The downtrodden possibility is completely realistic.
The New York Yankees, for so many years now, have mostly avoided it. Through all the aging, declining and pain, the organization has never punted on a big league season in recent memory by accepting their place within the American League East.
When tough times have come, it hit the phones to pry away midseason help. When the playoffs have been missed, it opened the vault and drowned the free-agent market in oceans of money.
Yankees spend big in the offseason after missing playoffs. • 2008-09: $441 million • 2013-14: $471 million— His And Hers (@HisAndHers) January 22, 2014
Whatever the solution, right or wrong, the Yankees have never allowed themselves to give up on a season. Even when things have looked grim early, the current front office has never sat on its hands.
This year, however, might provide the stiffest and most important test of patience in general manager Brain Cashman’s 18 years on the job, especially when you consider the team is off to its worst nine-game start since 1991.
The outlook for the Yankees going into this season was fair enough but cloaked in uncertainty. If Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda stay healthy, they could be fine. If Mark Teixeira could trudge his way through 600 plate appearances, the middle of the lineup could be decent. If Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran could find younger forms, the offense might be dangerous. If CC Sabathia could just be average in the third or fourth spot in the rotation, they could have one of the better rotations in the division. If Alex Rodriguez could do anything right, they could have something there.
The “ifs”have piled up for this team, and chances are not all of them will work in the Yankees’ favor. Chances are the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and even the Tampa Bay Rays will be just as good or better than them.
If that is the case—a much more reasonable “if” than the ones the Yankees are counting on—Cashman and principle owner Hal Steinbrenner have to resist putting gauze and bandages on a terminal illness.
That means not depleting their farm system, again, in order to find a quick fix again. The system is starting to recover from years of drafting low, trading away prospects for big league crutches and a bit of neglect when signing high-end free agents cost them draft picks.
But as the Yankees attempt to steer themselves toward more frugal ways, keeping their budding system intact should be the priority more so than making a hollow run at the postseason, assuming their season comes to that.
Less than two weeks into this season, of course it has not. But going for it via the blockbuster trade(s) might be as tempting as ever for Cashman and/or Steinbrenner seeing as how the system is now producing fruit and depth. Going bananas on the international market during this signing period certainly helped. The team ignored and obliterated its international budget and spent $17.3 million, according to Baseball America, bringing on penalties and taxes, but they obviously deemed the investments worth the punishments.
“We’re much deeper now,” Cashman told Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal over the winter. “We’re much more flexible. We’re younger, more diverse”
Because of all this, several publications/websites—Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and ESPN.com among them—see the Yankees’ system as promising and on the upswing even if they still don’t rank them in the first 10 or 15.
That means the Yankees again have coveted prospects, ones that, when packaged together, could make them serious players for the best the trade market has to offer this summer.
That includes Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, whoever might be on the block.
“I’m open to anything,” Cashman told Rosenthal, generally speaking about the team’s future.
He should not be, though. Not unless dealing from the system brings back players equally as young, cheap and controllable. Because if this year starts rolling into a third consecutive one without a postseason, it will clearly be time for the Yankees to revamp through their lower levels.
This is no easy sell for the Yankees. The organization, its fanbase and even the media will not stand for anything resembling a “rebuild” in the Bronx. How dare they fill The Cathedral on East 161st St. with mediocrity?
Unfortunately, mediocrity has already been squatting in Yankee Stadium, and it is threatening to do so for a third consecutive summer. And this time around, there is no farewell tour for a future Hall of Famer to distract from the team behind the curtain.
What there is, though, is promise.
Cashman and his people have done a good job in the last couple years of replenishing a barren system that is again capable of giving the major league team hope from within.
All Cashman and Steinbrenner have to do to keep it alive is resist the eventual urge to purge it. Fight it back, and the farm will produce. Give in come July and those “if” scenarios will remain uptown for years to come.
All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.