For years, the New York Yankees preached wanting to change how they operate the franchise, and this season they followed through at each administrative level of the organization.
The Yankees did something they had not done since the early 90's -- trade veterans as part of a sell-off before the non-waiver trade deadline. Yankees GM Brian Cashman convinced ownership that this was the time to fill the farm system with as many top prospects as they could obtain for three talented players, two of whom are set to become free agents at the end of this season.
The Yankees also managed to push Alex Rodriguez out the door one season before his contract was set to expire, and took at-bats away from veterans like Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann. The club turned to three prospects to prop up a stagnant offense and it nearly worked well enough to secure a spot in the playoffs.
In my view, this all started with Cashman. He had to convince Hal Steinbrenner and the ownership group that selling at the deadline, testing the prospects and shifting underperforming veterans out of the starting lineup was necessary. Further, he forced manager Joe Girardi to begin to trust the process, and that had to be difficult knowing the skipper's loyalty to veterans.
Once Steinbrenner gave Cashman the OK, the GM made all the right moves and truly converted an already solid farm system into one of the top-five in the game. These were the deadline deals:
Aroldis Chapman for Adam Warren, Gleyber Torres (No. 17 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline), Billy McKinney and Rashard Crawford.
Andrew Miller for Ben Heller, Clint Frazier (No. 15 overall prospect), J.P. Feyereisen and Justus Sheffield (No. 78 overall prospect).
Vincente Campos for Tyler Clippard.
Carlos Beltran for Nick Green, Erik Swanson and Dillon Tate.
Ivan Nova for Tito Polo and Stephen Tarpley.
Tate and McKinney did not crack the top-100 overall prospect list, but each is a former first-round pick (respectively; 2015, No. 4 overall and 2013, No. 24 overall). Add those players to Jorge Mateo (No. 18 overall prospect), Aaron Judge (No. 22 overall prospect) and Blake Rutherford (No. 50 overall prospect) and the Yankees are primed to get contributions from more young players in the near future.
In my opinion, the most impressive of these deals is the Chapman trade. I believe the Yankees will be immensely happy with Frazier. However, Chapman came cheap, he was the only player worth watching for parts of the three months he was on the team, and then he brought back Torres and three more players, including a controllable major leaguer in Warren. Moreover, the Yankees might very well get Chapman back in free agency and would not lose a compensation pick in the process.
Cashman then convinced Girardi that the lineup needed to make space for the influx of talent the front office was calling up. The Yankees were not bringing Tyler Austin, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez up to the big leagues to play once or twice per week. They made Sanchez the primary catcher and Judge took over in right field. Austin began to split time with Teixeira at first base.
This created a balancing act for Girardi because the stance was they were not folding their hand, but rather using a different set of cards to rise to a better place in the standings. Girardi had to let the rookies acclimate to the big leagues and still utilize the veterans where he felt they fit best. Teixeira got the call against right-handers and McCann saw a good deal of action as the team's designated hitter with Rodriguez gone, and the veteran catcher shifted behind the plate for CC Sabathia's starts.
It was easy with Sanchez because he simply did not miss the ball much in his 202 at-bats (20 home runs). However, Judge had a more difficult time, striking out 42 times in 95 plate appearances. Judge ended up getting hurt, potentially saving a benching (my guess) from Girardi, especially as the Yankees crept toward the top of the Wild Card standings.
I believe Girardi needs some work where it comes to patience with the young players. For example, while the Yankees were closing in on a playoff spot, they did it with the young guys contributing. However, as soon as Austin began to scuffle, Girardi shifted to a waiver wire claim in Billy Butler.
Now, Butler performed well in the beginning, so riding a hot hand is one thing, but knocking a rookie backward for a lengthy period potentially impacts his confidence. The Yankees do not need Butler next season, so pushing him into a role to get to the postseason (of which he was not eligible to play) made little sense to me. Sure enough, Austin finished strong, so who knows when the turnaround might have developed had Girardi allowed Austin time to work through his struggles.
Girardi managed the bullpen in the same fashion this season. There has to be some more rope provided to the relievers who exhibit the most talent. Girardi's patience has to last longer than a couple of appearances. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shuttle of relievers has to throttle back the number of trips in 2017 to the point I might argue to abandon the shuttle altogether.
Some of this is on Cashman, who has to bring in the right talent. The Yankees should be in the market for an elite reliever to tie to Dellin Betances, and find at least one legitimate middle reliever to match with Clippard. That would leave three spots to fill from within and there are plenty of options (both starters who do not crack the rotation and strict relievers). What Cashman cannot do is bring in the Kirby Yates and Anthony Swarzak types who Girardi can turn to because they possess MLB innings. Poor experience does absolutely nothing to aid a team.
The Yankees will likely be quiet regarding the addition of players to the offense from the free agent market this offseason. There could be some trades, but anything they do to try and improve their offense has to be in the same mold as they implemented last offseason.
Cashman added Aaron Hicks to be the fourth outfielder, and while it might not have completely worked out, the thought process was the correct one. Cashman's trade of Warren for Starlin Castro is another example of the type of move that makes sense in the short and long term. The method needs to remain the same: add young-controllable talent to complement the current roster for 2017 and beyond.
The Yankees might be competitive in 2017, but they must realize that this is the time to figure out what they have in the youthful players in the system, not when they can open the wallets in 2018 and beyond. The more experience they can provide their MLB-ready players in 2017, the better off for the players and the team going forward. The players will be tested and ready instead of trying to acclimate and learn. Now is the time to trust in them.
Cashman is all in, Steinbrenner agrees and Girardi has to completely transform and trust the process.