For the last few weeks, fans have debated whether this team should be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. So far, they've been neither, but as we approach July 31st, the rumors continue to point to the organization targeting players like Alfonso Soriano and Justin Morneau. The Yankees are currently 6 games behind the Red Sox in the loss column, and 3 games behind the Orioles for the Wild Card seed. So though they're not on track to make the playoffs, they're one good series away from being there.
But many fans would argue that even if the record says they're just a few games out of a playoff spot, the roster doesn't have what it takes. The offense ranks 28th in all of baseball in wOBA, and they're only 24th in positional fWAR. Will getting back Curits Granderson, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez really make that big of a difference?
As I pointed out yesterday, expectations have changed for this club. Yankee fans are used to seeing their lineup hit a couple of home runs every game, but now we've seen just 1 home run over their last 10 games. Undoubtedly, this is now a club built on pitching, and a pitching staff that consistently ranks in the top 5 of baseball. But for 15 previous seasons, Cashman's Yankees were largely built on runs scored. Now that they're about run prevention, fans are still judging them on how many runs they can put on the board, and the perception of their performances seems to be a lot worse than what they've actually accomplished.
Despite a decent record and Cashman's history of winning, I've been surprised to see so many fans embrace selling at the deadline. In a poll at River Ave Blues, 55% of readers said that the team should be sellers by July 31st.
Let's assume for a minute that the team wasn't 3 games out of a Wild Card seed, they're well below .500 and without reinforcements like Jeter, Rodriguez, Granderson, and Michael Pineda on their way. Even in this case, there is no precedent for rebuilding under Brian Cashman. Sure, the team has never slipped that low under his command, but even in 2008, the Yankees were just 5 games over .500 at the All Star break. Cashman didn't sell, instead, he traded for Xavier Nady, Damasco Marte, and Ivan Rodriguez, he remained active on the international market, and the team spent nearly $500 million in the following offseason.
Of course, the Yankees would go on to miss the playoffs in 2008, but it was the first and only time under Cashman. After the disappointment of 2008, the Yankees made their moves and produced one of the best teams in the modern era in 2009 and won the World Series.
The reason why there is no precedent of selling at the trade deadline is because Cashman has turned the idea of rebuilding, in the conventional sense, into a myth. Through 15 seasons, the Yankees have made the playoffs 14 times, and not once have they been sellers at the deadline.
So why should they sell now? Again at 5 games over .500, the Yankees are a sweep of the Orioles away from taking control of the Wild Card seed. One extended winning streak could even put them in grabbing distance of the AL East title. Giving up on the 2013 season so prematurely would ensure them a few prospects, and there's no doubt that Robinson Cano and Hiroki Kuroda could bring some quality chips. But even if they could figure out a way to turn Cano into an Oscar Taveras, there's no guarantee that any prospect will stay healthy or be productive. And then even if 2013 ends up being a losing season, the Yankees will then have the opportunity to turn these players into supplemental draft picks with qualifying offers.
We can look across the East River to see the what rebuilding really means. The Mets traded Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler only two seasons ago, an extremely successful and arguably lucky outcome. But then there's R.A. Dickey, who Sandy Alderson turned into can't miss prospect Travis d'Arnaud, who's now seen 52 plate appearances in the minors in 2013. There's definitely a brighter future in store for the Mets, but even with all the rebuilding and selling they've done over the last few years, most Mets fans would be ecstatic to be 5 games over .500.
And though they're not the be-all end-all, even with all the "successful" rebuilding, farm system rankings placed the Yankees and Mets incredibly close to each other over the past offseason. In this upcoming offseason, the Yankees could very well have a better farm system than their New York rival. They'll have Manny Banuelos and Ty Hensley back from injuries, three new 2013 first round picks added to the system, and a breakout season from Rafael De Paula under their belt. They'll also probably be adding a few more supplemental draft picks in 2014.
In the end, prospects are lottery tickets. All will create expectations, some can create dynasties, while most will take the Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain route of disappointment. Cashman is not a gambling man, and even when trading a player like Jesus Montero, he needed a major league tested Michael Pineda to pull the trigger. From the draft, to international free agency, to the regular free agent market, Cashman has found a way to keep the organization stocked with prospects without selling his star players.
Selling guys like Cano and Kuroda for prospects is a risk, and perhaps gamble is what the organization needs, but as I mentioned before, with 15 winning seasons and 14 playoff appearances in the last 15 years, it's hard to argue or question Cashman's methods. He has turned the idea of a rebuild season into a myth.