Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told the New York media on Tuesday that the buy-or-sell decision will be pushed toward the end of July, when owner Hal Steinbrenner will listen to the recommendation and ultimately have the final say.
That’s a backdrop for the pitching-staff shakeup that happened around the same time at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs stashed Clayton Richard (7.30 ERA) on the disabled list with a blister on his left middle finger, optioned Adam Warren to Triple-A Iowa to stretch him out as a starter before the All-Star break and promoted relievers Gerardo Concepcion and Spencer Patton from Des Moines.
While waiting for the market to define itself, this roughly gives the Cubs a 35-game sample size to see what they have before the Aug. 1 trade deadline, when the entire industry will be curious to see how the best team in baseball gears up for October.
The Cubs will get a fresh look at Concepcion and hope his video-game numbers this year against left-handed hitters – .116 average, .331 OPS, 19 strikeouts in 43 at-bats – will translate from Iowa and Double-A Tennessee.
But imagine the endgame possibilities for manager Joe Maddon if Theo Epstein’s front office delivered Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman this summer. Assuming the Yankees remain a fourth-place team in the American League East, fail to gain traction above .500 and drop out of the wild-card race.
“I’m always a brutally honest person,” Cashman told reporters at Yankee Stadium, according to the New York Daily News. “If I see things, I’ll always communicate honestly with ownership to the best of our abilities. Again, we’re in June, so right now that’s not the conversation we’re having.
“Everybody wants to (know): ‘Are you buyers, are you sellers?’ If anything right now, we’d be buyers, not sellers, and who’s to say we can’t be both buyers and sellers?
“But obviously the big focus everybody wants to know is: Are we going to be in a position to sell? You’ve heard from ownership – that’s not part of the vocabulary right now. There’s enough schedule left to allow us time to see if this team is closer to what we thought it was capable of.”
Concepcion made his big-league debut during Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Cardinals, coming into a one-run game with a runner on first base and two outs to face Brandon Moss (16 homers). Concepcion threw six pitches – four fastballs clocked between 91-92 mph and two curveballs at 75-76 mph – and struck out the left-handed Moss swinging.
Concepcion then handled Kolten Wong, Adam Wainwright and Matt Carpenter during a 1-2-3 seventh inning in front of 41,616, a scenario that would have sounded crazy even last year.
Concepcion looked like a bust after signing a guaranteed five-year, $6 million major-league contract during spring training in 2012. He had been the Cuban National Series Rookie of the Year in 2011 while pitching for Industriales in Havana, but had trouble staying healthy and developing into the left-handed starter the Cubs envisioned.
No one else took a chance when the Cubs outrighted Concepcion off their 40-man roster after the 2012 season, or left him exposed in the Rule 5 draft, and his name stopped getting mentioned when team officials tried to talk up the organization’s pitching prospects.
As Epstein’s group took over baseball operations, Concepcion’s rough first year with Class-A Peoria (2-6, 7.39 ERA in 12 starts) contributed to the firing of vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita, who helped build the Latin American pipeline and network of connections that produced Carlos Marmol, Starlin Castro, Welington Castillo, Jorge Soler and Willson Contreras.
Concepcion came into this season with a 5.57 ERA in 160 career innings in the minor leagues. Between 2012 and 2014, he spent time on the disabled list with a strained right calf, a viral infection, a strained back (twice) and a broken toe on his left foot.
But Concepcion, 24, finally got healthy, started to trust his softer stuff and pitched with more confidence. He began this season by throwing 17.2 scoreless innings with Tennessee before earning the promotion to Iowa, where he went 1-0 with a 2.60 ERA in 12 appearances.
“I was frustrated when everything was going wrong,” Concepcion said through interpreter/coach Henry Blanco. “But I stepped back and learned how to do things. And here I am.”
This certainly isn’t adding Miller or Chapman – it once looked like the Cubs would get zero return on the Concepcion investment – but Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer can’t just wait around for the Yankees to go against their franchise’s DNA and give up on this season.
“You always have to anticipate something’s going to go awry,” Maddon said. “That is such a hard spot to get people you really like just by snapping your finger. Unless you’re growing somebody like that, unless you know you have it in the system (or) you’re holding him back.
“That’s kind of a nice thing to have in your back pocket. I’ve been there with the Rays a little bit. We had that kind of luxury. But if you don’t have that extra starter or two – or that real significant guy that’s got a good arm that can pitch out of your bullpen – it’s not easy (to find).”