Brian Cashman did what for so long was unthinkable. In the George Steinbrenner years, it would have seemed impossible.
Cashman, visibly exhausted from days of deal-making, sat in front of a small Yankees backdrop in the news conference room at Citi Field and conceded the season in enemy territory. The Yankees’ best hitter, Carlos Beltran, was gone — dealt to the Rangers for three prospects — and Ivan Nova followed soon after, shipped to the Pirates for two players to be named. An hour before Monday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline, Cashman had successfully parted ways with four major players and, in the process, ushered in a new era of Yankees baseball.
The old way doesn’t work anymore. Seasons can’t be bought and sold in the free-agent market the way they used to be. And even the Yankees — yes, these Yankees — have to rebuild.
“We’ve been contending for a long time and we are damn proud of that,” Cashman said Monday evening, a day after dealing Andrew Miller and a week after trading Aroldis Chapman, mostly for prospects. “That’s a hell of a run . . . That run of contention and being legitimately considered a team that could win a championship on a year-in and year-out basis has gone on for a long time. There is, from my perspective, there’s no shame in anything we’ve tried to address today.”
The biggest move Monday was trading Beltran — in the final year of his three-year, $45-million contract — for pitchers Dillon Tate, Erik Swanson and Nick Green. Tate, a righthanded starter and a 2015 first-round draft pick, lost some of his value because of a dip in velocity and, Cashman said, was “an asset at risk.” But the Yankees hope to move him to the bullpen, he said, and work to regain some of the bite that made him so attractive to the Rangers last year.
In the same move, the Yankees did right by Beltran, who for three years has done everything they’ve asked of him and more. At 39 and in the twilight of what very well could be a Hall of Fame career, he gets to try for the World Series ring he so desperately wants. Beltran and Cashman discussed the possibility extensively on Sunday, Cashman said, adding that the general manager even apologized for not surrounding him with a winning product this year.
“If it was my choice, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere because . . . I love it here,” said Beltran, who made one final cameo after his number had been whisked from his locker. But he couldn’t deny that going to a first-place team was exciting and a good scenario for him. It also, he said, was a wise move all around.
Beltran also has the option to return to the Yankees as a free agent in the offseason, if both parties are interested. Beltran said he certainly is open to the idea.
“It’s smart,” Beltran said of his own trade. “It’s the new baseball. It’s the new generation. Organizations no longer are making dumb decisions. They’re trying to make right decisions and smart decisions, and if they’re not contending, they’re going to try to get rid of some players and get something in return. That’s what the Yankees did.”
In truth, the Yankees were fortunate that Cashman had the leash to do it. Getting swept by the last-place Rays in three games, which extended their losing streak to four games and dropped them to .500, was pivotal in convincing management that the time to rebuild was now.
That, Cashman said, in addition to the fact that the Yankees are keen in testing out some of their Triple-A talent, helped owner Hal Steinbrenner make a final call. With Beltran elsewhere, big-name prospects such as catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielder Aaron Judge finally might get a major-league shot.
“A true playoff contender, not a playoff pretender, wouldn’t” have gotten swept by the Rays, Cashman said. “It definitely influenced people . . . [And] clearly the upside of providing opportunities for some kids that right now are down there [in Triple-A] and that are earning the right to be up here and start the next step in their process, I think that was the key for [Steinbrenner].”
And despite the signs, Cashman and Joe Girardi said there still is something to be gained from the season. “I’m not [waving the white flag],” Girardi said. “I believe that you can win. I believe that you can win with the players in that room . . . Some people are probably going to think I’m delusional, but there’s no reason to put the uniform on if you don’t believe you can win.”
The difference is that this time, there probably won’t be enough wins to reach the postseason. The Yankees seem to fully expect the Stadium to be dark in October. In previous years, talk like that on Aug. 1 seemed unthinkable, impossible. But in this new era, it might be exactly what this team needs.