Would the Yankees Ever Become True 'Sellers' at the MLB Trade Deadline?
If there ever was a year for it to happen, it's this year.
...Not that I'm counting on it, mind you.
Like, oh, pretty much everyone else, I had my doubts about the Bombers heading into the season. With guys like Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez out of commission, the Yanks went into Opening Day looking like a collection of pinstriped impostors.
But it turns out that the 2013 Yankees are a pretty good team. Not great, but pretty good. They're 10-8 entering Tuesday's action and in third place in the AL East. They've won nine of their last 13.
It helps that various stand-ins have been better than expected, most notably Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner, who have 10 of the club's 28 homers. They were supposed to be old and useless, but pinstripes have revived them just like they've revived so many other old guys over the years.
The immediate future could look better, as the Yankees would certainly prefer to have Jeter to return from his ankle injury sooner the All-Star break. The immediate future could also look a lot worse, though, as the returns of Teixeira and Granderson will only make a pretty good team even better.
Even if things do go bad, "bad" for the Yankees means treading water at .500. If it comes to that, general manager Brian Cashman will be looking to buy at the trade deadline rather than sell. Business as usual.
For an actual fire sale to happen, things would thus have to go worse than bad. Disastrously. Catastrophically. Tragically. Various other words that all mean "disastrously."
We're talking a record well under .500 in July and too much ground to make up in the AL East. If that's what it comes to, then selling at the deadline is going to be the most practical course of action. The smart money would be on the Yankees taking that road.
After all, based on the way the club has operated and is planning on operating in the near future, there's no better word than "practical" to describe the Yankees under Hal Steinbrenner.
The idea under Hal is still to win, just as it was when his late father was running the show. What's missing is the desperation and the recklessness that sometimes came with it in The Boss' reign.
With these things gone, there's little to stop the Yankees from holding a fire sale later this summer if things do end up going disastrously.
The 2013 Yankees are perfectly set up for a fire sale if one is needed, as they don't have a roster that they're looking at riding for several years. They have a roster that they're going to ride this year and this year only before massive changes are made over the winter. No matter what happens at the deadline, the Yankees' future beyond 2013 is uncertain.
The Yankees' roster features quite a few guys who could have considerable value at the trade deadline. Among these are the older guys who are only signed for this season: Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Hiroki Kuroda, Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner.
Right now, they're core members of the team. If disaster falls on the Yankees, they could be trade bait later on. Veteran players can be in demand at the deadline, and unless Cot's Baseball Contracts is lying to me, these guys don't have no-trade protection in their contracts.
With the possible exception of Kuroda, these guys aren't going to be in line for qualifying offers that would eventually net the Yankees a draft pick. As such, the Yankees are only going to be able to turn their old players into young players by dealing them.
Then there are the guys who should be in for qualifying offers at the end of the season, namely Granderson and Robinson Cano. The Yankees won't have to part with them at the deadline if they're well out of the race, as they'll stand to benefit from their departures even if they hang on to them.
Or the Yankees could read the market and decide that they're better off benefiting from the departures of Granderson and Cano at the trade deadline. That would involve them preferring prospects to picks.
Matthew Leach of MLB.com noted last July that the new qualifying offer system was impacting how teams were approaching rental players. Teams that trade for a player aren't allowed to make that player a qualifying offer at season's end, making it more risky for a team to give up the farm for a top-flight player. Unlike in years past, there's no compensation for said player if he walks as a free agent.
But this didn't stop the Los Angeles Angels from rolling the dice on a trade for Zack Greinke, who was easily the best pitcher available at the deadline last year. To get him, the Angels surrendered their top prospect, shortstop Jean Segura, to the Milwaukee Brewers.
The deal has panned out pretty well for the Brewers. It didn't take long for Segura to get the call to the majors last August, and so far this year he's a .359 hitter with an .890 OPS.
Had the Brewers chosen to hold on to Greinke, the qualifying offer they would have gotten for him would have yielded a compensatory draft pick that would have taken a few years to pan out. By choosing to deal him instead, they ended up with a young everyday shortstop who could be an All-Star for them this year and the year after that and so on.
If the Brewers could get such a good young player for Greinke, a guy who was only going to help the Angels down the stretch every fifth day, just imagine what the Yankees could get for everyday, star-level players like Granderson and/or Cano.
Either one of them could fetch the Yankees a top prospect at the deadline. If he keeps hitting like he's hitting now (.333/.390/.653), Cano would be able to fetch the Yankees an elite prospect in a trade, one who the Yankees could groom for everyday action in 2014 just like the Brewers did with Segura.
If such a trade were to go down, it wouldn't necessarily be the last of Cano's days in pinstripes. The Yankees could just go out re-sign him as a free agent. Maybe there would be some hard feelings on Cano's end, but the right offer could brush those aside. Of course, the Yankees are one of only a select few teams out there with the funds to make Cano a "right" offer.
These funds would also come in handy in helping the Yankees make deals at the deadline, as they'd be able to eat money in order to make potential trade partners more willing to part with young players who could bolster the Yankees' future.
If the Yankees were to hold a fire sale at the trade deadline that resulted in the departures of Cano, Granderson or, shockingly, Pettitte and/or Rivera, the Yankees would be waving a white flag for the first time in a long time.
Any other year, this wouldn't go over so well with the club's fanbase. Yankees fans don't have the hive mind that they're generally assumed to have, but it is true that, by and large, they expect the Yankees to win every year. As well the team should given its considerable resources.
Can you see the Yankees selling at the trade deadline if they're out of the race?
But things are different this year. Yankees fans saw that the team had an uncharacteristically quiet offseason, and they also know all about the club's plan to lower its payroll this winter. The Yankees are already asking their fans to bear with them. To be patient.
If the Yankees end up going into fire sale mode, they'll just be asking for more patience from a fanbase that already knows the drill.
Some would get fed up. Others would see the club's mind and understand that there'd be a good chance their patience would be rewarded. They'd understand that the club is long overdue for an overhaul and that, if carried out correctly, said overhaul could give rise to a new dynasty.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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