New York Yankees: The Not So Evil Empire

On May 25th everything was going great for the Evil Empire.  The Yankees, despite missing half of their starting lineup, had jumped out to a 30-18 record, good for first place in the AL East.  Jump to July 1 and the Yankees are in fourth place, going 12-21 since May 25th and 3-7 in their last 10 games.  Stopgap players such as Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, and Travis Hafner, hit a combined .174 in the month of June. Other players such as Chris Stewart, Kevin Youkilis, and Jayson Nix have been ineffective or injured. Derek Jeter, who broke his ankle in the 2012 playoffs, has had his return pushed back from late May to after the All-Star break.  Mark Teixeira is headed for season ending surgery after playing only a hand full of games.  Curtis Granderson has spent a majority of the season the disabled list as well and is slow to come back from his injury.  So decimated is the Yankees lineup, that Alex Rodriguez and all his antics are desperately needed to provide a boost.

Starting just two good hitters in Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano, the Yankees’ lineup once feared, is now largely average.  After the Yankees were in the top 10 for runs scored every year since 2000, they currently rank 23rd in the majors. In 2012, the Yankees led the league in home runs, but hit a pedestrian .256 with runners in scoring position.  Many a Yankees fan complained that the team relied solely on home runs to score runs and that type of offense could not produce championships.

Fast forward to 2013, and fans wish their team had the same problem as in 2012.  The team’s average with runners in scoring position is .236, (25th in the league) and rank Yankees are 17th in home runs.  Yankee fans haven’t seen this type of anemic offense since the early 90’s. The only reason the Yankees have remained competitive is a pitching staff that has the fifth best ERA in the American League. For the Yankees, what was a feared offense as little as a year ago has lost all of its teeth.

With the Yankees reeling and their regular players slow to recover let’s look at the options the Yankees have going forward.

Keep the status quo

The Yankees could continue to roll out the same players and hope by some miracle those players play better.  Jeter, Granderson, Rodriquez, Cervelli, and Pineda will all return at some point and would be great improvements over the players currently occupying those positions.   There is no evidence though that any of the current players are showing signs of improving and things may only worsen for the Yankees. Not doing anything is highly unlikely, because the Yankees have a history of never doing nothing.

Acquire lots of players to make a playoff run

Ever since the Steinbrenner family bought the Yankees, they have cared more about winning than anything else.  Money has hardly been an issue.

With the Yankees saving some money from Teixeira’s injury (insurance and the World Baseball Classic paying most of the salary because he suffered the injury during the WBC) the Yankees do have some room to acquire contracts.  What players the Yankees go after is a different issue. With 2 extra Wild Cards, teams are less likely to be “sellers,” so acquiring big names is tougher. Many Yankee prospects have struggled this year, so the Yankees don’t have many assets in the minors to acquire many marquee names.

One huge risk/reward would be to trade for Josh Hamilton and take on most of his monstrous salary. The biggest asset the Yankees is their availability to take on salary.  The Angels may already be tired of Hamilton underperforming and may be willing to part ways.  Hamilton would provide a huge boost for the Yankees in right field and Hamilton could take advantage of the short right field porch in Yankee stadium.  The White Sox may be willing to trade Alex Rios, an All-Star caliber outfielder who would provide a huge boost from the right side.  There will always be players available, and its up to the Yankees’ front office to find the right pieces at the right prices.

Become sellers (gulp)

Any Yankees fan born after 1994 has only seen the Yankees miss the playoffs once.  By most Yankee fans’ definitions, the season is only a success if it results in a ring.  There is no rebuilding for the Yankees, only thoughts of winning.

It is time for Yankee fans to admit that their favorite team is in the midst of a rebuilding period. However, this rebuilding process looks a lot different for the Yankees than other teams.  While other team trade stars for prospects, the Yankees rebuild by letting their aging superstars’ contracts expire before signing more expensive superstars. Rodriquez and Teixeira are past their primes and have contracts that make them unmovable. CC Sabathia is slowly moving towards that level as well.  With a minor league system that has failed to produce major league stars the past few years, the Yankees only option to maintain contender status has been to sign free agents.

That being said, it may be time for the Yankees to unload the very few tradable assets they have on the team.  Hiroki Kuroda, on a one year deal, may be a useful pitching option for a team needed a number 2 or 3 starter.  Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain may be moved to a team that needs back of the rotation help or bullpen help.  Neither player is expected to be with the Yankees next year, so their return in a trade would be limited.  The one radical move the Yankees could make would be to trade Robinson Cano.  Cano will be a free agent after this year and both sides are far apart in contract negotiations.  The Yankees may be hesitant to offer Cano a long term deal after seeing Teixeira and Rodriguez fail to produce at high level on the later years of their contracts.  If the Yankees feel this way, they may trade Cano to a contender such as the Rockies that could put them over the top and win the NL West. No Yankee fan ever wants to admit the team is not championship caliber, but if their starters fail to return quickly and they continue to plummet in the standings, the Yankees may become sellers at the July 31 trading deadline for the first time in many years.

The Yankees are in a predicament.  Do they blow past the $189 million and pay an ungodly amount of luxury tax or do they admit failure to unrelenting fans and New York media and begin truly rebuilding? I still believe in Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, (brothers and current owners) and that they will make a splash or two come the trade deadline to stave off rebuilding for one more year.  I cannot say that Yankees will definitely make the playoffs, but if the front office acts like they have in the past, the Yankees will be buyers as they make a push towards ring number 28.

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