As if there was any doubt, Sunday's press conference at Yankee Stadium marked the end of an era in Yankees' franchise history. In a very short period of time, roughly two weeks or so, the club has changed course and is no longer emphasizing the present over the future.
Let's recap the last two weeks in Yankeeland:
- July 25: Traded Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for Adam Warren and three prospects, including Gleyber Torres.
- July 31: Traded Andrew Miller to the Indians for four prospects, including Clint Frazier.
- August 1: Trade Carlos Beltran to the Rangers for three prospects, including Dillon Tate.
- August 5: Mark Teixeira announces intentions to retire after 2016 season.
- August 7: Yankees and Alex Rodriguez announce he'll play final game on August 12, then join the front office.
Three "sellers" trades in which productive veterans were moved for prospects, and two former cornerstone players announcing their days as players are coming to an end. That all represents a sea change for a Yankees team that has sputtered in mediocrity since 2013.
As it stands right now, the Yankees will have new players at first base, right field, and DH starting next season. The smart money is on them clearing up another outfield spot by trading Brett Gardner over the winter, a la the Beltran trade. Brian McCann could be on the move too.
Here's a side-by-side comparison of the team's 2016 Opening Day lineup and their possible 2017 Opening Day lineup:
|Position||2016 Opening Day||2017 Opening Day|
|Catcher||Brian McCann||Brian McCann|
|First Base||Mark Teixeira||Greg Bird|
|Second Base||Starlin Castro||Starlin Castro|
|Shortstop||Didi Gregorius||Didi Gregorius|
|Third Base||Chase Headley||Chase Headley|
|Left Field||Brett Gardner||Tyler Austin/Ben Gamel|
|Center Field||Jacoby Ellsbury||Jacoby Ellsbury|
|Right Field||Carlos Beltran||Aaron Judge|
|Designated Hitter||Alex Rodriguez||Gary Sanchez|
The Yankees have already called up Sanchez and are giving him regular at-bats; he started two games at DH and two games at catcher in recent days. Gamel has been up-and-down a few times this season, and the Yankees have mentioned Austin and Judge as call-up candidates in September. One of the two figure to be called up after A-Rod plays his final game.
Really, the only 2016 Opening Day starters I 100 percent expect to return in 2017 are Gregorius and Ellsbury. Gregorius is having a breakout season and is a rock solid two-way shortstop. He's part of the solution going forward. Ellsbury, on the other hand, is close to untradeable given his production and contract. McCann, Castro, and Headley? I could see all of them going in the offseason.
MLB.com ranks Frazier, Judge, and Sanchez all among New York's top 10 prospects, and all of those guys are in Triple-A, on the cusp of the big leagues. Everything the Yankees have done these last two weeks points to them incorporating more youngsters going forward. Others like Gamel, Mason Williams, Chad Green, and Luis Cessa have all been up at some point and will be up again.
Teixeira called the Yankees a "team in transition" during his retirement press conference Friday and that's the perfect way to describe the franchise. They're not in the middle of a full blown rebuild, but they are retooling and going young. Teixeira and A-Rod are retiring. A-Rod's and CC Sabathia's contracts are up next year. All those ugly big money deals -- deals that helped the Yankees win the 2009 World Series -- are going away soon.
The plan for this "transition" seems to be building a new young core around Sanchez and Judge and Luis Severino, then supplementing it with free agents where necessary. That's how the late 1990s dynasty was built. It's silly to expect that sort of success again, but that's the plan. Build something sustainable, not a club trying desperately to stay in the race each year.
Make no mistake, the Yankees were forced into this spot. If it were up to them, they'd be in contention with Beltran and Teixeira and A-Rod hitting in the middle of the lineup like they did last season. That hasn't happened, so the club did a complete 180 and sold at the deadline. They're moving on from A-Rod -- Teixeira's contract is up after the season and he was likely a goner anyway -- and going young whenever possible.
This is not a five-year rebuild. The Yankees envision contending in a year or two, and that is absolutely possible. The 2003 Tigers were the worst team I've ever seen, yet the 2006 Tigers won the pennant. Some high-end upper level prospects and boatloads of cash can really speed up a rebuild, and thanks to the last two weeks, the Yankees now have both.