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The quiet trade deadline didn't doom the Yankees. It might have saved them.

The Yankees coughed up a huge division lead and sputtered into a quick postseason exit, but at least they didn't compound their mistake.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

During the Astros-Yankees Wild Card Game, ESPN was keen on showing stats about how the Yankees finished the season.

The Yankees bullpen had a 5.63 ERA in the final month of the season.

They were bad stats. Twitter had bad stats about the Yankees' final month.

Jacoby Ellsbury hit .202/.254/.246 in September, though he did have three RBI.

Everywhere you looked, someone had a bad stat about how the Yankees ended their regular season.

Brett Gardner had one hit in September, and it came on a ground-rule double that bounced over the fence and killed a duckling.

Just going by the September numbers, it made no sense that the Yankees were within 40 games of a postseason appearance. They had broke down and were broken. The offense was sputtering and key players were injured. There was still that feeling that, anything can happen in the wacky ol' postseason, and then the postseason actually started. It lasted three hours. The September had infected the October, and it was irreversible.

I'd be lying if I claimed that every article idea I have is spontaneous and organic, that they're always immediate reactions to something that just happened. Sometimes I'll think in May, "If this team loses in the postseason, my angle could be ____," and start preparing my thoughts just in case. And after the Yankees ran away screaming from the trade deadline, clutching their prospects to their bosom, the angle was so clear. The Yankees weren't active at the trade deadline, and they blew it. The Blue Jays reinvented themselves, and they were rewarded. That would be an easy 900 words to sneeze out.

Then I watched Tuesday night's game. That was not a Yankees team that needed a quick fix. That was not a roster in search of a final piece. Loading every prospect they had into a barrel and shipping it to Detroit for David Price would have been a wild night out followed by a brutal hangover. The Yankees had chances to improve the team ...

... and they wisely declined those chances. While there's no way for sure what a Ben Zobrist alternate-reality timeline would look like, it would probably look a lot like the current one. Just with fewer young players.

That game, that season, that trade deadline, they're all slides in the State of the Yankees PowerPoint presentation. The Yankees are a Dutch kid with two hands trying to handle a dike with 11 holes. They can hold off utter calamity and doom for a while, just like they did for most of this season, but they'll need more hands, and soon.

And they're not likely to get all their help from free agency. Consider that the Yankees owe about $180 million to 10 players next year, and of those, I'd guess that three or four of them are decent bets to contribute more than the average player. One of them is a reliever, Andrew Miller. Masahiro Tanaka, even with his durability concerns, is another, followed by Brian McCann and Brett Gardner.

The rest of the expensive players are either close to 40 or coming off disappointing seasons. It's not like the last three players I singled out are guaranteed to be excellent, either. They come with their own concerns. Adding a $200 million superstar to this roster would be like, well, this roster with a $200 million superstar. The concerns wouldn't go away. They would be papered over, just a bit, but the team would still be counting on some combination of Jacoby Ellsbury, CC Sabathia, Chase Headley, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira to be healthy and effective, hopefully at the same time.


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This isn't to suggest that the Yankees should rebuild, blow it all up. For one, the Yankees don't rebuild. They're forever reloading, and that's how it should be. They made the postseason, remember. Just right back there. It was in the papers and everything. They ended up having a good season, so reloading makes all the sense in the world. For another, it's not like they're overstuffed with valuable players that would make other teams throw prospects at them. It's a collection of players that almost certainly cleared waivers in August without being touched.

No, there's only reloading, and without the quick fix of free agency, and with the ability or desire to rebuild, the help has to come from within. That's how it's worked in the past, too. Even if the Yankees have a deserved reputation of being big spenders, with the Beltran/McCann/Ellsbury/Tanaka offseason being particularly ludicrous, their biggest successes usually had an overachieving homegrown player mixed in somewhere.

Robinson Cano had a career .331 on-base percentage in the minors when he was called up, a prospect who never cracked a top-100 list and was just behind Joaquin Arias on the Yankees' top-10. He took off on a Hall of Fame path. Brett Gardner was similarly unheralded and became one of the better two-way outfielders in baseball, even if Yankees fans weren't exactly tickled with him last night.

The Yankees need one or two or three or 37 of those players, and that's why they're holding onto their prospects as tightly as they are. Greg Bird's excellent debut was a fine glimpse into the Yankees' sunniest thoughts, as was Luis Severino. Aaron Judge and Jorge Mateo could have been exchanged for quick fixes to the current roster, but they're a part of a plan.

The major difference with the Yankees needing help from the farm now compared to those Cano/Gardner scenarios is that there isn't a gaggle of stars already on the roster. There aren't a lot of stars to buy in free agency. Either the Yankees have to turn one or two of these prospects into a Cano-like superstar, or they'll have to overwhelm the world with a half-dozen Gardner-types. You know better than to bet against them. The Decline and Fall of the New York Yankees No This Time We're Serious has been on the bestseller lists for decades, but it's been 23 years since the Yankees lost more games than they've won in a season.

It's just that the juggling act has moved from tennis balls to chainsaws, and the margin of error and degree of difficulty are trending in opposite directions. They Yankees made the postseason after hoping and wishing that players like A-Rod, Teixeira and Beltran could contribute. It worked. At some point, it will stop working. They'll need to cut some future and paste it into the present if they're going to do it again. If there's a silver lining to the disappointing finish, it's that the Yankees didn't give that chance away.