HOUSTON — It was calculating, bending the bounds of personal ethics with a win-at-all-cost mentality. Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner looked the other way with Aroldis Chapman this winter, valuing the potential of a 105 mph fastball over morality.
With Chapman, in the words of GM Brian Cashman, an “asset that was in distress” because of his domestic violence allegations, Steinbrenner pounced like a shark taking advantage of a foreclosure sale.
Steinbrenner signed off on the ruthless winter move, acquiring Chapman at a discounted price from the Reds and allowing his cut-throat Steinbrenner DNA to present itself for the world to see, albeit in a much quieter fashion than his father.
On Monday, the Yankees reaped the rewards of taking the public relations hit as Cashman has now turned the four middling prospects he gave up for Chapman in December into one of the best prospects in baseball, 19-year-old Gleyber Torres, a major leaguer (and former Yankee) in Adam Warren and two other minor leaguers with a shot.
So here we are post-Chapman, and Prince Hal has a chance not just to be like his old man, but to be better. In building the late ’90s dynasty, his dad got lucky. Hal could simply be good.
During the next week, Hal has a chance to demonstrate his pragmatic side, which could eventually return the Yankees to being the kings of baseball again. If they can create a rich farm system and payroll flexibility, the Yankees could have the assets to pick the finest players via trade and free agency in the near future. That’s how dynasties are built.
Their toughest opponent is themselves, and acting bull-headed as if by selling they would be breaking up the 1927 version of the club, not the 2016 edition. The ’16 club, mind you, after 99 games, just eked three games over .500 for the first time all season.
In the next week, Cashman will continue to listen to offers for Carlos Beltran, Andrew Miller, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova and others. Cashman will then present the best ones to Steinbrenner.
“I have a green light to continue to do my job, which is to assess market values both coming and going and make recommendations, and he’ll tell me what he wants done,” said Cashman, declining to put a buyer or seller label on his agenda. “Then I’ll execute as told.”
As the Yankees are presently constituted, they probably can compete for a wild card every year and then pray. Acquiring the most talent is a better long-term strategy.
The Yankees shouldn’t be fooled by their recent hot streak. With their win Monday, they have won nine of 13 to move to 51-48, good enough for 4.5 games back in the wild card and 7.5 in the division with 63 games left on the calendar. At their optimum, the Yankees might be able to claim a wild card, but would need to go 37-26 to top last year’s 87 wins. Again, it took them 99 games to move three games above .500.
Hal’s father would surely go for it, demonstrating the bombast and irrationality that made him beloved by people who never had to work for him.
For all the revisionist history, Boss Steinbrenner was never patient enough to start a dynasty. The Core Four were nurtured because Steinbrenner was under suspension in the early ’90s.
Without The Boss meddling, Gene “Stick” Michael and Buck Showalter were able to pour the cement of a strong foundation built around a farm system that produced Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. That core, combined with Steinbrenner’s wallet, was a relentless success.
Today, Prince Hal’s whims are just as important as his father’s once were. To complete the Chapman scheme, Cashman first had to convince Steinbrenner to sign off on the winter deal that included Chapman’s baggage. Chapman delivered on the field and off, making the trade to the Cubs possible.
Steinbrenner did not stop the Yankees from acquiring a man who was accused of hitting his girlfriend and shooting a gun, which made many Yankees fans cringe, despite the excitement Chapman’s fastball brought to the ninth inning. Steinbrenner was able to compartmentalize Chapman’s actions in the name of winning.
Heartless? Perhaps, but the Yankees looked at it as improving the talent in the organization. Even when Cashman made the Chapman trade in December, the possibility of flipping him for better prospects was part of his presentation to Hal. Cashman had no regrets Monday.
“Clearly Hal is a hands-on owner and someone that requires constant communication of where you’re at, what you’re doing, why you’re trying to do it,” Cashman said. “I stayed in full contact and waited for his approval. Like anything else, you make your recommendations, then he tells you the direction he wants to go. Communication was good. Always is. Sometimes he goes with your recommendation. Other times he won’t.”
The Chapman deal had traces of his old man in its fearlessness, consequences be damned. Now, Hal has a chance to be pragmatic, to listen to his baseball people and do the smart thing — be sellers.
His dad will always be The Boss, but, if Cashman is allowed to do this trade deadline right, Prince Hal could one day be king.