So much of mainstream baseball analysis is done in black and white: this player is good; this player is bad. This team is good; this team is the Red Sox. Of course, we know the waters are a lot muddier than this and that there are varying shades of gray between the black and white/us and them style analysis that we still see on TV and hear on the radio, especially when it comes to when a team should win–you know what I’m talking about: the (perceived) differences between Win Now and Win Later teams. Analysts and pundits always point to the Yankees as a Win Now team because they have a big payroll, lots of stars, and tend to win a whole lot of games. But as a former denizen of these parts used to say, the Yankees are not a Win Now team; they are a Win Now and Later team–they want to maximize success in the present to help guarantee success in the future.
In the present, the Yankees are winning their division by 3.5 games and seem to have good odds at making the playoffs. They’re also constructed as they have been in the past, with multiple high salary players spread across the field. As for the future, the Yankees do have some promising young players on the horizon. In terms of prospects, Rob Refsnyder is already up in the Majors while Greg Bird, Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and others are approaching the doorstep, readying themselves to knock. In terms of non-prospects, the Yankees’ two best starters–Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka–are on the right side of 30, as is the entire bullpen (save for Andrew Miller). Additionally, their trade acquisitions this year–Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi–still have room to grow as well. Despite this fairly good set up, though, the 2015 does feel a touch incomplete, doesn’t it? After all, just last week I wrote about being fairly surprised that the Yankees were in this good a position. I guess that’s what having a somewhat shaky starting rotation and a black hole at second base will do to you, huh?
Like all teams at this time of the season, the Yankees are at a crossroads. Given their position at the top of the American League East, it’s clear they’re going to walk down Buyer’s Road, but how far will they go? Will they settle for the decent houses on the beginning of the block, or will they go straight down to the end and buy the big places with a view? Will they make subtle improvements or go as far as I have in torturing this metaphor?
On one hand, the improvements the Yankees could make to the team–adding a starter or a better option at second base–could help secure this season. Whether it’s a marginal upgrade guy like Mike Leake or a big time splash like Johnny Cueto or (be still my heart) Cole Hamels, another starting pitcher would improve this team greatly. And while relegating Stephen Drew to the bench is never a bad thing, there’s always a chance that Refsnyder doesn’t play well in his first stint with the big club. Making a move to get another second baseman would likely give the team a stronger performance over the last two months of the season and give Refsnyder a bit more development time.
On the other hand, the Yankees are still positioned well for a playoff run despite their rotation struggles. Their top two in the rotation have the potential to dominate a short series, as does their absolutely lockdown bullpen. The lineup also features strong hitters from the leadoff spot through the fifth spot, thanks to the offensive resurgences of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Brian McCann. That set up–two big starters, a dominant bullpen, and a solid top of the order–is what you need come playoff time. If you’ve already got that, you may not need to give up future assets to push you over the top; just keep climbing and maybe you’ll do it yourself.
So, should the Yankees hold firm or sell some of their pieces? Yes. I don’t know. I’ve ping-ponged back and forth on this for the last few weeks. Part of me thinks that the state of the division and their place in it mean they should go for it with the hopes of getting hot in October. But the other part of me thinks that this team probably isn’t good enough to win a championship–even with the plaudits I’ve thrown their way in this post–so why sell of valuable future assets for a smaller-than-desired reward? Perhaps this is the young, late-90’s Yankee fan in me talking, but my gut says sell the prospects; flags fly forever and tomorrow is certainly not guaranteed (though I’d prefer not to trade Aaron Judge unless it’s in a Cole Hamels package). Even my declarative statements on this issue are tempered. I’m just glad I’m not the one that has to make the ultimate decision here, ’cause there damn sure isn’t any easy answer.