As the calender turns to July, the 2013 New York Yankees are teetering on the brink of last place in the American League East. While their overall record (42-39) isn't poor, the team is on a five-game losing streak and stumbling into Minnesota for a four-game set with the Twins looking more destined to hit the All-Star break in the division cellar rather than turning a corner.
At this stage, 30 days prior to the trade deadline, it's hard to pinpoint how the Yankees can markedly improve their roster.
The farm system lacks high-ceiling impact players that are ready to contribute. The cavalry of injured stars (Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Michael Pineda) all won't arrive until at least after the All-Star break, if not later. The major league roster doesn't possess many players that would be attractive in swaps for offensive upgrades.
Fortunately, the AL East, while good from top to bottom, likely doesn't possess a 95-plus win team capable of running away from the pack. While the Boston Red Sox have looked like the best squad from Opening Day, there's little reason to believe they have enough, especially with the oft-injured Clay Buchholz and shaky bullpen, to dominate for six straight months.
If the Yankees brass objectively assessed the state of the division, there's little reason to believe the team can win as presently constituted, but, possibly at some point soon, there may have to be internal discussions about if this group will ever be good enough, even when/if the reinforcements arrive.
It's quite possible that the Yankees, after two decades of dominance, are simply a .500 team, destined for fourth or fifth in a historically great division and far from true contention, even with the possibility of adding a marginal upgrade.
Of course, that begs the question: If the Yankees deem themselves in a hole too deep to dig out of in 2013, should they sell? In other words, should Brian Cashman give up on the season to better 2014 and beyond?
While the answer is complicated by the Yankees' business model and strategy for competing on a year-to-year basis, playing meaningful September and October baseball and posting high ratings and attendance figures, the baseball part of the equation is slightly more simple to understand.
If the stars aligned, literally and figuratively, it would make sense to sell, retool and cash in the chips for 2013.
For those hoping the Yankees' malaise lasts for the next three months, don't count on it happening.
The roster simply isn't built to move talent in exchange for a better tomorrow, and the few assets that are simply aren't movable for reasons that have little to do with WAR, cost-effectiveness or market value.
Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, three veteran arms that would impact the pennant races and aren't tied to long-term deals and all possess no-trade clauses. Kuroda has a history of invoking his contractual rights in the interest of comfort. For Pettitte and Rivera, their value to the Yankee brand and fan reaction in the aftermath of a move would destroy the momentum for a deal before traction occurred.
Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, two young arms with untapped potential, have reached the end of their time with New York as both near free agency this coming winter. Either could be revitalized in a new location, but expecting any team to give up legitimate value for underachieving arms is ludicrous.
Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano represent two star hitters that would bring back varying degrees of value, but can't be moved this month for major, yet distinct, reasons.
Granderson is completing his second DL stint of the season, costing New York the opportunity to showcase a healthy, rare power-hitting center fielder. Before assuming that most teams wouldn't surrender value for an impending free agent outfielder over the age of 30, remember that the San Francisco Giants traded Zack Wheeler for an old, oft-injured power-hitting outfielder in Carlos Beltran just a few years ago.
Cano, of course, represents the present and future of the Yankees franchise. Trading him away, just months from free agency, wouldn't just throw in the white towel on 2013, but rather signal a long-term rebuilding effort by the biggest franchise in professional sports. It's not just unrealistic. It's almost impossible to imagine.
If Rivera was, say, Joe Nathan, or Granderson was healthy and hitting home runs, moving away from those players would be feasible. If Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain were excelling, thus pricing themselves out of New York's long-term plans, a suitor might emerge. If the best prospects in the system were closer to the big leagues, perhaps moving on from the status quo would make sense.
Mostly, though, if the Yankees were really, really bad and the top of the AL East was great, Cashman would have little choice but to concede the season.
Instead, the 2013 season is shaping up as a perfect storm of mediocrity and false hope in the Bronx.