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The Yankees need it to be 1995 again. That was the last time they had a team, with such talent and expectations, that was so confounding and underachieving this late into a season.
The 1994 Yankees had built the AL’s best record when the strike hit in August, leading to the cancellation of the rest of the season. They then added a high-end starter (Jack McDowell) and reliever (John Wetteland) before the next season and were viewed as AL favorites. But their pitching malfunctioned and a malaise hung over the club.
George Steinbrenner was doing George Steinbrenner things — fighting Darryl Strawberry’s agent in back-and-forth press releases for a player he actually was trying to sign and blessing a headache-for-headache trade of Danny Tartabull for Ruben Sierra.
He also took control of trade talks for David Cone. Although his Tampa minor league faction did not want to include a pitching prospect named Marty Janzen for a walk-year ace, GM Gene Michael in New York was all for the trade. Neither side knew which way The Boss would go when he went into exclusive talks with Blue Jays president Paul Beeston. Steinbrenner blessed the July 28 deal for Cone, but the move actually did not initially spur the Yankees, who fell to 54-59 at one point in a 144-game season. That dropped them 16 games behind the first-place Red Sox on Aug. 28, yet just 4 1-2 back in a jammed wild card race.
From that point, Cone was instrumental to stellar rotation work, which helped the Yanks finish 24-6 to clinch the first AL wild card on the final day of the season.
These underachieving Yankees were nine games behind the Red Sox, but just 3 ¹/₂ back of a jammed second wild card race. So should the 2021 Yankees be looking at the best walk-year hitters such as Starling Marte or Trevor Story to be a positional Cone?
Yes, if they have to give up as little as they did for Cone — Janzen (6.39 ERA in 27 games) was the only one of three prospects sent to Toronto that even reached the majors. Of course, that is hard to know at the moment of a trade. Also, those Yankees had not made the playoffs in 14 years and were further motivated to get Don Mattingly there for the first time. Plus, the single wild card then assured a best-of-five series (memorably lost to Seattle). This time the Yanks’ best chance to get in is a second wild card, which assures only a single-elimination road game.
It does not mean the Yankees should give up. All indicators after another devastating weekend, this one at Fenway, is they still plan to buy. But it isn’t like they are sitting on a Core Four (all of whom made their debut in 1995) from which to move forward — unless you think a lot more of Trey Amburgey and Chris Gittens than you should. The Yanks also had similar records to now in 2005 and 2007, yet rallied to win 90-plus games and make the playoffs. Those teams still had championship leadership this one lacks.
And I continue to believe what I wrote last week — that if the Yankees are going to deal their current plight makes it that they should be thinking lefty, athletic and control beyond this season. I mentioned that they had been talking to the Twins about Max Kepler, who makes sense in that scenario.
But I get why Marte and Story are appealing. As opposed to much of this Yankee roster they are good baseball players; they defend and run the bases well. But both are righty (being overly righty is another Yankee problem). Story, in particular, has struggled vs. righties and his overall July has been atrocious (.179 average, .583 OPS, 29.3 strikeout percentage).
Like with Cone, the Yankees could trade for the walk-year player now and try to sign him in the offseason. The Marlins recently tried to extend Marte — their initial offer, according to a source, was two years at $20 million. The talks were shut down in June because the sides were so far apart, so they tried again at the All-Star break with Miami getting to at least three years at $30 million, with the potential for more. But the veteran outfielder wanted four years unless the three-year deal climbed substantially. It didn’t. And the player-imposed deadline beginning play in the second half, July 16, came without a deal.
Marte is aging well, but he will play at 33 next season and the Yanks should avoid long deals with players in this age category. Story might feel the pull to return to his Dallas-area roots in free agency if bids are close. I like Story, but would favor either making a big trade offer for Washington’s Trea Turner or waiting until he is a free agent after the 2022 season — he just is a more explosive player.
One of the Yankees’ prospect strengths is middle infield and I expect they will be over-protective of shortstops Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe (both getting plenty of outside scout admiration too) and more willing to discuss Ezequiel Duran, Trevor Hauver and Josh Smith. They also have good righty pitching depth in the minors. Teams should try to get Miguel Andujar because he is going to hit if healthy and given an extended chance — and there will probably be a DH in the NL next year.
The Yanks have enough capital to be aggressive in this market, especially if they do think this is 1995 again and there is a late run in them.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Joel Sherman