After dealing star players at Trade Deadline, Yanks have been energized by play of prospects
By Richard Justice
HOUSTON -- It happened in an instant, a pair of home runs sailing over the wall at Yankee Stadium. In that moment with a packed house rocking the ballpark in that old, familiar way, Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner could see a bright and shiny new vision of his team take shape.
"I gotta be honest with you," Steinbrenner said Wednesday afternoon at Major League Baseball's Quarterly Owners Meetings. "I was emotional. We've been following these guys for three years. All the ups and downs. The progressions. The hope you have. Being in that stadium, it was electric. I can definitely tell you that the atmosphere in the clubhouse over the weekend was different. It was exciting. People were excited. The players were excited. Time will tell."
Two things had happened in the weeks leading up to those home runs by Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge in their first Major League at-bats last Saturday.
First, the Yankees looked like a team going nowhere. They were an old team, a team unlikely to get better. They had spent most of this season in fourth place in the American League East, and this wasn't about injuries or slumps. This seemed to be a new normal.
Around that time, some of the prospects the Yanks had been so patient with the past three years showed the club they had nothing else to prove in the Minor Leagues.
On Saturday, the Yankees ran out a lineup that had six players 26 or younger, including three of the organization's top prospects -- Judge, Austin and Gary Sanchez.
This is how the Yankees intend to play it. They're going to throw 'em out there and allow them to grow. Suddenly, the Yanks are about as interesting as any team in the game. They're still in contention, possibly a long shot to make the playoffs. As Steinbrenner said, they were a long shot when they had all the veteran players.
Now they've got a young roster that has a chance to improve. Along with that talent comes enthusiasm and possibly growth. Those trades helped, too, creating what MLBPipeline.com rates as baseball's No. 2 farm system.
If the Yankees stay the course -- and Steinbrenner says they will -- this week may be looked back upon as the beginning of the beginning of another championship era for the Yanks. For now, these are the Baby Bombers.
"The last two weeks have been exciting," Steinbrenner said. "Lot of analysis. Lot of thoughts. Lot of decisions to be made. I think we did the right thing. I think it's kind of been my DNA to absolutely not trade anybody at the Trade Deadline. If anything, we're normally buyers. I had to overcome a little bit of DNA issues in that regard."
Steinbrenner said the Yankees will still spend money and be active in free agency. But just as their last great run was built around a homegrown core (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, etc.), the hope is that this one will be as well.
"I'm not naive," Steinbrenner said. "This is New York City. Our fans want marquee players. I want the marquee players because they're good veterans and good mentors. That's always going to be there. But there's no doubt our fan base is excited about what's going on. It's only going to get better next year with [first baseman Greg] Bird [who underwent shoulder surgery in Spring Training]. Sooner or later, we expect them all to be here.
"I always think we're going to have to have a good mix of marquee players, mentors, veterans and the kids. That's not going to change. We're always going to have free agents.
"We started showing video clips of these guys two years ago when they were at Tampa and Trenton. People started becoming familiar with their names. Social media has become such a huge thing that everybody's been talking about them."
Steinbrenner looked at all the trades differently. He knew trading two of the best late-inning relievers in baseball could weaken the bullpen. But Steinbrenner was comforted by acquiring two established relief arms, Adam Warren in the Chapman trade and Tyler Clippard from the D-backs.
The Yankees haven't given up on making the postseason in 2016, but they were also focused on a much larger picture.
"We pay a lot of attention to social media," Steinbrenner said. "We listen to our fans. There's been excitement all year long, really starting last year when [right-hander Luis] Severino and Bird came up, to start seeing more and more of these young kids that we've been talking about for three-plus years.
"You had days like last Saturday that were just incredible. These guys are going to struggle from time to time. We all know that. Most guys come up and a lot of 'em end up going back down for a bit and coming back up to stay."
Bird is expected to take over at first base by Opening Day 2017, making an already young lineup even more so.
"I'm certainly excited about next season," Steinbrenner said. "In March, we had all our sponsors at the Stadium, and Bird was there. Everybody wanted to meet Greg Bird. This is what is good to see. I think the fans are excited about what they've seen from Sanchez, Judge, Austin.
"I think we're in a good position. We've got a good system at all levels right now. You'll continue to see these guys develop, and we're going to do it right and not push 'em, but at the same time make sure they get to the next level as soon as they're ready."
Steinbrenner said he hopes to speak with Rodriguez on Friday to continue discussing the former Yankee's role with the franchise. In the days leading up to Rodriguez's release, Steinbrenner pitched the idea of him continuing with the Yankees as a part-time instructor.
Rodriguez does not intend to play again this season, but he has not definitely said he's retiring either. Steinbrenner said he told Rodriguez that the door will be open whenever he's done with the playing part of his career.
"I don't know who's going to approach him in the offseason, if anybody. And I don't know what he's going to say," Steinbrenner said. "Our conversation was I wanted him to know that [our] family appreciates everything he has contributed over the many years he's been here, including the mentorship of different players, like Didi [Gregorius] and [Starlin] Castro and [Robinson] Cano.
"I also wanted to be honest with him about Carlos' departure not necessarily going to result for more at-bats for him. I told him it's time [for the kids to get a chance]. They're ready. We're not bringing them up for the sake of bringing them up. They deserve a chance. We talked about [being an instructor] as an option. I'm going to reach out to him Friday.
"We've got two more weeks left of the Tampa Yankees. We talked about the kids a lot. We talked about [Gleyber] Torres and [Jorge] Mateo. It's a three-hour, four-hour drive from Tampa. You've got two of our top five prospects, both of which are shortstops. What a fantastic opportunity. As good as he is at that, I can't think of anybody better to bring in there for two weeks or even a week to work with these kids. Next year, the plan would be he's all over the place."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.