The Empire strikes back

New York Yankees designated hitter Gary Sanchez (24) hits an eighth-inning double in a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in New York, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Before the 2016 MLB season began, the New York Yankees built up a fair amount of hype. The team did not look as exciting as it did after the 2013 offseason when general manager Brian Cashman threw boatloads of cash around to make up for the departure of Robinson Cano, but there was hope in the air.

This time around, Cashman made significant moves to build upon the solid, albeit old, foundation of a team that surprised the league with 87 wins and a wild card berth in 2015. He retained much of the hitting that contributed to a 764-run offense in 2015, good for second in the majors behind only Toronto. He brought in young and talented infielder Starlin Castro, who was the odd man out for the stacked Cubs.

Most importantly, Cashman added reliever Aroldis Chapman in a trade, giving New York yet another flamethrower out of the bullpen. By putting Chapman alongside Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, he created a “Murderers’ Row” of pitchers, designed to crystallize late leads and lock up games for the Yankees.

Flash forward to where we are now, and its obvious that the dream of a World Series contender in the Bronx did not come to fruition. With the Yankees failing to join the playoff race in late July, Cashman sent out Chapman and Miller to contending teams hungry for more help in the bullpen, in addition to sending out elite hitter Carlos Beltran as well. Also, slugger Alex Rodriguez retired, and fellow slugger Mark Teixeira will join him at the conclusion of the season.

In the wake of what has crumbled, the light has shined through. Chapman, Miller and Beltran carried quite a bit of clout when their names landed on the trade market, and the Yankees reaped the rewards. New York’s farm system has gone, suddenly, from an average one to an excellent one. The rebuild has begun with a bang, not a whimper.

We hear a lot about the full-scale rebuilding process in professional sports these days, especially with an NBA where teams routinely tank seasons for higher draft picks. The full-scale rebuilding process is not fun. Fans are given abysmal teams to support in the present, while team management holds the promise of youth above as a future incentive. Meanwhile, the general manager and scouting staff search endlessly for the next great prospect that may never come their way.

The Yankees have managed to avoid this pit of despair. They have brightened their future significantly while maintaining a respectable veteran core right now. And even this year, the youth movement is making an impact and keeping games fun for the fans.

We have gone too far in this column without mentioning Gary Sanchez, and now is the perfect time. Sanchez, a rookie catcher, is one of the focal points of the Yankees’ rebuild, and he is already showing incredible promise. On Saturday, he hit the 11th home run of his career, in just the 23rd game he has played in the majors. That makes Sanchez the fastest player in MLB history to reach 11 home runs. Beyond that show of power, he is also boasting a .405 career batting average through Sunday.

It may be too early to think about Monument Park, but it’s definitely time to begin mass-producing Sanchez T-shirts.

There are other notable young guns besides Sanchez, including Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin and Ronald Torreyes, and they have helped New York to a 15-10 record in August in the wake of the trade deadline fire sale. The team isn’t quite out of the playoff race either, as they sit just 3.5 games back of a wild card berth at the end of American League play this past weekend.

And of course, this is the New York Yankees we are talking about. Behind any prospect-fueled rebuilding efforts, there will be a gigantic pile of the Steinbrenners’ money, and Brian Cashman is the Joker, just waiting to burn it. Even in this era of baseball where teams are locking down their young talent before they reach free agency, that financial power means something.

With young talent like Gary Sanchez and the organizational strength that has been in the Bronx for years, the Yankees should find themselves a contender again soon. It’s an exciting time to be a fan of the Evil Empire.


Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu.