continue paying the price to watch a losing team selling hope for a brighter future?
While optimism abounds over Cashman’s plan, the Yankees’ business reality doesn’t change. Fans may not care about the team’s profit and loss statement, but if the Yankees’ down-the-road focus leads to four or five seasons of red ink, it could negatively impact the team’s payroll and Cashman’s ability to sign free agents to “supplement” these highly touted prospects.
But then again, this air of frugality had been in the works for a while now. The Yankees did not spend a dime in free agency during the last offseason, and the departures of Beltran, Chapman and Ivan Nova (dealt to the Pirates for two players to be named) plus soon-to-be free agent Mark Teixeira will cut $50 million from the team’s payroll. Big, leaden contracts (Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia) will still load them down next season, but clearing the decks to maybe get under the luxury tax and make a run at Bryce Harper when his free agency hits in 2018 seems to be the plan.
All these prospects should be just about ready to go by then, too, and the Yankees could be exchanging a few years of pain for another dynasty down the line.