By Ken Davidoff
Hal Steinbrenner’s moment of truth might be coming earlier than anticipated. It could force the Yankees’ managing general partner to forgo the methodology that got him to this point and dive back into the frame of mind that long identified this franchise.
If the Yankees keep playing so well, they’ll have to seriously consider trading prized youngsters to better equip them for a 2017 championship run that few, if anyone, saw coming.
“That’s clearly going to be the second half of July,” Steinbrenner said Wednesday at Major League Baseball’s Manhattan headquarters, where he attended the quarterly owners’ meetings. “We’re going to see where we’re at, what options are available and what those options would cost. That’s something we go through every [year], the last two weeks of July.
“And you know us. Every year, we think we’re in it. That’s why we go through that exercise the last two weeks in July.”
Last year, when the Yankees went through that exercise, they decided to trade relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, starting pitcher Ivan Nova and veteran bat Carlos Beltran in an attempt to reboot their farm system. Just as telling, in the several years prior to that, they didn’t trade any of their top minor league players. In 2015, the Yankees watched the Blue Jays load up in July — and ultimately overtake them in the American League East — as they largely stood pat and protected Greg Bird, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino.
“I think we’ve been pretty consistent about not trading away the young talent the last three to four years. I think, in part, that consistency has paid off in several areas,” Steinbrenner said. “So that’s not something I’m looking to do, is trade away our top prospects.”
Yet if these Yankees, fueled by Severino and Judge among many other contributors, can stay atop the division as the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline arrives, then they’ll owe it to themselves and their fan base to be on the buying side this time.
They have developed an enviable surplus of prospects, too many for all of them to actually play for the Yankees someday. Enough so that the Yankees can deal a blue-chip guy or two — let’s say Clint Frazier and Jorge Mateo, for argument’s sake — to land a starting pitcher or reliever of note.
Once upon a time, the Yankees needed to develop more of an emotional attachment to their drafted and developed players and less to veterans of other teams. That prescription could reverse itself soon.
“I don’t know if I will be more open to it,” Steinbrenner said of such a possibility, “but I will absolutely divert all of my attention to any one deal that’s brought across my table. That’s the way I’ve always been. I’ll do the research. I’ll read the scouting reports. I’ll talk to [Yankees general manager Brian Cashman] and all his people. And I’ll consider any option.”
In other matters:
— Steinbrenner didn’t sound concerned about Chapman, the $86 million closer who resides on the disabled list with inflammation in the rotator cuff of his left, throwing shoulder.
“I’m not [concerned] because he is a physical specimen,” Steinbrenner said of Chapman. “He said he’s had this issue in the past. It’s not uncommon. It’s inflammation of a tendon, right? I had the same exact thing a few years ago because I waxed too many cars in a two-day period. The morning of the third day, I couldn’t lift my arm.
“It’s not an uncommon injury. He’ll bounce back, and he’s a strong guy, as we all know.”
(Unfortunately, none of the reporters thought to ask Steinbrenner whether he had been waxing so many cars as part of his karate training with Mr. Miyagi.)
Regarding temporary Yankees closer Dellin Betances, whom team president Randy Levine derided in February for not being a closer, Steinbrenner said: “Dellin knows he’s got a job to do. He does have a job to do. I think he’s going to do a great job.”
— Asked whether 20-year-old infield prospect Gleyber Torres, currently at Double-A Trenton, could reach the big leagues this year, Steinbrenner said: “It’s a good question. Not only is the ability there, but he’s very mature for his age. He really is. I think he’s going to come fast. I just don’t know how fast. Long way to go.
“We don’t want to push these guys faster than they need to be pushed, but he’s one that really has the potential to move quickly.”
— “Clearly there’s a very good chance” of the Yankees’ payroll dropping below the luxury-tax threshold, which will be $197 million, next year, Steinbrenner said. He added: “At the same time, still having a significant amount of money to spend where we feel we need to spend it. And we will, if we feel we need to spend it.”
— Of his most significant concern moving forward, Steinbrenner said: “I don’t think there’s a year that can go by of any owner not worried about starting pitching at some level.” He noted the team will have some openings in its starting rotation, with Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka all eligible for free agency after this season.
— Steinbrenner wished former Yankees captain Derek Jeter, whose No. 2 the Yankees retired Sunday night, the best of luck in his pursuit of buying the Marlins.
“He’s a very intelligent, even-keeled guy,” Steinbrenner said. “I think he’d be a great asset to any organization.”
Asked whether it would be odd to see Jeter involved with another club, Steinbrenner said: “Obviously we all consider him a Yankee, and hopefully that’ll remain the same his whole life. I haven’t thought about that. I’m sure for a brief amount of time, kind of like seeing [Don] Mattingly as a Dodger manager or a Marlin manager was a little odd. I always think of him as a Yankee. [Mattingly] was always one of my favorites growing up. I’m sure it will be [odd] for a time, but we’ll see what happens.”
Asked whether it would be easier seeing Jeter own a team in the National League, Steinbrenner said: “We’re just going to be happy for him. If this is a dream of his, being involved in a high level at a major league club, it doesn’t matter to me which league or which team, quite frankly. I just wish him the best.”
— He expressed satisfaction with Alex Rodriguez’s approach to his new role as adviser and special instructor.
“He’s always asking, ‘What do you need me for? What can I do?’” Steinbrenner said of A-Rod. “He’s been down to Tampa several times, not including spring training. He’s been great working with the young kids. He’ll be the first guy willing to get on the phone with one of the young kids if we feel it would be beneficial in some way.”