MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

How Yanks went from rebuilding to contending in 1 year

How Yanks went from rebuilding to contending in 1 year

On July 25 a year ago, the Yankees were 50-48. Playing the role of seller rather than buyer for the first time in years, they helped bring an end to 108 years of Cubs futility by sending Aroldis Chapman to Chicago in exchange for Adam Warren and three prospects. Less than a week later, New York shipped Andrew Miller to the Indians for four prospects, a transaction that nearly ended baseball's second-longest championship drought.

At the same stage this season, the Yankees had a nearly identical record at 52-46, yet their strategy had reversed. Just six days earlier, they had traded a pair of former first-round choices as part of a four-player package to get Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox. At the non-waiver Trade Deadline, they would make an even bigger splash, sending three blue-chip prospects to the Athletics for Sonny Gray.

Cashman on trade for Gray

What changed? At the time of the Chapman deal, New York was tied for the eighth-best record in the American League and stood 4 1/2 games back of the AL's second Wild Card berth. A year later, though the Yanks were just two wins better, they had the fourth-best record in the league and sat just one game back in the AL East.

The Chapman and Miller trades made the most noise as New York's farm system rose from the middle of the pack to one of the game's best. Chapman yielded infielder Gleyber Torres, currently ranked No. 3 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects, and resurgent outfielder Billy McKinney, a former first-round pick who sports a 1.013 OPS after his first five weeks in Triple-A. Miller brought back two more first-rounders in outfielder Clint Frazier (No. 27 on the Top 100), who's already making an impact at the big league level with his power, and left-hander Justus Sheffield (No. 91).

Statcast: Frazier's walk-off HR

The Yankees had been assembling an impressive array of talent well before those deals, however. Both general manager Brian Cashman, who began working for the franchise as an intern in 1986, and farm director Gary Denbo, who started his career in the organization as a Minor League manager in '90, say the current farm system mirrors what it had in the early '90s. That's when New York signed and developed Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams, who formed the heart of teams that won four World Series in five years and made 13 straight playoff appearances.

They've missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons and haven't won a playoff game since 2012, but the Yanks could end those droughts this October. They're contending in what was supposed to a retooling year, and the system already has begun to deliver impact talent.

Aaron Judge tops the AL and is second in the Majors with 35 homers and is a leading AL MVP Award candidate, while fellow rookie Jordan Montgomery has helped stabilize the rotation. Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino joined Judge at the All-Star Game in their first full big league seasons. Frazier homered four times in his first month with New York before going on the disabled list with an oblique injury.

That's just the beginning. Torres might have taken over at third base by now if he hadn't required Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow. Right-hander Chance Adams (No. 61 on the Top 100), the organization's top pitching prospect, has a 1.03 ERA in four Triple-A starts and a 2.12 mark for his pro career. Infielder Tyler Wade and third baseman Miguel Andujar, both of whom received Top 100 consideration, made brief big league debuts this season.

Top Prospects: Adams, NYY

In Double-A, just two steps from the Majors, Sheffield, 103-mph right-hander Domingo Acevedo and sweet-swinging second baseman Nick Solak are percolating. Outfielder Esteven Florial (No. 88), a five-tool talent who has the highest ceiling in the system, already has advanced to high Class A at age 19. The lower levels all seem to have relatively anonymous -- for now -- right-handers who reach triple-digits on radar guns: Freicer Perez (low Class A), Jorge Guzman (short-season) and Luis Medina (Rookie).

New York amassed all this talent by excelling in all areas of acquisition. Besides the headline-grabbing reliever trades last July, it also grabbed the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 Draft, right-hander Dillon Tate, in a package from the Rangers for Carlos Beltran. It added Guzman and similarly live-armed righty Albert Abreu from the Astros for Brian McCann last November.

The Yankees also have drafted well, though only one first-rounder (Clarke Schmidt from 2017) cracks MLBPipeline's Yanks Top 30 Prospects list. Adams was a '15 fifth-rounder who has been a revelation after shifting from reliever to starter in pro ball, Wade was a '13 fourth-rounder and Solak was a '16 second-rounder. Deeper sleepers include first baseman Tyler Austin (13th round, '10), who homered in his first big league at-bat last August, and righties Taylor Widener (12th round, '16) and Cody Carroll (22nd round, '15).

Yankees' Top 30 Prospects

Likewise, New York has been one of the more aggressive organizations on the international market yet also stands out more for its bargain finds in that arena. Andujar was their highest-price signee in 2011 at $750,000 out of the Dominican Republic, but Florial cost only $200,000 in '15 out of Haiti after a discrepancy with his birth certificate. The combined bonuses of Acevedo ($7,500 in '12, Dominican), Perez ($10,000 in '14, Dominican) and criminally underrated infielder Thairo Estrada ($49,000 in '12, Venezuela) represent less than what 10 current Yankees make on a per-game basis.

All of that depth made it easy for New York to make its moves this July. The Yanks may have given up outfielder Blake Rutherford (No. 45 on the Top 100) and fellow first-rounder Ian Clarkin in the White Sox trade, breakout right-hander Zack Littell as part of a smaller deal with the Twins for Jaime Garcia and a trio of high-ceiling prospects (outfielder Dustin Fowler, No. 76 on the Top 100; shortstop/outfielder Jorge Mateo; righty James Kaprielian) in the Gray blockbuster. But their system is so strong that it allowed them to upgrade their big league club without compromising their future.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.