When the Yankees decided to sell off some high-profile pieces before last summer’s trade deadline, they set a plan into motion that wasn’t only foreign to the Bombers, but to most big-money teams.
Yet the moves general manager Brian Cashman has made over the past year call to mind another big-market team: the one that currently calls itself World Series champions.
The Cubs conquered the baseball world three weeks ago, ending their 108-year-old championship drought. But it was only five years ago that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over Chicago’s baseball operations, beginning a process of rebuilding the franchise from the bottom up.
Veterans Jeff Samardzija, Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman and Matt Garza were shipped away for younger, unproven talent such as Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell, Justin Grimm and Carl Edwards Jr.
High-priced free agents including Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena were allowed to walk away, while other players — most notably Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano — were traded to trim the payroll.
Over the past two years, Cashman acquired Castro, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks in an effort to make his roster younger and more athletic. Then came last summer’s fire sale that saw the Yankees unload Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran for a haul of 10 prospects, transforming a low-rated farm system into one of the best in the game in the span of one week.
Just as the Cubs traded for prospects Russell and Anthony Rizzo to go along with first-round picks Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, the Yankees have built a stable of prospects led by Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Greg Bird and Clint Frazier that Cashman hopes will be the core of the Yankees’ next great team.
“I thought Brian did a brilliant job in July,” said Hoyer, the Cubs’ GM. “He had the pieces that were coveted and he converted them at a great rate. I thought it was tremendous.”
Hoyer and Epstein were not eager to part with Torres, who won the Arizona Fall League’s MVP award last week, but they saw Chapman as the final piece of the Cubs’ puzzle. The closer played a huge role in Chicago’s championship, so while the Cubs have no regrets over the deal, Hoyer expects the 19-year-old Torres to blossom into a star in New York.
“At no point in our conversations internally about that trade did we ever underestimate Gleyber Torres,” Hoyer said. “As we said in our meetings at the time, ‘If not now, when?’ We thought we had the best team in baseball, we thought we had a chance to really strengthen something that would help us in the postseason.
“It worked out, which is a great feeling. We don’t win the World Series without Chapman. Gleyber Torres is going to be a great player for the Yankees; that’s the nature of those transactions. Sadly, they’re a little bit result-driven in how you look at them. When you win, you never have any regrets about what you did. It’s a lot easier to read (Torres’) press clippings in the Fall League knowing we just finished a parade.”
Gary Sanchez (l.) and Aaron Judge are part of Yankees’ youth movement.
(Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
That parade didn’t happen overnight for Epstein and Hoyer, who were brought in after the 2011 season. Chicago lost 101 games in 2012, then 96 and 89 in the two seasons after that. It wasn’t until 2015 — Joe Maddon’s first as manager — that the Cubs finally saw the fruits of their labor, winning 97 games en route to the club’s first NLCS appearance in 12 years.
“It’s a hard process,” Hoyer said. “It’s wonderful to have young talent, but it’s hard to break in young players; there’s going to be a learning curve. In our experience, that was probably the most daunting thing, knowing there were going to be nights when you look young.
“That’s the biggest challenge that’s going to face them. The talent is all there. They’ve done a great job gathering it together and it’s going to be a really good era of Yankee baseball.”
Once the Cubs’ nucleus was in place, they filled in the holes with the free-agent signings of Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey and Jason Heyward. Then came the trade for Chapman, which left them feeling their roster was complete.
The Yankees will spend much of this season and possibly 2017 finding out about their young players, figuring out which ones are part of their nucleus going forward. Two years from now, the free-agent market will be the strongest in recent memory, flush with names such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson.
“We need to get out from certain commitments; it’s going to take another year before we get pretty crazy again,” Cashman said, referring to the expiring contracts of Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia. “You saw what Chicago did; they got the good collection of talent and they went all-in on Lester, then Zobrist and Lackey. We’re not at that spot yet, where we’d bring in a $180 million contract, but we’re getting closer.”
Sanchez obviously showed last season that he can succeed at the major-league level, while Bird did the same in 2015 before losing a year to shoulder surgery. But what about Judge, who hit .179 with 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats? As bad as the 24-year-old looked during his first stint in the Bronx, it’s not a sure sign of Judge’s future by any means.
“Some players come up and it’s relatively seamless, while some guys come up and it takes a longer time,” Hoyer said. “I don’t think necessarily the way it starts out is the way it ends up. Anthony Rizzo came up when I was in San Diego and hit .141 — and it looked like he hit worse than that. Two years later, he was a really good player in the big-leagues, having made some adjustments.”
Given their youthful roster, the Cubs figure to be a championship contender for several years, but Hoyer believes the Bombers will be in that mix soon enough.
“The Yankees have a ton of talent,” Hoyer said. “It’s going to be a really good team for a long time.”
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News