Players have confidence in themselves, but often times, an influx of talent via trade invigorates the remaining roster and demonstrates the organization's faith in the squad.
The Yankees reached the American League Championship Series, and an organizational decision to buy 12 days before the trade deadline has become an important factor that has elevated the team in the postseason.
General manager Brian Cashman understood the league was not exactly locked down by one team and took a gamble by trading Blake Rutherford, one of their top prospects, two more farmhands (Ian Clarkin and Tito Polo) and struggling reliever Tyler Clippard for third baseman Todd Frazier and relievers Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson.
Frazier appeared to be a tack-on player with salary attached to balance the money owed Clippard. Frazier was able to take over third base, which allowed the Yankees to move Chase Headley to first base at a time when they needed that position solidified.
Frazier was slow to contribute with the bat, but as the Yankees came down the stretch, it became clear that he had not only melded into the group but was becoming a rock in the clubhouse. The team has rallied behind Frazier, using 'Let's go!" cries, finger-points from the bases, thumbs-down signs and all. Frazier has helped continue to loosen the once buttoned-up team persona, and is enjoying the moment after playing for a bad White Sox team.
"I love this team," Frazier said after the Yankees advanced to the ALCS. "This is a beautiful time for us now."
Frazier's overall postseason statistics at the plate are not glowing. However, in the last couple of division series games Frazier worked himself on base in big spots and scored two huge runs on aggressive base running plays, including an insurance run in Game 5. Frazier understands that when the hits are not dropping, his glove and other intangibles that can boost the club.
"There's little things in games that might go unnoticed or not go unnoticed, making a play [in the field] or that run right there [in the ninth inning]," Frazier said. "I saw the ball come up and I just went."
Kahnle, a former Yankee minor leaguer lost in the Rule 5 draft, returned with a huge strikeout rate and better control. Kahnle had varying success and setbacks during the summer and down the stretch, but he's turned it up a notch in the postseason.
In five innings of postseason work (three appearances), Kahnle has printed zeroes across the stat line while striking out six batters. As a result, he has vaulted ahead of Yankees mainstay reliever Dellin Betances in the bullpen hierarchy. In fact, Kahnle's best performance of the postseason came in Game 4 when he entered to clean up Betances' mess in the eighth inning with two men on and no one out and the No. 2-4 batters coming up. Kahnle ended up closing out the game and notched the save.
Kahnle, like Frazier has embraced his role since coming over to the Yankees.
"You always have to have it the back of your mind that you may be on a team in this situation," Kahnle said after Game 4. "My whole life, I've been waiting for this moment."
Without a doubt, Robertson was the cornerstone of the trade. However, the way in which he is being used in the postseason may not have been on the Yankees radar in July. At the time, Betances was pitching well and Aroldis Chapman was entrenched as the team's closer. The thought on Robertson surely centered on him being used in high-leverage situations in the seventh and eighth inning, and maybe being asked to lock down an occasional save.
Robertson, a closer for the previous four-plus seasons, including one in his final season in his original Bronx tenure, had gotten used to the shorter appearances that come with the traditional closer role. Things were about to change.
On August 5, Yankees manager Joe Girardi used Robertson in the fifth inning and for two innings of work - ironically against the Indians - in which he threw 28 pitches. The effort was successful, but duplicated just twice more in the remainder of the regular season. However, those few appearances told Girardi that Robertson could handle the extra work and the Yankees skipper filed it the binder for the postseason.
Robertson embraced the fireman role as it evolved and relished coming back in the trade.
"It's been my role here with this team and I was excited when [the trade] happened," Robertson told media after Game 5.
Robertson has been downright filthy in the postseason. In eight innings (four appearances), he owns a 1.13 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 10 strikeouts. Robertson has allowed just one of five inherited runners to score in two extremely difficult circumstances, making him Girardi's most trusted reliever when there is trouble brewing for the Yanks.
For Robertson, the current run is shaping up to be as fun as the one he partook in when the Yankees last won the World Series.
"It's been fun," Robertson said. "I was the young wide-eyed guy in 2009, but now I feel like the veteran who's been around and seen it happen. It's still the same thing, I'm excited to be here and I'm having a great time."
The Yankees without Frazier, Kahnle and Robertson may have had a difficult time reaching the postseason. Now it is safe to say New York would not have survived the ALDS without them and they'll be relied on heavily in the ALCS.