When the Astros went on a seven game losing streak last June, they called up eventual Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa. When the Blue Jays were eight games back on July 28th, they traded for Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Mark Lowe, and Ben Revere. When the Giants missed the playoffs the year after a World Series win, they signed Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, and Denard Span. A struggling team often needs a jolt of change to remedy their troubles, and calling up top prospects, making trades, and/or signing big name free agents are the most popular ways to do so. The Yankees are in a situation that needs changing right now, but none of the aforementioned options are possible for New York. To put it simply, they are stuck.
The Yankees don’t have a bad roster. In fact, the group of players Brian Cashman has put together is a very solid one. On paper, it’s capable of contending in 2016. Unfortunately, the Yankees have done anything but contend this season and the 8-15 team looks hopeless. It’s a confusing start; nobody expected the Yankees to be this bad, because the roster isn’t this bad. Theoretically, a winning team is somewhere in that roster, yet to be awakened. What may be needed is some kind of shakeup or spark plug that can snap them back into winning ways. One of the most effective ways to achieve this outcome is to promote a prospect, something that fans have been begging for since spring training began. Alas, that simply isn’t a realistic choice.
It isn’t that the Yankees’ farm system is devoid of talent, but there really isn’t a player that can be called up to instantly resuscitate the sleeping bats and arms. In recent days, Aaron Judge’s name has been thrown around quite a bit as a possible promotion candidate, but calling him up wouldn’t do a whole lot. Judge isn’t big league ready yet: his bat hasn’t developed enough and his massive strike zone is still too vulnerable to strikeouts. Sealing the deal is Carlos Beltran’s presence in right field. Beltran won’t be taken out of the lineup for Judge, and there’s nowhere else to put the veteran on the diamond.
Two other names that have been tossed around are Gary Sanchez and Rob Refnsyder, but neither are ideal call-up candidates. Besides poor minor league performances early on (Sanchez’s batting average is .240 and Refsnyder is hitting .235), defensive issues prevent their promotions. Sanchez’s glove is close, but his defense behind the plate needs more development in the minor leagues. Refsnyder is still raw at third base, currently playing the position just twice a week. Even if they were ready, the Yankees would be calling them up to be a back-up catcher and utility infielder. They don’t need to be Carlos Correa out there, but the chances of New York being saved by (what are currently) bench players are slim.
If the Yankees can’t find help within the organization, then maybe a player from another team can lend his help. Brian Cashman has mastered the art of the trade, so dealing for an impact big league player makes sense. Or not. It’s impossible to predict how the Yankees will perform over the remainder of the season, but there’s as good a chance the Yankees are contending come September as there is they are out of it. The risk of the latter occurring is what makes a trade unlikely. It would be short-sighted for the club to make a big acquisition right now. Trading away top prospects for an impact player who may be worthless in the latter half (if the Yankees continue to lose) is a naïve move. Although a Ryan Braun or Tyson Ross would be a great addition to the Yankees’ squad, it wouldn’t guarantee the team contending come September. The risk of sending prospects away in a win-now move for a non-win-now club means that Cashman won’t be able to deal for any impact players in the near future.
Finally, there’s the part of the game the big-market Yankees are supposed to dominate: free agency. While the Bombers may not put it together this season, a couple of big splashes in free agency this offseason could quickly change their luck. But, that won’t be happening. The Yankees’ spending abilities have been cut dramatically by ownership, and the team went all of last offseason without signing a free agent. They seem to be gearing up for a monster 2018 with a cleared payroll, but that doesn’t satisfy impatient Yankee fans who expect to compete in 2016 and 2017.
Even if Cashman was given an unlimited budget, there still wouldn’t be much that could be done. The Yankees could take a long look at Stephen Strasburg next offseason, but behind him is little else that could benefit the Yankees. Andrew Cashner might be appealing, but that’s about it. If the Yankees can’t figure it out this season, the odds of them competing next year after a strong winter in free agency are very low.
So, Yankees fans may ask, why not just blow up this hopeless team? If there’s no way to improve it at this point, then why suffer when a rebuild is just a couple veteran trades away? Truth be told, the Yankees are stuck here again. A quick little rebuild sounds nice, but the reality is the Yankees don’t have many veterans that would net substantial returns. Based on contracts alone, several Yankees have been rendered un-tradeable. The ones that are left wouldn’t be enough to kick off the construction of an elite farm system.
Of the pitchers, the only ‘veterans’ who may be dealt are Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Masahiro Tanaka. A return for Tanaka would be diminished by a terrifying injury history and contract, and we saw how little the Yankees were able to land Chapman for. He’d be worth less now, and Miller wouldn’t be significantly better considering his own contract and injury history. Brian McCann is an older and expensive catcher, Brett Gardner an aging and costly player, and Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran are simply cheap rentals. Burning down the team to build a top-line farm system isn’t the way to go.
We’re left with a bleak reality in New York. There’s nothing the Yankees can do but wait. The front office can’t sign a free agent, make a trade, or promote a prospect. They’ll have to hope the roster can turn it around on its own. If not, the Yankees are stuck—unable to properly rebuild or compete.
Lead Photo: Tommy Gilligan / USATSI