NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Mets officials surely had a hard time sleeping Monday night as it appeared that Chris Sale was only hours away from joining the Nationals’ rotation in a multi-prospect swap. The addition of Sale would have been a sobering counterpunch to Yoenis Cespedes’ giddy re-up in Flushing, and a nightmare scenario for the team trying to dethrone the NL East champs.
By Tuesday afternoon, however, Sale was no longer of any concern to the Mets. In a stunning turn of events, it was the Red Sox who leapfrogged the Nats to claim Sale by trading four premier prospects, including elite infielder Yoan Moncada and rifle-armed Michael Kopech.
Just like that, Sale suddenly became the Yankees’ problem, switching his Sox to bolster a rotation that already contains AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and David Price, a regular-season ace with October issues. In the not-too-distant past, such a bold move by the Bostonians would have merited some sort of response in the Bronx, the type of brinkmanship play this arm’s race deserves.
But those days are over, or at least on hold, as the Yankees instead look to continue a rebuilding process set in motion by last July’s fire sale. Minutes after the Sale trade became official, a relaxed Brian Cashman, sitting on a hotel bed, credited the Red Sox with a “wow” move, a legit blockbuster. But the GM also denied the shock waves would do anything to derail the Yankees’ own big-picture goals.
As much as the Yankees desperately need another front-line starter to pair with Masahiro Tanaka, Cashman refuses to “back up the truck” and unload his best prospects to do it. And now he’s fine dealing with the consequences of Sale pitching for his club’s bitter rival, a team Cashman compared Tuesday to the Golden State Warriors.
“Right now, we’re on a different time frame,” Cashman said. “As long as we stick to the plan, we’ll be better off in the long run.”
Normally, that would be a surprising admission from the Yankees, a franchise whose mission statement every season is supposed to be winning the World Series. But Cashman — with owner Hal Steinbrenner’s backing — has greatly tempered those expectations since selling off his best assets at the Aug. 1 trade deadline, so it’s hardly been business as usual in the Bronx.
Seeing what the White Sox extracted from Boston’s Dave Dombrowski, a GM who’s never blinked at stripping a farm system, Cashman was fine sitting on his own top prospects. The Red Sox spent roughly $63 million to outbid the Yankee and initially land Moncada (ironically enough, he’s drawn comparisons to Robby Cano) and Kopech, whose triple-digit fastball/nasty slider combo reminds some of Noah Syndergaard.
Getting swept by old pal Terry Francona in the Division Series probably nudged the Sox to push the envelope this winter. But the Yankees don’t seem to be bending to any external pressures, and Sale heading to Fenway didn’t appear to rattle Cashman. Gary Sanchez’s meteoric rise and Sunday’s (still unofficial) acquisition of Matt Holliday should make the Yankees better equipped to battle tough lefties like Sale. If not, well, they don’t seem to mind waiting for their young roster to mature.
“We’re getting there,” Cashman said. “We’re proud of the progress we’re making.”
As for the rest of us, this version of the Yankees, the brick-by-brick renovation, is taking some getting used to. Cashman said he has offers out to both Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, so he’s still prepared to give one of them a record contract for a closer, probably north of $80 million. That should help them be competitive, and maybe a wild-card threat, if Cashman can scrape up another decent starting pitcher from somewhere (he was skeptical).
In Cashman’s view, the Yankees have too much internal work to do to sweat the Sale trade, which was a very different takeaway than the Mets, who were thrilled to see him remain in the American League. The last thing they needed was to have the Nats pair him with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, a trio that would give them a nuclear option in their divisional showdowns.
“I really thought for sure he was going to end up in Washington,” Terry Collins said. “We dodged a bullet.”
Then again, it’s still early. There’s a chance for more restless nights ahead.