MLB trade deadline: Yankees can’t become sellers

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Let’s address the idea of these Yankees, their 2021 season off to a hellacious start, turning into sellers.

Sit down. You won’t love this discussion.

If you’re envisioning the Yankees pulling off a 2016 redux, injecting life into the organization and its fan base, well, you probably should stop. This roster rests at a different juncture in its competitive window. Its construction did not include an escape hatch.

No, this club’s best chance of happiness remains in the short term — an offensive resurgence and grand success in 2021, perhaps aided by a high-impact trade-deadline addition or two, rather than some subtractions. Do not expect any imminent firings despite the team’s disappointing 31-29 record and fourth-place standing.

Flash back to 2016. The Yankees were coming off a surprise postseason appearance, albeit brief (a wild-card game loss to the Astros), in 2015, fueled by late-career surges from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Greg Bird and Luis Severino made promising big league debuts in ’15. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez enjoyed meaningful climbs up the minor league ladder, with Sanchez making a cameo in the majors.

As they bought low on Aroldis Chapman, acquiring him from the Reds in a December 2015 trade as the closer awaited a domestic-violence suspension, the Yankees naturally hoped to do great things. Yet they envisioned a scenario in which A-Rod and Teixeira ran out of gas, in which their pitching proved insufficient, and in which they could peddle a pair of elite relievers — Chapman and Andrew Miller — as well as the October-tested Carlos Beltran for trade. They’d figure out how to restock their bullpen, an area in which they have excelled, and they had Judge ready to succeed Beltran in right field.

Aaron Judge
Aaron Judge
Robert Sabo

A-Rod and Teixeira indeed both cratered — neither played again after ’16 — so the Yankees pivoted to sell mode for the first time since swapping Rickey Henderson back to Sandy Alderson’s A’s in 1989. Chapman went to the Cubs for a package headlined by Gleyber Torres. Miller went to the Indians for a package headlined by Clint Frazier. Beltran went to the Rangers for a package headlined by Dillon Tate, who two years later headlined the Yankees’ package to land Zack Britton from the Orioles. A new era in The Bronx began.

It makes for a lovely pinstriped tale … except the Yankees haven’t carried that work all the way through the finish line, qualifying for each postseason from 2017 through 2020 yet falling short of a World Series appearance, their popularity dropping with each disappointment. And now they face the prospect of missing the playoffs altogether for the first time since ’16.

Gleyber Torres
Gleyber Torres
Robert Sabo

Their most tradable assets — let’s say Judge, Torres and Gio Urshela — can’t be easily replaced internally, although the upcoming winter’s free-agent shortstop crop will feature intriguing options like Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Trevor Story (and obviously talent would come back in any trade). After many graduations and deals over the last five years, the Yankees’ farm system ranks in the middle of the industry (18th, per, as goes the cycle.

In turn, a middle-of-the-pack minor league system makes a pursuit for someone like Arizona’s Ketel Marte more difficult from a talent-acquisition standpoint before we even discuss luxury-tax implications; while Hal Steinbrenner memorably bent on staying under the threshold in 2014, the Yankees acted last winter as if they would keep their payroll under $210 million, just as they didn’t pass the $197 million threshold in 2018.

Stuck these Yankees are, somewhat, between a rock and a hard place. They’ll continue to try to solve the mystery of their disappearing hitters, to look for external help when not much is available yet, to aim to acquire a center fielder, be it Marte or someone else, by the July 30 trade deadline. They’ll hope to get boosts from the returns of Luke Voit (maybe by the end of this month) and Severino (next month) from the injured list.

Questions must be answered, consequences faced, if the Yankees can’t solve this mess. But since many of you have asked, salvation appears more likely to come from a revival, far from a guarantee, than the perpetually crowd-pleasing reboot.

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