The cruelty of hope

Starlin Castro’s walk-off homer on Wednesday was exactly what the Yankees needed. A happy moment, a brief gasp of hopeful air. They avoided losing all four games to the Rockies in the season series, and the home run was the culmination of a strong comeback against a four-run deficit.

Starlin Castro’s walk-off homer on Wednesday was exactly what the Yankees didn’t need. Another win, for sure, but another maddening effort to keep meandering about in the wasteland of .500 baseball. Another reason for Hal Steinbrenner to order that the Yankees stay the course and be buyers at the trade deadline despite the plethora of signals pointing towards the opposite course of action. Terrified of being tarred and feathered by the fans and the back page of the New York Post, Steinbrenner has already begun going on the record and saying that he anticipates the franchise being a buyer at July’s end.

This is an exceptionally bad idea.

Yes, the Yankees grabbed an excellent win. Yes, outside of Wednesday’s calamity, CC Sabathia has been shockingly good. Yes, the Minnesota Twins are rolling into town, awful record and always-amusing proclivity for being spanked by the Yankees in tow. There’s a good chance that more wins will be gained in the coming days.┬áThen the Yankees will promptly contend with the force of nature that is the Texas Rangers, but fear not. They have a chance to regain ground quickly thereafter when they fly out to San Diego to contend with the tepid Padres.

If the Yankees do manage to rattle off some sort of prolonged hot streak, or even sit slightly north of .500 come the deadline, the cost for meaningful upgrades would be costly. Due to the simple factor of the construction of the roster (assuming that the team stays relatively the same health-wise from then until now), there aren’t very many spots where a regular member of the lineup could be supplanted. The upgrades would then theoretically be made in the starting rotation and/or the bullpen. There are few available starting pitchers of note, and because of the scarcity of the market, prices will be high.

Even if the Yankees do make meaningful upgrades, many of their main assets (Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia) are liable to be incredibly overworked and tired down the stretch due to the fact that they are old and beat up. Beltran has been a godsend on offense, but may not be of much use in September if he has to keep playing the field most days. Dellin Betances has been overworked each of the last two years, and could be in for a third straight season of late-season erratic control.

The Yankees could plug holes in the hull, but the ship will still sink. It would be the equivalent of putting a $300 Band-Aid on an aneurysm patient. The move would do no good, and be costly in the process. The Yankees would be spending prospects on stopgap players, and still not making the playoffs. At a time when injecting the farm system and big league roster with as much young talent as possible is absolutely paramount, buying would be at best counterproductive.

At worst, it would be mortgaging the future to a moderate extent, only for the purpose of feeding a pipe dream that this team matters at all to the playoff picture and providing fuel for a toxic philosophy that the World Series must be a distinct possibility at all times.

This is not to say that the Yankees should be tanking. Rather, what needs to be made clear is that the Yankees are at the downward slope of the natural life cycle of a successful roster. New York enjoyed incredible amounts of success from 1996 on. An entire generation was raised under the impression that a pennant must be won every single year or something has gone grievously awry. These 20-somethings cannot be blamed for taking the current state of affairs poorly. It is an alien concept that the Yankees may be genuinely bad. They’ve had a few years to adjust to this; perhaps Lyle Overbay and Kevin Youkilis should have been clues in 2013.

But there were playoffs within grasp in 2014, and then actually achieved just last year. The names on the roster are still pretty. They conjure up images of conquering and victory. They’re nothing but memories at this point.

Even Hannibal had to admit defeat at a certain point. A buying approach at the deadline would leave the Yankees the baseball equivalent of Ross Perot; no serious threat to win, and a waste of assets and time. It would be infinitely more prudent to move what few pieces on the big league roster that still hold value to contenders (Beltran, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller), bring in some useful prospects, and retool for the future.

Greg Bird will be back next year, and hopefully Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino will find establishment in the majors. Castro and Gregorius will still be under extended control, as well as Aaron Hicks. The Yankees don’t need an extended rebuild. They just need to reset for a while.

Buying at the deadline would hinder that. It would be a pipe dream within a pipe dream, a denial of what is blatantly apparent. George Steinbrenner is dead, and his ravenous need to look fierce lies dead alongside him. It’s time for the Yankees to function like a franchise that is run by people who can read the writing on the wall. Don’t buy. Don’t let a .500 record and a tantalizing second Wild Card be the vendors of a bill of goods.

Photo Credit: Adam Hunger / USA TODAY Sports

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