ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The circumstances are strikingly similar.
The last time the Yankees were outright sellers at the trade deadline was 2016, with the determination to be sellers solidified during a three-game series at Tropicana Field.
As franchise insiders have long told it, Hal Steinbrenner, reticent to sell going into the series, showed up in person and watched his team flail away at the plate in a 5-1 loss in the series opener July 29. The loss dropped the Yankees to 52-50, six games behind the AL East-leading Orioles and 3 ½ games behind the Red Sox for the second AL wild-card spot.
Somewhat disgusted watching another lackluster performance from his aging, underperforming and injury-prone roster, Steinbrenner essentially threw up his hands and gave Brian Cashman permission to do what for at least two weeks the GM had been pushing to do: sell, sell, sell.
Cashman, who already had traded Aroldis Chapman that July 25 to the Cubs – he successfully acquired one of the sport’s top position prospects, Gleyber Torres, in the deal – did just that over the next three days, dealing Carlos Beltran, Andrew Miller and Ivan Nova.
The selloff went over as expected in the clubhouse, whose players were disappointed not in management but in themselves.
"We didn’t play good enough," then-catcher Brian McCann said. "We needed to win, and we didn’t do it."
Chase Headley, another veteran on the 2016 Yankees, echoed McCann.
"I came here to try to win a championship," he said. "That was my expectations coming here. Obviously, the way the team has performed up to this date — I don’t want to say has made this happen — but it’s obviously a large part of why this has happened. We just haven’t played well enough."
The 2021 Yankees entered their three-game series against the Rays Tuesday night 9 ½ games behind the Red Sox, though just two games in the loss column behind the A’s for the second AL wild-card spot (they trailed the Rays, second in the East, by eight games).
Like in 2016, Steinbrenner, who lives in the Tampa area, was expected at Tropicana Field at some point during this this series. And, like in 2016, the owner’s mindset coming into the Rays’ series is that he’s not inclined to sell.
"To these guys’ credit, they’ve continued to get off the mat time and time again," Aaron Boone said Sunday. "And we’ll do it again.’’
Boone spoke those words more in a hopeful tone than a convincing one and for good reason. The manager had just seen this club take the most recent worst-loss-of-the season, a 5-4 setback to the Red Sox at Fenway Park in which Boston scored all five runs in the eighth, an inning it entered without a hit.
Cashman often uses the word "worthy" when discussing a given year’s trade deadline and whether his club is that when it comes to being fortified with additional talent.
Taking his cue from Steinbrenner, Cashman has been working the phones in recent weeks looking to bring players in but, to this point, has found the asking prices when it comes to acquiring a potential difference-maker steep (so far teams like the Rangers, Rockies and Marlins have insisted on shortstop prospect Anthony Volpe being part of any package of significance, a player Cashman has told those teams, according to executives with those clubs, is currently "unavailable.")
Does Boone think the Yankees will make a big splash before Friday’s deadline?
"I know Cash and those guys are around the clock having those conversations with everyone. It’s one of those where it takes a couple to tango," Boone said last Friday in Boston. "We’ll see where these next several days lead us. I know those conversations are being had and deals are being bounced back and forth between teams in overdrive right now. We’ll just have to see."