When things go well in baseball, thoughts often turn to the upcoming schedule and how best to keep driving forward. Such was the case a week ago. The four game winning streak brought the Yankees to 30-30 on the season with the "softer" part of the schedule, fourteen games with Detroit, Colorado and Minnesota in sight. The drive ahead looked as if traffic was light with only green lights for blocks ahead. Sure enough the Yanks won again last Friday night against the Tigers to improve to 31-30, a five game winning streak.
Then the Yankees made an abrupt U-turn.
Four straight losses, and .500 was back in the rear view mirror. Seems as if the Yankees are wasting their chance to get back in the race as they can't stand the prosperity of reaching .500, because every time they do, they hit the skids. At least they won last night, the first of four games at Minnesota's Target Field 4-1. It may be too little too late as these Yankees are a struggling bunch way too often.
When things haven't gone so well this season, it has been easy for me to start thinking of 2017. Too early for such thoughts? Though last week we were thinking contenders if they could just stay over that .500 hump, most weeks it's easy to think of recasting the crew again.
Rebuilding is a complicated and time consuming process. So for now let's just take a look at three of the top contributors to Thursday's win, Didi Gregorius, CC Sabathia, and Aroldis Chapman, and how they may fit into the Yankees future hopes.
Gregorius hit the game winning three run blast in the 7th inning and is now second among Yankee regulars hitting .280. He is clearly the best of the young players acquired over the past two winters. Despite some bumps in the road at the plate and in the field, the long term heir to the Derek Jeter throne appears to be Sir Didi.
Another Thursday performance worthy of mention is that of CC Sabathia. His place on the roster in 2017 will depend upon a vesting option which involves keeping his pitching shoulder healthy, so expect CC to be back next season. Starting in last season's stretch run and continuing through much of this year, Sabathia has given the Yankees an ace performance. In the midst of turning to youth, Sabathia is becoming a story himself as the Yankees elder statesman finds he can still perform as well as he did in his younger years.
Chapman, who got the save last night, is still the Yankees best and most obvious trade chip. Sure he is a rental for someone, but consider what placing just Chapman (not Miller or Betances--not yet anyway) on the trade block does. I mentioned trading Chapman a week ago and the Yankees should consider that the market for Chapman includes all three division leaders in the National League. Both Washington, San Francisco and the Cubs have comfortable leads in their divisions.
So the concerns of the NL division leaders may not be a top closer like Chapman for the stretch run. Instead, it will be the eleven games required to take the prize this autumn. Chapman could be a game changer for any of the three who will surely make the playoffs. The other two contenders will likely have to face Chapman. Let the competition begin. The Yankees can only benefit from such a deal. And there are other possible trade partners including the Texas Rangers, so the Chapman chase could get really heated. Yes, the rumor surfaced this week that the Cubs want both Chapman and Andrew Miller. All the better if the Cubs are willing to pay what should be a King's Ransom. Otherwise, the Yanks should just concentrate on Chapman who is a free agent following this season.
Look beyond 2016 if we must. The inability to launch over .500 makes this year more of a rebuilding year as time goes on. One of these days all that will remain of this season will be to think of 2017. The three stars of Thursday's win all will be keys to that future. Gregorius heads the youth movement. Sabathia is a reminder that a veteran presence cannot be overlooked. Chapman serves as a valuable trade piece for this season's deadline. If all play their part, we could see improvement in 2017, even if it becomes too late to make a run at 2016.