For the Yankees, the time for talking is over. Asked constantly about their chances of contending this season, and harassed by the incessant buyer-or-seller debate, they should be able to shelve that conversation for another year. Now that we’re on the other side of the All-Star Game, the Yankees will decide that argument on the field, starting with this upcoming 10-game homestand against the Red Sox, Orioles and Giants.
“It has to happen now,” Carlos Beltran said during his two-day All-Star stay in San Diego. “I don’t think we’ve played our best baseball yet.”
Judging by what we’ve witnessed, and the Yankees’ .500 record (44-44) at the break, Beltran needs to be right. But what would you expect him to say? Since mid-May, it seems, the Yankees have faced questions about their legitimacy, with Brian Cashman pressed repeatedly on a date for the fire sale.
We never understood the rush. Maybe if you’re planning an October wedding, sure. It might make you a little anxious. But there’s no need to fret over Cashman holding on to his cards through the July 4 holiday. And look what happened. The Yankees cruised into their mini-vacay by taking three of four from the AL Central-leading Indians in Cleveland.
Climbing back to .500 doesn’t deserve a trophy. But 88 games is just a little more than half a season, so why would the Yankees, after investing $200 million in this year’s roster, have any intention of auctioning off the most valuable parts until a few hours before the 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline on Aug. 1?
Cashman has been getting calls on Aroldis Chapman since early June, and we’re fairly certain the names of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances have come up in those conversations as well. The Yankees should have no problem staying competitive if they flip Chapman, a sensible move regardless. But Miller, during his 1 1⁄2 seasons in the Bronx, has shown that he’s unfazed by the pressure, and Betances is a low-cost, homegrown talent that needs to remain as well.
We’ll assume, either way, the Yankees aren’t going the rebuilding route, and if they plan to be a contender (again) in 2017, Miller and Betances will be on board. Taking those arms off the table is going to disappoint some teams (Cubs, Giants, Nationals, Indians), but Cashman wasn’t going to overhaul the entire roster anyway.
While he’s traded for some next-generation players such as Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro to infuse some youth, Cashman still has his fingers crossed that Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino and maybe Rob Refsnyder can be part of the solution for a half-decade or so, if not longer.
The Yankees, in making the playoffs 18 of the last 21 years, don’t try to cash out on talent midway through a season, and Hal Steinbrenner’s recent directive has been to hold on to the top prospects. It can be a difficult way to do business, especially throwing bad money after good, like a seven-year, $153-million contact for Jacoby Ellsbury. After all, as commissioner Rob Manfred said this week, “baseball is cyclical,” which is a nice way of saying a team has to be lousy before it can succeed again.
Look at the Red Sox, who arrive Friday in the Bronx. They’ve rebuilt with a nucleus of young players, including three who started alongside 40-year-old David Ortiz in Tuesday’s All-Star Game: Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts. But also remember Boston sandwiched three last-place finishes around its 2013 World Series title, and still has enough rotation issues — even with David Price — to cloud their playoff forecast.
The Yankees don’t have a blueprint for getting back to the World Series, a place they’ve been once in the past dozen years. Or, for that matter, anything beyond a wild-card berth, which is still 5 1⁄2 games beyond their reach. But seeing how they do in the next week against the Red Sox and Orioles should be enough to give Cashman an idea of how to proceed in the days leading up to Aug. 1. And let the rest of us know if the ’16 Yankees are worth the time and effort.