The Stanton trade is another win for the Yankees' shrewd front office and fans alike
Six years ago, the Yankees were an over-the-hill team headed for a fall that never came
Just 24 hours ago, news broke that the Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman were worth $25 million. He's already earned a 700 percent raise.
The Yankees already paced the majors in home runs last season, thanks in large part to Aaron Judge's AL-leading 52 bombs. By adding Stanton, the 2018 Yankees will become the first team to employ two players who hit 50 homers in the same season since ... the 1961 Yankees. Couple fellas named Mantle and Maris.
The trade offers a stark example of the importance of stable and committed ownership groups for professional sports franchises.
In another universe, the 2012 season should have marked the beginning of an excruciating reckoning for the Bombers. That year, New York fielded one of the oldest teams in major league history. With an average age of 32.9 years old, the Yankees' position players were by far the oldest in the majors that year; at 30.3 years old, so too were their pitchers.
Bill James first studied how baseball players age some 40 years ago. Back then, James found that players (especially position players) tend to peak around age 27. More recent research by Fangraphs writer Jeff Zimmerman and others point to a peak age that's a year or two younger. With a roster that old and a passel of gigantic, bloated contracts weighing down the team's payroll, you could easily imagine a calamitous decline about to happen in New York, similar to the one that had already started to ravage the aging Phillies after their own run of five straight NL East titles.
That plummet never happened. The Yankees did miss the playoffs in 2013 and 2014, marking the first time they'd missed the postseason in two straight seasons since the early '90s. But thanks to some success in close games, a little luck, and a bit of deft roster maneuvering, they remained competitive, winning 85 games in 2013 and 84 in 2014.
With the benefit of hindsight, though, we can now see that a bigger story was taking shape in the minor leagues. And that Nick Swisher should be considered for a statue in Monument Park. That's because the Yankees acquired a supplemental pick from Cleveland in the offseason of 2012-13, after Swisher signed what would prove to be a disastrous four-year deal to play for the Tribe. So with the 32nd overall pick in the 2013 draft, the Yankees drafted Judge, a hulking slugger out of Cal State Fresno.
The addition of Judge bolstered a rapidly improving farm system that already included two wildly talented signees from the Dominican Republic, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino. Cashman then started hitting the trade market. First, he plucked Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks in December 2014, acquiring a young shortstop just entering his prime who at the very least could provide capable defense and a bunch of line drives, with the added benefit of perfect timing as Derek Jeter rode off into the sunset. A year later, Cashman pounced on the Cubs' pressing desire to unload Castro and what looked at the time to be an onerous contract, snagging him for swingman Adam Warren and now-retired infielder Brendan Ryan.
Just like that, the Yankees had rebuilt the nucleus for a winning team, one that would pay off in 2015 with a return to the playoffs, via an 87-win season and a wild-card berth. The Stanton trade yanked Castro and Gregorius back into the spotlight on Saturday. Castro hit a solid .300/.338/.454 in 2017 for the Yankees, but ranked just seventh among the team's position players in Wins Above Replacement, thanks to a subpar defensive effort at second base (as well as being surrounded by far better hitters). He's now the "is that it?" linchpin of a trade that brings the most electrifying power hitter on the planet to New York.
Meanwhile, Gregorius might be wondering about his job security when it comes to keeping the cleanup spot.
Cashman has made more than his share of lousy deals, of course. All the talk of Stanton and Judge in the outfield elides what might happen to Jacoby Ellsbury, the aging, injury-prone outfielder who's owed nearly $70 million through the rest of the decade. Meanwhile, the Yankees still need to bolster a rotation that's led by Severino, but gets thin in a hurry after talented question marks Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray.
Those issues look minor, given what the Yankees have pulled off since that AARP Magazine cover of a season five years ago. The trade for Stanton sends promising prospects Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers to the Marlins. But it still leaves the Yankees with a stocked cupboard of young talent, thanks to Cashman's reload-but-not-rebuild tack of the past seasons that fetched premium talent like Clint Frazier (for Andrew Miller, and the Yankees pulled off a huge deal for Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle a year later that cost far less) and Gleyber Torres (for Aroldis Chapman, who re-signed with New York a few months later).
Moreover, the Yankees just proved last season that a loaded lineup combined with a monster bullpen can be enough to make a deep playoff run, so deep that they just missed returning to the World Series for the first time in eight years. And while the Stanton deal does saddle the Yankees with $295 million in payroll commitments (or less if he opts into free agency in three years) and potentially blocks a long-speculated Bryce Harper move to New York via free agency next winter, this is a franchise with impossibly deep coffers, along with that elusive but vital combination of capable ownership and shrewd management that leads to winning results.
Meanwhile, the same can't be said about the Marlins, who told the world they had deep financial problems, then got exactly the underwhelming returns you'd expect from a team with little-to-no leverage. The rebuilding process for Bruce Sherman, Jeter, and company in Miami could be long, and painful. Exactly the opposite of what transpired after Jeter hung up his cleats in the Bronx.
The Yankees are going to be good next season, and they're going to be ludicrously fun to watch. Bring us all the dingers.
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