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Yankees' focus should be on getting better for 2017, not just winning now

From now on, each move and each decision made by Hal Steinbrenner -- who isn't his father -- should be viewed through this prism: What's best for the 2017 Yankees? AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Hal Steinbrenner seemingly hates the idea of being anything like his father as a boss, and for the son, pointing out the obvious is an eruption. This is what Hal did Wednesday, when he singled out individual players by name for poor performances: Chase Headley, Mark Teixeira, Michael Pineda.

George Steinbrenner’s eruptions would often be followed by a quick trade or demotion, manifestations of tantrums. That will never be Hal’s way, and his words probably don’t carry those sorts of implications; rather, he seemed to be commiserating with frustrated Yankees fans.

But Hal’s decision to say how he feels might eventually be remembered as the first substantive sign that this could be a different kind of summer with the Yankees, a season of accelerated change for an aging roster. Moving forward, each move and each decision made by Steinbrenner and his staff should be viewed through this prism: What’s best for the 2017 Yankees?

This is not the same as a total rebuild, a complete teardown. These Yankees are good enough to contend for a playoff spot, and at least hang in the race into the last couple of weeks behind a dominant bullpen and good core of position players.

But if Hal Steinbrenner makes an honest, objective assessment of his product -- and he’s very good at math -- he almost certainly realizes that as currently constructed, the Yankees aren’t close to being a championship team. They might be a threat to survive into October, but not all the way through it.

The Yankees can win a share of games against better teams, as they did during the recent 10-game homestand, when they won seven from the Red Sox, Royals and White Sox. Their starting pitching appears short, however, and the Yankees’ lineup is littered with potholes of inconsistency that may or may not be filled as the season progresses.

It’s possible that Teixeira, a chronically slow starter in his career, gets back to being what he was last season, but now that he’s 36 years old, it’s also possible his regression is irreversible. It’s possible that Alex Rodriguez, closing in on his 41st birthday, is closer to a .200 hitter now than a .300 hitter. Headley has hit better in recent games, but it may be that Headley will never again be the player the Yankees thought he was when they signed him to a four-year deal.

So next season should carry as much weight as 2016 in the choices that Joe Girardi, GM Brian Cashman and Steinbrenner make over the last 18 weeks of this season.

For example:

The 26-year-old Aaron Hicks needs to play. He rotted on the Yankees’ bench early this season, collecting only three hits in his first 33 at-bats and fighting a minor injury, and over the past couple of weeks, he has been in the lineup regularly and hit over .300. Starting Hicks might mean benching Rodriguez in a given game, or Carlos Beltran, but that’s what Girardi should do, to provide Hicks an opportunity to develop.

Some day soon, the Yankees will need to make a similar decision with outfielder Aaron Judge, the young slugger who is going to be part of the team’s lineup in future seasons. Judge turned 24 on April 26 and has a .790 OPS in Triple-A, and the Yankees should commit to playing him in the big leagues in August and September.

That probably would mean trading Brett Gardner, who is under contract for $24 million for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Jacoby Ellsbury is signed through 2020 at $21.2 million annually for the next four seasons and would be difficult to move, but Gardner could be a fit for a team like the Cubs or White Sox or another contender. The Yankees could get a prospect or two in return for Gardner and have an outfield mix of Ellsbury, Hicks, Beltran and Judge down the stretch.

The Yankees should listen to offers for catcher Brian McCann, who has a full no-trade clause, because catcher Gary Sanchez appears ready to play every day in the big leagues. McCann continues to be a good player, at age 32, with a terrific reputation for leadership and pitch-framing and two years left on a five-year, $85 million deal (and a vesting option for 2019). If the Rangers -- who have a team that could be championship-caliber right now -- wanted a solution at catcher for the rest of this season and in the next couple of years, maybe they would have interest. The Yankees could ask about the availability of young slugger Joey Gallo, a third baseman with left-handed power perfect for Yankee Stadium.

It figures that the Yankees will listen on offers for Andrew Miller, whose contract runs through 2018 and drew interest from the Dodgers and Astros in the offseason. If the Dodgers traded for Miller, he would give L.A. a late-inning setup man for this season and perhaps a closer for 2017 if Kenley Jansen departs as a free agent. Aroldis Chapman, with his domestic violence suspension now behind him, could be swapped to a contender before he reaches free agency in the fall.

The Yankees could trade one or two of these veterans without significantly cutting into efforts to win this season. But more important, they would be better for 2017 if Hicks, Judge and Sanchez play, and if they can get major league-ready players -- starting pitchers, particularly -- in a swap of their veterans.

Cashman has said in the past that the Yankees don’t do full-blown rebuilds, because of the demands of their market. But they can continue to retool and add more young players to Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius and first baseman Greg Bird, who is expected back for 2017 after having shoulder surgery in the winter.

Hal Steinbrenner’s Yankees are a team in transition, from old to young, and they’ll have an opportunity to turn that corner this summer, on the fly, as they try to chase down teams in the 2016 playoff race.

• The Yankees’ bullpen held off the Diamondbacks. Teixeira said he doesn’t blame Hal Steinbrenner for what he said.

Steinbrenner had strong words, writes Ken Davidoff.

On Wednesday’s podcast, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution explains the unusual way Fredi Gonzalez found out he would be fired, and why the Braves probably haven’t hit rock bottom yet; USA Today’s Bob Nightengale discusses the discipline handed down to the Jays and Rangers; and Tim Kurkjian about Khris Davis's power burst, Clayton Kershaw's brilliance and the best possible pitching matchup. Plus the last outs of Randy Johnson's perfect game.

Wednesday’s Scoreboard podcast, with a great Vin Scully description.

• The Giants are the hottest team in baseball: Seven straight wins, and counting, after Johnny Cueto dominated the Padres. Madison Bumgarner has been outstanding, as John Shea writes.

We’ve got Bumgarner and the Giants against the Cubs and Kyle Hendricks on Sunday Night Baseball.

Adam Wainwright dropped his arm angle and had his best outing of the season, as Derrick Goold writes.

• The White Sox have dropped four straight. GM Rick Hahn talked the other day about how he is ready to make a suitable deal right now if one becomes available. Depending on what Hahn and his staff determine is the most glaring need, some of the options that could be available to them:

If they decide they want an outfielder: Ender Inciarte, Gardner, Josh Reddick, Jay Bruce.

If they are concerned about shortstop Jimmy Rollins holding up for the whole season: Zack Cozart of the Reds.

If they want a starting pitcher, which might turn out to be their preference, given the problem filling the No. 5 spot in the rotation and the recent lag of Mat Latos: They could target Rich Hill or Sonny Gray of the Athletics, or Julio Teheran of the Braves -- but the price tag for Teheran would be extraordinary, given his success and his very team-friendly contract.

Teheran shut down the Pirates on Wednesday.

Jose Reyes will report to the Rockies’ spring training facility today, but his future with the team is unclear.

• The Cubs won a wild game against the Brewers, fending off Milwaukee in a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation before Travis Wood forced home the winning run with a bases-loaded walk in the 13th inning.

From the Elias Sports Bureau: Over the past 25 seasons, the only other pitcher to get a game-winning RBI on a bases-loaded walk in extra frames was Chan Ho Park, who did so for the Dodgers at Wrigley Field on June 19, 1996.

Wood was philosophical about how this game played out, as Jesse Rogers writes.

Gio Gonzalez shut down the Mets.

Matt Harvey starts for the Mets today against Stephen Strasburg, at a time Harvey is not comfortable throwing the ball. The Mets need Harvey to answer the call today.

From ESPN Stats & Information: The Nationals have won each of Stephen Strasburg's past 12 starts, which is tied for the franchise record for most consecutive team wins in a pitcher's starts. A win against the Mets on Thursday would put Strasburg alone atop the franchise list:

This will be the third time that Strasburg and Harvey have faced off as opposing starters. Harvey outpitched Strasburg each of the previous two times, winning both meetings (April 19, 2013, and April 9, 2015):

David Wright went hitless in four at-bats and struck out three times, and over his past 34 at-bats, he has four hits, 10 walks and 17 strikeouts. Wright says he expects to be better, writes Adam Rubin.

• The Phillies are 24-17 and continue to play great defense and pitch well. Go ahead and try to explain the Phillies, writes Matt Gelb. From his story:

"It's crazy, but why not?" Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're playing well. We're pitching well. We're playing good defense. We're getting just enough runs to win. I'll take it every time."

The Phillies have scored four or fewer runs in 20 of their last 22 games. Their record in that stretch is 15-7. They will rest Thursday before the sinking Atlanta Braves come to Citizens Bank Park this weekend.

• The Indians pulled out a really nice comeback against the Reds, with Francisco Lindor getting the big hit.