On the morning of July 24, 2016, the New York Yankees were in a heap of trouble. At 49-48, they sat in fourth place in the American League East.
To be fair, since the beginning of May, these Yankees hadn’t been playing terrible baseball. Masahiro Tanaka was pitching himself into the Cy Young conversation, Carlos Beltran was having his best season in years, and Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman – also known as “No Runs DMC” – made the end of any Yankees win must-watch television.
At least that’s what the front office thought. Fans felt otherwise, as both TV ratings and attendance figures sagged as the dog days of summer approached. Even if the Yankees were playing respectable baseball, they weren’t playing exciting baseball. They could turn back the clock and slug their way to victories every now and then, but couldn’t do much else.
Besides Tanaka and a rejuvenated CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and Ivan Nova were all equally terrible in the rotation. Both 40-year-old Alex Rodriguez and 36-year-old Mark Teixeira literally weren’t hitting their weight, and the dynamic duo of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner had forgotten how to steal bases.
This resulted in a Yankees team that was old, boring, and slow. Their farm system was in decent shape, but most of their best prospects were still toiling in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues. A trade deadline acquisition of Rich Hill or Andrew Cashner would’ve helped, but only enough to elevate them to Wild Card contender status, which would’ve meant a fourth straight summer of contending to be the fourth or fifth-best team in the American League. Yuck.
Realizing this wasn’t what the Yankees should be going forward, general manager Brian Cashman urged Hal Steinbrenner to let him press the reset button. Hal responded accordingly, offering an extension to Chapman. But when Chapman refused, Cashman was given the go-ahead to trade the flamethrower for the best package of prospects he could find.
And so he did, as Chapman was dealt to the Chicago Cubs on July 24 in exchange for shortstop Gleyber Torres, outfielders Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford, and reliever Adam Warren. The deal was finalized the following day and stunned Yankees’ fans who thought they’d never see their team trade an All-Star for prospects. It had been the other way around for so long.
The Yankees tried to avoid admitting they were rebuilding, as they made Miller their closer once again., and said they could still win with the team they had in place.
Of course, this was all for show, as just a few days later Miller was dealt to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Clint Frazier and pitchers Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. The Yankees were officially done being “pretenders”. They were going to recommit to building their team from the ground-up and give as many young players as they could a chance to make an impact in the Bronx.
The rest, as they say, is history. Today’s Yankees look nearly unrecognizable from the Yankees of a year ago, and that’s a truly great thing. Despite an ugly last six weeks, the Yankees remain in their best organizational shape in over a decade. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino have emerged as franchise cornerstones, and Frazier and Torres should do the same shortly. Youthful veterans like Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks are leading the team both on and off the field, and even elder statesmen like Gardner, Sabathia and Matt Holliday are contributing.
With the recent additions of Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, it’s very likely the 2017 Yankees will at least make the AL Wild Card Game. Whereas that outcome would’ve just saved face in 2016, it’d be something to celebrate this year, considering the “rebuild” is only a year old and a dynasty may be on the horizon.