Understand that in 2016 the theory was easier to sell than the action. After all, Brian Cashman had made this sales pitch to his boss before.
In 2013, the Yankees general manager knew he was watching an offensively inept team inflated to respectability and — in Cashman’s mind — fake contention by a powerful endgame of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera. So he tried to convince Hal Steinbrenner to surrender by trading Robinson Cano in July of his walk year (the Rangers were particularly interested) and restock for a better tomorrow.
Steinbrenner had modernized the Yankees in many ways by then and had imbued a patient logic that ran counter to how his father had run the team. But in 2013 George Steinbrenner’s legacy remained a powerful force within the organization. The idea of giving up on a season when the wild card at least was accessible was too much for the son, who was living in a derisive, “you are not your father” baseball biosphere.
The Yankees didn’t deal Cano and instead obtained Alfonso Soriano — think of this as akin to the 2019 Mets’ July decision to keep walk-year Zack Wheeler and trade for Marcus Stroman. The Yankees’ underwhelming lineup with Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells fake contended to the eighth best record in the AL, no playoff spot and Cano’s exit.
Thus, in 2016 when so much repeated, Steinbrenner had 2013 in his memory bank and three more years to become his own man running the Yankees and grow comfortable in not being his father. That season Cashman was again watching an inept offense — Brain McCann and Mark Teixeira minimized by expanding shifts and Alex Rodriguez’s skills deteriorated. There was fake contention again behind a powerful endgame of Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller.
Like in 2013, Cashman authorized punting to restock for a better tomorrow. He knew the marketplace was hungering for the elite high-leverage relievers the Yankees possessed — Chapman in his Cano-esque walk year and Miller on a team-friendly contract. In particular, the no-championships since 1908 Cubs and since 1948 Indians believed these were missing pieces to end championship droughts, and the other two interested clubs — the Nationals and Rangers — had never won a title at that time. It was a perfect storm to maximize return.
But it should be remembered that while they had the eighth-best record in the AL, the Yankees were just three games out of a wild card when Chapman was traded to the Cubs. This time, though, Hal Steinbrenner blessed the plan for a better tomorrow. If you needed to know how that might look when it works, there was Game 1 of an AL Division Series on Monday night.
Clint Frazier tomahawked a Blake Snell fastball up near his chest into the left-field stands at Petco Park in what would become a 9-3 Yankees victory over the Rays. Gleyber Torres provided another hit and another walk, lifting his 2020 postseason through three games to reach successfully 10 times in 15 plate appearances. Frazier turned 26 last month. Torres, at 23, is a few months younger than Philadelphia third baseman Alex Bohm, a strong contender for the 2020 NL Rookie of the Year award.
Of course, you have to still make strong trades after making the decision to sell.
For Miller, the Yankees had a choice among Indians outfielders, either Frazier or Bradley Zimmer. The 21st-overall pick in 2014, Zimmer has never developed into much for an Indians club desperate for outfield production. Frazier, the fifth-overall pick in 2013, has yo-yoed between healthy and not, Triple-A and the majors, in favor with the Yankees and out, but he has mainly hit when given a chance.
With Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton out for large chunks of this short regular season, Frazier not only helped salvage a struggling offense with his best work, but showed a path — finally — in which he should be the regular left fielder beyond this season. He has now, coincidentally, played 162 regular-season games and has 24 homers and an .806 OPS, and based on this year (.905 OPS and an uptick on defense) you can believe that 24/.806 is a baseline and better is possible with regular playing time.
Ben Heller remains from the package the Yankees received from Cleveland for Miller. Justus Sheffield, who had a fine 2020 for Seattle, was used to obtain James Paxton. The Yankees dealt J.P. Feyersien to the Brewers for mainly international pool money.
For Chapman, the Yankees had a choice among Torres, Ian Happ and Eloy Jimenez as the central piece. Happ and Jimenez have been good major leaguers. Torres, third in the AL Rookie of the Year vote in 2018 and 17th for MVP last year, has been better. He struggled during this season with health and performance before locking in at the plate for the playoffs.
Hal Steinbrenner agreed to surrender in July 2016 for a better future — and here we are in October 2020 with Frazier and Torres honoring the vision.