After dropping two of three to the last-place Toronto Blue Jays, the New York Yankees enter the weekend at 70-63, looking up at Baltimore, Cleveland and Oakland in the race for the second American League wild-card spot, and, according to Baseball Prospectus' postseason probabilities, own just a 3.8 percent chance of playing in October.
Three weeks ago, Yankees manager Joe Girardi thought his team would need to find a way to 93 wins to qualify for the playoffs. If he's right, New York would need to reel off 23 of their last 29 games. Even if he was a bit high with the magic number, the Yankees would likely need to go at least 20-9 down the stretch to put themselves within earshot of a wild-card berth.
In other words, barring an unforeseen run of dominance from a team that has been outscored (529-535) for the season, the 2013 Yankees won't be planning a World Series parade in early November.
I want A-Rod to carry the Yankees to the World Series then retire with a "Eh, I don't need it anymore" the day before the appeal decision.— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) August 5, 2013
As the Yankees fanbase accepts this fact, optimism towards the future always reigns for a franchise that has won 27 World Series championships, but when is a realistic timetable for No. 28?
To be totally fair, the Yankees are competing and gunning for a World Championship every single season. Even in a "down" year, the team will likely win 85-plus games. Since 1995, the franchise has missed the postseason once. That season, 2008, was an 89-win campaign that some franchises would take in a heartbeat.
With the addition of the second wild-card berth in each league, ruling the Yankees out of a championship window in 2014 is nonsensical, but projecting forward makes it hard to realistically imagine a title before the 2015 season.
Unless the organization relents on their self-imposed mandate to lower their payroll under the $189 million tax threshold for 2014, the roster that enters spring training next February likely won't be much better than the team on the field now.
In fact, it actually has the potential to be much, much worse.
The future of impending free agents like Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda is in doubt. If multiple members of that group depart, the team would have extraordinary holes to fill.
In Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, the team can't realistically know what to expect out of its left side of the infield. When healthy and eligible to play, Rodriguez is showing his bat still has major life. Despite his issues at shortstop, a healthy Jeter can still hit enough to profile as a top-of-the-order hitter. Yet, there's no guarantee 2014 will be better than 2013 for either.
As for the players locked into lucrative, long-term contracts, both CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira have something to prove. Sabathia, the former staff ace, must show he can regain the form that made him one of the most consistent and durable arms in the sport. Tex, the former iron man, defensive wizard and on-base machine, must prove he's still a run-producing bat in the middle of the order.
Assuming New York's reluctance to pay big money to Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza or Masahiro Tanaka, the 2014 Yankees will need to prove doubters wrong and overachieve to contend for a title.
In 2015, however, things could change quickly.
The aftermath of a dark October 2008 in the Bronx was felt quickly and swiftly around Major League Baseball.
Within months, nearly $500 million was spent on reinforcements like Sabathia, Teixeira and A.J. Burnett. This time, due to the benefits of waiting one year and resetting their luxury tax threshold, the Yankees could go bananas in the 2015 free-agent market.
Between Colby Rasmus, Nick Markakis, Homer Bailey, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw, the ability to improve vastly is there for a team with a big wallet.
At 25 Kershaw having great year and headed to free agency after 2014 season; likely to top Verlander ($180M/7yrs) and Hernandez ($175M/7)— Eric Macramalla (@EricOnSportsLaw) August 26, 2013
Factor in a farm system that features talent in the lower levels, and the 2015 Yankees could feature a team with expensive free agents mixed with youth, or, as many would dream in Yankee land, trade some of that young talent for dynamic talents on cost-cutting teams.
The idea of projecting a lineup, moves for other contenders and how minor league prospects will progress is close to impossible, but with the AL East looking like a bear again in 2014, the Yankees' reluctance to spend big this winter and a potentially game-changing free-agent class prior to 2015, the best bet for a Yankee return to dominance is two years down the road.