The New York Yankees have won five straight games, sweeping a four-game series in Oakland. Since dropping eight games below .500 on May 5, they've gone 12-5. They're pitching well. They're hitting well. There's a rush to bury the Yankees every year, but you cannot bury that which is not dead.
The Yankees are still a game below .500. Their expected win-loss record is even worse. Mark Teixeira is hitting like he's wearing Dockers over his head. Carlos Beltran's OBP is under .300 and Chase Headley is broken. Several of the regulars are hitting like utility infielders, actually, which means it's possible to write about the different ways the Yankees are a mess without mentioning the starting pitching. That's probably a bad sign.
Both descriptions can be accurate. Schrödinger's roster! The Yankees are simultaneously playing well enough to have thoughts of contending, while at the same time exhibiting all the signs of a team that needs to sell before it's too late. This makes them the most fascinating team in baseball before the deadline, a franchise at a complete fork in a road. Down one path is success and the good fortunes of the typical Yankees team. Down the other path is a rabid, ornery possum. You want to bring the fork in the road, so you can stab the possum with it, but you cannot.
What to make of the Yankees? They're an incredibly old team with a middle-ranked farm system, which would seem to be synonymous for a team in need of a rebuild. They're also a team that can probably wring a little more value out of the veterans than what they're getting, and there might still be a window for them. The case for both paths:
The Case for Rebuilding
The Yankees have seven players in the lineup who are 32 or older, three of whom are struggling and/or hurt. They're having troubles hitting, their starting pitchers are having troubles pitching, and the weak free agent class from next offseason keeps getting weaker as players sign extensions. If there's anything like a quick fix, it's by trading prospects and young players for help. Considering that didn't interest the Yankees last year, it can't possibly interest them with a weaker, older team that's going to need those prospects even more.
There are prospects who are close to the majors, but it's not an unstoppable wave of top-100 prospects who have nothing to learn in Triple-A. Aaron Judge is swinging and missing an awful lot in Scranton, and he's older than Bryce Harper. Gary Sanchez is doing better, but he also plays the same position as Brian McCann, currently the team's best hitter. They have a gaggle of talented teenagers and Class A players, but few prospects who can realistically serve as a bridge between the Chase Headley Era and the next iteration of a typically great Yankees team.
What would the plan be if it isn't rebuilding? Gamble on Jose Bautista being available, amenable to the Yankees' terms, and healthy and productive enough to carry the 2017 lineup? That's what's available to the Yankees in free agency, over-30 talents like Bautista for the lineup, and Scott Kazmir-type talents for the rotation.
Do a thought exercise, then. Take Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Bautista and put them in the Yankees' lineup right now, and guess at the Yankees chances in the 2016 AL East. Are they favorites? Probably not. Which means it probably wouldn't be a grand idea to spend a combined $200 million on them a year later to support the same roster.
It's over. There's no more reloading. The free agent market has dried up. The farm system has promise, but it's not a cavalry that's coming to fill all of the holes in the next year.
Now think of the players the Yankees could get for Andrew Miller. The Phillies are thrilled with the Ken Giles trade, of course, and the Padres have two position players in Triple-A from the Craig Kimbrel trade who might get worked into the lineup by the end of the year. Miller would bring nearly as much in a trade as either of them.
Dellin Betances might bring more.
While Brian McCann would be a tough sell, especially considering that contending teams are usually reluctant to change catchers mid-stream, there would probably be a line out the door for Brett Gardner.
Are these painful names to hear? Yeah, certainly. But rebuilds stink, and the plan would be to:
a) get as much upper-minors talent as possible and
b) attack the 2017-2018 offseason with a money cannon
This wouldn't be a five-year plan. This would be an infusion of nearly ready prospects to supplement the lower-minors prospects, all timed to arrive with the money cannon. There are painful rebuilds. This one would involve trading relievers, mostly. A normal team pounces on that chance.
The Case for Reloading (or at least, giving it one more go)
Here are some names that are absent from that rebuilding scenario: Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury, Chase Headley, and Alex Rodriguez. They're making about $100 million this year, and Ellsbury still has nearly $100 million left on his contract. Any deals involving them for prospects would involve all sorts of alternate considerations. Scores of millions going to Ellsbury's new team. Teixeira rebounding so convincingly over the next month that he's desirable again. Alex Rodriguez wearing a mask of the Many-Faced God to convince baseball that he's Stan Grendel, Completely Normal DH and Totally Different Person, Please Love Me.
And even in those unlikely trades, it's not like they're eating money to reap a bounty of Grade-A prospects. They aren't dealing with a single Cole Hamels situation, where the ultra-talented player can bring back ultra-desirable prospects with a little financial relief. Masahiro Tanaka would qualify, if not for the constant concerns about his elbow.
So, if all these players are sticking around, regardless, and because you know the fans aren't used to a full rebuild, and that they might not tolerate it at all, there's an argument for sighing, crossing your fingers, and walking down the path of inactivity. It might be the riskiest path of all, but there's a cogent argument for this decision, too.
Consider that the Yankees are almost at .500 with everything going wrong, from Luis Severino to Headley. They aren't getting All-Star performances from any of the All-Star salaries, which means it's not completely bananas to hope for more from the veterans. We're not talking about Teixeira becoming an MVP candidate or CC Sabathia winning a Cy Young. We're talking about the miserable players becoming passable, the passable players becoming solid contributors, and the solid contributors producing even more.
Because the prize for giving up now would be, what, a couple of prospects who might turn out, sandwiched between the old guys who are sticking around anyway and a decimated bullpen? That doesn't sound like a lot of fun.
The Yankees will have two months to figure this out, fortunately. The odds are strong that the answer will be obvious by then, either because they're so close or so far away. In the off chance that they're still hanging around in franchise limbo, half-in and half-out of a postseason race at the same time, though, they'll be a fascinating case study. Is it time for the Yankees to finally rebuild? Are they actually going to prepare for a couple seasons down the road, which they haven't had to do in decades?
Don't know. The only two things I know for sure are that a) the decision will be supremely interesting, and b) whatever high draft pick they get from a rebuilding plan will automatically turn into a 20-year franchise player, just because. The Yankees Way doesn't need its own book. It's something you can just hear behind you, breathing in the dark.