Why do people love, hate, or otherwise have to acknowledge the New York Yankees? Because the franchise is the standard in not only baseball but all professional sports when it comes to winning. The Yankees have the best record in baseball history, the most World Series titles, more championships than any team in any sport, and the highest valuation. They’re those guys.
Modern fans are living through one of the club’s most successful eras. Since 1992, the Yankees posted a winning record every single year while winning five championships and making postseason appearances 20 times in 23 chances. Basically, if you’re a fan, you can’t get enough; if you root for a rival or a small-market hopeful, you have enough ammo to despise the Bronx Bombers for a lifetime.
But after this unprecedented run, the Yankees waved the white flag at the 2016 trade deadline. Saddled by an anemic offense and an erratic rotation, New York looked mostly like pretenders, and Brian Cashman convinced the House of Steinbrenner that the time, finally, had come to sell.
What a sale Cashman presided over. In the space of one eventful week, the Yankees GM unloaded two relievers, a slugging DH, and a mediocre starting pitcher — three of them rentals for less than half a season — to create one of the best farm systems in baseball. (Many scouts are calling it the best.) For once in his career, Cashman had the freedom to channel his inner Billy Beane, and by all accounts his performance was a triumph.
Will these prospects turn out to be the next Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, or Mariano Rivera? Only time will tell. Regardless, here are five ways the Yankees got better at the 2016 trade deadline.
1. The acquisition of Clint Frazier
We once said trading Andrew Miller was the dumbest thing we’d heard in 2016, and for a contending team that’s true. Even for a non-contending team, the idea of winning every game in which you have a lead is a beautiful thing. But rich people say everything has a price, and with the package of prospects that came from Cleveland, the Indians met Cashman’s sky-high price.
Highlighting the haul was Clint Frazier, who instantly becomes the Yankees’ top-rated prospect as a top-15 position player prospect. At 21, the right-handed-hitting outfielder has already torn through low-A and Double-A and will be assigned to the Yankees Triple-A affiliate in Scranton, Penn. He has elite bat speed, power, and the ability to steal bases. With the Yankees left with little pop in the outfield post-Beltran, the future looks a lot brighter with Frazier in it.
2. Gleyber Torres for two months of Chapman
Before acquiring Frazier in the Miller deal, Cashman had gotten the team’s previous top prospect in the deal that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs, who it turned out were pretty desperate for an elite reliever. Torres, at 19 years old, was Chicago’s top-rated prospect and features a complete game with his best attribute a strong throwing arm.
MLB Pipeline scouts say he profiles as a potential Major League shortstop or could slot into second base if a club wanted more range. Considering Chapman was acquired from Cincinnati for much less and only had two months left on the Yankees (barring an improbable postseason appearance), Cashman received tremendous value from the Cubs. A future shortstop is a massive upgrade over a reliever rental.
By the way, if the Yankees want Chapman back, all Cashman has to do is sign the reliever in the offseason when he becomes a free agent. The Cubs were unable to ink him to an extension.
3. The power to acquire an ace
While the Yankees had some attractive pieces in the farm system prior to the trade deadline, Cashman ended up with three top-100 prospects when it was said and done and a total of 12 young players from trades for Miller (4), Chapman (3), Beltran (3), and Nova (2). Some people say prospects are hit-or-miss while guys like Miller are fully vetted and performing on the Bronx stage.
That’s fine, but other teams are happy to take their chances on top prospects if the Yankees decide they won’t (a doubtful proposition, but we’ll entertain it). In other words, Cashman can make a deal in the offseason for an ace pitcher or slugging hitter with the stock he now has in the farm system. If the Yankees had that earlier in the season, they would have traded for a bat. Now Cashman can acquire whomever he likes.
4. Flexibility to test players for 2017
Like Chapman, Beltran was a rental with only two months of service left in pinstripes. With the slugging switch-hitter off to Texas for a significant prospect haul of his own, the Yankees are free to see what farmhand Aaron Judge and Rob Refsnyder can offer the club in right. Frankly, Beltran was the only consistent bat in the lineup, so if he stayed, there would have been fewer ways to plan for the future.
As it stands, manager Joe Girardi could play Judge in right or DH while Refsnyder continues his travels across the diamond and through the outfield. Maybe neither is ready for 2017, but it’s unlikely the organization would even know if it ran out the clock on 39-year-old Beltran’s contract.
5. The clearest case yet for releasing A-Rod
Now more than ever, Alex Rodriguez has no place on the New York Yankees. The team is no longer a band of retired gunslingers looking to pull off one last great title heist before riding off into the sunset. That was the 2016 Yankees; the Yankees of 2017 and beyond are younger and cheaper with a clear need for an impact bat at DH. Now Cashman has his case to cut loose A-Rod for good.
Hopefully, A-Rod will hit another four home runs and get to 700 by September so the Yankees can cross that off the list and put him on the bench to help the youngsters when the rosters expand. Once the season is over, you have to expect Cashman will use the financial flexibility he’ll have without Mark Teixeira, Chapman, and Miller aboard to buy a power bat on the free-agent market. The A-Rod era is over, and $20 million shouldn’t keep the Yankees from making it official.
Connect with Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY