New York Yankees: Do They Need to Rebuild, and Can They?

Tom AuSenior Analyst IISeptember 6, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 04:  Designated hitter Robinson Cano #24 of the New York Yankees rounds the bases after his home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on September 4, 2012 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

"Rebuilding" is not a word that is typically used to describe the New York Yankees. In most years, or  more like most decades, they have a bevy of stars that have come up through the system. They also have baseball's largest payroll, which is to say that they can hire the additional stars that they need.

The result is that the Yankees win a lot. More so in the regular season than in the offseason. Which is why they draft late in every round most years and seldom get "first dibs" on promising amateurs.

Their last big batch of homegrown stars originated in the mid-1990s, with the likes of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettite and Mariano Riviera. Since then, Posada has retired, while Pettite and Riviera are out with injuries and will be lucky to play one more year—in 2013. Only Jeter shows no signs of slowing down, but his advanced age does make one wonder how much longer he can stay at the top of his game.

In a comment to a previous piece, I proposed that the Yankees call up or use their minor leaguers in trades to obtain better replacement players than the ones they have. That was a wrong call because of one thing—the Yankees' prospect pipeline is pretty bare.

To put it kindly, the pitching "killer bees"—Banuelos and Betances, from the top of the prospect list—appear to have made very little progress in the minors this year, and there is at least some doubt that one of them will ever be major league ready.

Two Yankee call-ups, David Phelps and Eduardo Nunez, came from the bottom of the Yankees' top 20, going into 2012, (and have not distinguished themselves so far this year). Meaning that there hasn't been much going on for the Yankees between them and the "killer bees"

Almost never has the farm system, which once included the likes of pitchers Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy and position players Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli, been this weak.

And this comes at a time when Nick Swisher become a free agents at the end of the season. The team has a 2013 option on Curtis Granderson, and Robinson Cano is also signed through next year. But they can both leave thereafter.

So, the good-hitting Yankee fielders could fall to a core of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixiera and Alex Rodriguez. (not counting Brett Gardner who is on the disabled list.) With the possible exception of the so far "ageless" Jeter, the latter two, at least, look to decline in prowess and become more susceptible to injury with each passing year of age.

Other teams in this spot might trade aging veterans for younger players. Wouldn't it have been nice to trade say Rodriguez, Teixiera, and Swisher for a first baseman, third baseman and two or three outfield prospects as the Boston Red Sox did with the Dodgers (forget, for a moment, that Teixiera's no-trade contract or Rodriguez' celebrity status prevent this).

Admittedly, there would have been downtrades at the corner infield slots, but there would also be annual salary savings of over $60 million, which could be used to retain Cano and Granderson, who have contributed more than most others in the past two years.

Since the above can't be done, the rebuilding push might have to center around Cano, who is valuable enough to be traded for his replacement at second base and an outfielder (replacing Swisher), and perhaps a prospect, at some savings in salary. Granderson might also be (down)traded for his own replacement and Swisher's.

It would be a big sacrifice, but in a massive rebuilding project, BOTH would be traded next year for replacements and prospects to re-stock the pipeline.

Also, the Yankees should hope that Russell Martin, who doesn't become a free agent until after the 2013 season and who seems to have a good year every other year, will excel next year, so he can be traded for a prospect or two, with Frankie Cervelli and/or Chris Stewart poised to take his place.

The Yankees had the right idea when they tried to trade struggling AJ Burnett to the Pirates for Garrett Jones, although the Bucs held firm, and offered them only two mediocre prospects. They did better by trading reliever Chad Qualls to the same Pirates for utility infielder Casey McGhee.

For now, however, the Yankee lineup is top heavy, with the albatross of aging and highly paid players (Rodriguez and Teixiera) signed past mid-decade. That seems to limit even their ability to pay/retain even more valuable players at a time when little is coming up from the minors.