The Yankees awoke to a brand-new world Sunday morning. Or at least most of them did. Brian Cashman said he didn’t sleep a wink, fretting over the next step in how to rebuild his pinstriped infrastructure.
That’s right — rebuild.
That’s the dirty word everyone in the Bronx refused to utter because, evidently, the Yankees didn’t see themselves as mortal beings. They didn’t get old or tired or used up. And 27 world titles meant winning No. 28 was inevitable, because the Yankees insisted they wanted it more, and would spare no expense for another trophy.
Well, guess what? This season, the Yankees discovered they’re no different from everyone else, and certainly not any better. They have the financial might of Fort Knox, sure. But after they flirted with mediocrity for months, Cashman ultimately came to the conclusion that his team was broken and that it was time to fix the future rather than do a patch job on the present.
Trading Aroldis Chapman, as the general manager explained last week, was an easy call. A one-year rental netted him the Cubs’ top prospect in Class A shortstop Gleyber Torres along with two other promising minor-leaguers. But shipping Andrew Miller to the Indians, as the Yankees did early Sunday? That was hard.
Swapping Miller for a package of four prospects, including highly regarded outfielder Clint Frazier, was conceding any shot at No. 28 before the end of July, usually a taboo strategy for any Steinbrenner.
This time, however, Cashman didn’t have to convince The Boss to strip his franchise for parts. He had to persuade Hal, who was smart enough to understand that rebooting the system for another championship run is more important than trying to salvage this wreck.
“We try to execute sound business decisions,” Cashman said. “That’s why this doesn’t feel different, because we’re just executing what we think are the best, sound decisions under the current circumstances. If we operate that way always, I think we’ll come out ahead most of the time.”
Players such as Chapman and Miller, Carlos Beltran and Ivan Nova, even Brian McCann and Nathan Eovaldi, will never be more valuable to the Yankees than they are right now as trade chips to be used for a brighter, younger future. By restocking the farm system, Cashman not only creates a talent surplus for the Bronx but also collects assets that someday can be swapped for more established stars rather than overspending in the free-agent cycle.
This Yankees season is a failure. Cashman admitted as much Sunday while discussing the recent moves, saying the team “had not performed up to expectations — expectations that I’ve set, so I’m responsible for that.”
Each season, there’s a handful of GMs that speak variations of that statement. Some don’t get the opportunity that Cashman has at this moment, to make something good out of a bad situation, to be the architect of better days ahead.
Cashman — with Steinbrenner’s blessing — turned a pair of very good relief pitchers into seven prospects, two of them (Frazier and Torres) the top-rated players in their organizations.
There are no guarantees, of course. But Cashman went as far as to suggest the Yankees’ system now is more the way it was when he first came aboard in the late 1980s. That group, of course, produced the Core Four, helped set the foundation for a dynasty and kicked off a spectacular run of 18 playoff appearances in 21 years, a stunning achievement.
Since 2012, however, the Yankees have been in a persistent decline, temporarily propped up by fading stars while also being paralyzed by bloated contracts that can’t expire fast enough. As Cashman said Sunday, the old methods don’t work anymore. The Steinbrenner spending sprees that allowed them to monopolize talent can’t happen.
So the Yankees are taking an unfamiliar route, one we’re not used to seeing in the Bronx.
“The industry and the operating standards are completely different today,” Cashman said. “If you want to become a super-team, there’s certain ways to go about that.”
Trading Chapman and Miller was a new chapter in the Yankees’ mission statement, with more likely to come.