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How the Yankees can remain contenders through their rebuild

Last week on this site, Ben Diamond wrote that the Yankees might be approaching a brief drop in the standings as they prepare for the massive off-season in 2018 that could feature Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Manny Machado, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey and eleventy-seven other All-Stars.

A year ago I would have wholeheartedly agreed with Ben’s assessment. In fact, last September as a second straight non-playoff season wound to its end, I wrote that the Yankees were “destined for a down period, the type every other team goes through every few years, and this time there’s not much they can do about it.”

But the Yankees defied my expectations and reached the playoffs in 2015 thanks to surprising contributions from some players — notably Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran — that I had assumed to be dead money.

Still, three months ago I still assumed a short rebuild period was on the way. The Yankees’ 87 wins in 2015 didn’t seem repeatable with the team’s core aging and its depth chart stuck with some hard-to-fill holes. Brian Cashman’s commitment to youth meant the Yankees’ wouldn’t sacrifice prospects to restock the current team, which meant they would stumble through the next three years making due with what they had.

Then, Cashman went out and traded for Aaron Hicks, Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman and parted with only a backup catcher, middle reliever and four largely insignificant prospects. Suddenly the 2016 Yankees appear better on paper than last year’s team, and 85 wins looks like the floor for the upcoming season.

After all that’s happened in the last calendar year, from a surprise playoff berth to an impressive off-season, I’ve come to believe the Yankees can in fact have it all. Cashman is walking a tightrope, trying to contend while counting down the years until Teixeira, Rodrguez, Beltran and CC Sabathia come off the books and a crop of superstars becomes available. He’s not only kept from falling during this high-wire act, he seems to have kept himself impeccably balanced.

Despite his pessimistic view of the short-term future, Ben concedes the Yankees will probably compete for a playoff spot in 2016. This will be a team without stars, but thanks to Cashman, one without serious holes, especially if a mid-rotation starting pitcher arrives before Opening Day.

Let’s fast-forward to 2017. Teixeira and Beltran will be off the books, and Greg Bird and Aaron Judge will likely inherit playing time with their departures. The Yankees will likely still have to pay Chase Headley, Brian McCann, A-Rod and Jacoby Ellsbury more money than they’re worth, but a young position-player core will be in place, and by that time the Tanaka-Severino-Pineda-Eovaldi starting rotation will have hit its prime.

There’s little sense in predicting as far into the future as 2018, but it seems reasonable to assume much of the emerging group of 20-somethings will remain assembled, with other additions to prop them up. Cashman has shown in recent years an impressive ability to acquire real big-league value without sacrificing much of consequence. Eovaldi cost David Phelps. Didi Gregorius cost Shane Greene. Starlin Castro cost Adam Warren. No general manager wins every trade, but Cashman seems to be coming close. If there’s any executive in baseball I trust to make the kinds of incremental improvements that boost a team from 80 wins to 85, or from 85 to 90, it’s the guy running the Yankees.

Ben’s forecast for a Yankee decline rests on the idea that though the 2015 core was overpaid, it provided value that will likely dwindle over the next few years. And while this is true, it doesn’t take into account the group whose value will presumably increase between now and 2018. The progression of Gregorius, Eovaldi, Severino, Pineda, Castro, Bird and Judge, plus any additions Cashman makes over the next few off-seasons, should counteract some of the graying and keep the Yankees above water. Like the 2013-15 Yankees, the 2016-18 squads will feature several high-mileage players trending downward. But unlike recent teams, these next few will also include a promising group of youngsters.

The Yankees are rebuilding, but so far they’ve managed to prepare for the future without totally sacrificing the past. It’s a tough act to pull off, but right now it appears to be working.

They likely won’t be great team at any point during the next three years, but the Yankees might very well be better from 2016-18 than they were from 2013-15. At the very least it remains quite possible they remain above .500 and in playoff contention each season until the 2018 cavalry comes to join the prospects and restore the Yankees to glory.

Lead photo: Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports

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3 comments on “How the Yankees can remain contenders through their rebuild”

Les Schraeder

Cashman has done a masterful job of keeping the Yankees relevant. With Teixeira and Beltran scheduled to come off the books this year and perhaps even C.C., the team will be in a position to make more moves. It all comes together after 2017 when A-Rod and C.C. will be gone. It appears that there is enough up and coming prospects to fill some of the voids. Exciting times are ahead for Yankee fans.


I like Cashman and while he has done a very good job keeping the Yankees in contention year after year he has also done a very poor job in giving out monster contracts, overpaying players and providing no trade clauses. It seems most of the time he does either a great job or a terrible job. Let’s not forget that all the contracts we are waiting to get off the books are Cashman deals, unless we all want to blame ownership.


Great article, many of my friends have been talking about this exact theory. The Yanks unfortunately cannot be that team that says hey we are out by 6 games after the all star break and we do not have a championship team so lets trade Cano before he becomes a free agent. They also never draft at top of the the Draft. So Cash has to rebuild while keeping the owners happy which means fans in the seat and team interesting. He has the toughest GM position in baseball and I think he is the best at it. I also think he cannot miss on any of our prospects and trade them away because we need to build a young core. I think we have something exciting going on and my idea of what the Yankees will look like in 2019 will be a little different from what many feel they should look like but if they somehow contend the next three years and who nows maybe get lucky and have a huge playoff run which is a crap shoot anyways and win another World Championship it should never change the plan which is the 2018 free agency class.
Heres my NY Yankees roster in 2019:

Catcher Gary Sanchez and Luis Torrens
1st Bird
2nd Mateo
3rd Arnaldo (this is a big iffy and a theory but we trade Didi and others for him)
SS Holder (yes his bat which has potential with little miss and gold glove is our SS)
Outfield: Judge in RF, Harper in LF, Elsbury, Heathcott, Hicks CF
Bench: Castro, Refsnyer

Starters: Severino, Kaprilean, Clarkin, Acevedo, and Harvey (Tanaka hopefully stays healthy and takes opt out and we choose not to resign)
Relievers: Chapman, Betances, Lindgren, Pazos, Rumbelow, and Goody

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