A Yankees slump could force them to be sellers before Aug. 1

By Roger Rubin, The Sports Xchange  |  July 18, 2016 at 11:31 AM
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NEW YORK - The New York Yankees are trying to fight off their darkest day in more than two decades.

Baseball's signature franchise is in the midst of a season-defining 10-game home stand, three series that represent its last chance to define itself as a playoff contender or an also-ran before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trading deadline. So far this final stand hasn't gone that well.

The Yankees lost the first series to the Red Sox, eking out a 3-1 win Sunday night to avoid a three-game sweep.

The AL East-leading Orioles are up next for four games. After that, it's the NL West-leading Giants for three contests. The Yanks entered Monday in fourth place in the AL East, 8 1/2 games behind Baltimore, and 5 1/2 games out for the second AL wild card with five teams standing in the way.

They are 45-46 and under .500 after the All-Star Game break for the first time since 1995.

New York has All-Star Carlos Beltran and closer Aroldis Chapman in the final years of their respective contracts as well as All-Star reliever Andrew Miller on a club-friendly contract through 2018. All three are in great demand. If the rest of the home stand continues this way, the Yankees will have to strongly consider becoming sellers at the deadline for the first time in a generation.

And that will be the end of the Yankees as we have come to know them, the mightiest of the titans.

Love him or hate him, the late George Steinbrenner would never have let the organization turn the page on a season. He liked to have the Yankees do what only they could do: try to overcome everything with their awesome financial might (and maybe some unproven minor leaguers, too.).

In many years it worked.

When the Yanks needed a bat in 2000, they traded prospects to Cleveland for David Justice and took on about $20 million in contract obligations. When they needed another in 2003, they acquired Raul Mondesi from Toronto and agreed to pay the remaining $12.5 million on his deal. In 2006, offense was needed again and they picked up the bill on Bobby Abreu and Corey Lidle to the tune of about $25 million in obligations and four minor leaguers.

But it didn't always come together. When Jorge Posada got injured in 2008, New York got Pudge Rodriguez from the Tigers for prospects and took on approximately $3 million he was due. In the same season they got Nick Swisher from the White Sox and took on the $2.4 million he was still owed. That team missed the postseason.

But regardless of their odds, the Yankees always tried to flex their financial muscle to overcome.

If the Yankees tried to improve their starting pitching by approaching Oakland with a deal for Rich Hill and offered to also take declining Billy Butler and a big part or all of the $14 million he is owed? It would be no lock, but A's GM Billy Beane would at least have to consider it. But they aren't going to do that.

Since George Steinbrenner's death in 2010, Hal Steinbrenner has shown less of an appetite for those kind of deals. And perhaps, as they could be missing the postseason for the fourth time in five seasons, the time calls for a new approach.

But let's not kid ourselves about one important thing. A decision to become a seller -- be it trading a Beltran and a Chapman or going full rebuild with additional deals of Miller or Michael Pineda or Brett Gardner -- could have ramifications beyond the obvious.

The rule in trading is that the more money a team includes with the star player, the better the prospect or haul in return.

So it's not likely that the Yankees are doing something to shed payroll the way non-contenders do in smaller markets. They want and need the better prospects to add to the five studs they've deemed untradeable: first baseman Greg Bird, outfielder Aaron Judge, infielder Jorge Mateo, pitcher Luis Severino and catcher Gary Sanchez.

Right now the Yankees are making big money at the turnstiles with the product they are putting on the field, the one that hasn't so far realized its potential to be a contender. They rank second in the American League in average attendance behind only Toronto.

A full rebuild would surely damage the on-field product as well as crush the fan impulse to come out and see this season's team. And given the more businesslike approach of Hal Steinbrenner, a move that wouldn't exactly be good for business doesn't jibe.

Regardless, Yankees GM Brian Cashman is already fielding offers from contenders like the Cubs, Giants, Rangers and Nationals. He is on the record saying he will take them to ownership. What they do with them is the question. No one in the front office has ever been on this end of trade proposals.

Maybe in this moment of urgency, the Yankees will turn this home stand around and begin an ascent in the standings that wipes away the notion to sell. And maybe the never-give-up gene in the Yankees' DNA takes over. But if the losing continues and decision becomes inevitable to sell assets, it won't be a good day for baseball.

The powerful presence of the Yankees that has been in the sport the last two decades will be gone.

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