Despite the celebrated arrivals of Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin, the Yankees’ youth movement is not without collateral damage. The deadline fire sale likely torched their slim playoff chances, and it’s also made core players such as Brian McCann suddenly obsolete.
Such is the high cost of rebuilding in the Bronx, however. And by installing Sanchez as the everyday catcher — the job he now seems to own going forward — the Yankees are going to require an expensive exit strategy for McCann this winter.
Already, McCann has been reduced to Sanchez’s backup and a part-time DH. Problem is, he’s still owed $34 million through 2018, and has a full no-trade clause. That could allow McCann to insist his $15-million option for ’19 is guaranteed to sign off on any deal, which is a serious financial commitment to a catcher turning 33 in February.
Figure the Yankees to eat a large chunk of that salary. But for them, that’s a small price to pay if what they’ve seen from Sanchez so far is legit. Sanchez slugged his fifth homer in Wednesday’s 7-4 loss to the Blue Jays, a 426-foot blast to dead-center that landed on the netting above Monument Park. He’s hitting .360 (18-for-50) with 11 RBIs in 13 games, and at 23 years, 259 days old, he was the youngest Yankee to start in the cleanup spot before Sept. 1 since Don Mattingly in 1984 (at 23 yrs., 103 days).
That’s legendary company, but also speaks to where the Yankees are right now, knee-deep in a pinstriped rebuild that has them welcoming the next generation while trying to dump the old. It’s been a messy process, and only will get worse for some in the days ahead because McCann, Mark Teixeira and others will be forced to the bench to give the youngsters necessary experience.
The Yankees cleared out Alex Rodriguez after an ill-conceived, weeklong farewell tour through Fenway Park that luckily came to a fan-friendly conclusion in the Bronx. They picked up the $27-million tab for his remaining contract, but at least he’s no longer around. With McCann, Joe Girardi has the awkward duty of finding him occasional work, basically biding time until he can be traded.
Two years ago, McCann was part of the Yankees’ $500-million spending splurge designed to deliver another title. Now he’s a costly obstacle standing in the way of the future, and McCann knows it. When first asked about what lies ahead for him, McCann thought carefully before answering.
“Listen, um . . . he’s a stud,” McCann said. “This is a time when he’s going to play and play a lot. He’s a future All-Star. There’s not many guys walking around with his talent. He’s one of the best young catchers I’ve seen since I’ve been in the big leagues.”
Pressed again on the possibility of time running out for him in the Bronx, McCann added, “I’m not thinking of anything past tomorrow.”
McCann is a great guy, and a solid mentor for Sanchez. But no player in his current situation is that shortsighted. He’s reportedly cleared waivers, enabling the Yankees to deal him before the next Aug. 31 deadline. But with the amount of money coming to McCann, and the negotiations the Yankees will need to do to maybe squeeze a decent prospect from any trading partner, it’s a deal that probably has to wait until the winter, as Hal Steinbrenner suggested Wednesday at the MLB owners’ meetings in Houston.
“It was always the case that Sanchez at some point was going to come up and hopefully come up to stay,” Steinbrenner told reporters there. “So we’ll cross that bridge in the offseason when we come to it, but McCann’s a great player, too.”
The Yankees still have another six weeks to evaluate Sanchez as they draft a blueprint for ’17 and beyond, but the projections look accurate. They’re hoping for the same from Judge and Austin. The pair made history Saturday by becoming the first teammates to both hit home runs in their first major league plate appearances in the same game — an immediate reward for Steinbrenner’s commitment to the Yankees’ top prospects.
“I was emotional,” Steinbrenner said. “It doesn’t happen often. I’m very excited about this.”
Although the early performance is promising, this is only the beginning for the Steinbrenner-endorsed plan. But the Yankees’ historic makeover is well underway.