Think back for a moment to the dynasty-era New York Yankees of 1995-2009. What was the one thing that all 5 of the World Champion Yankee teams had?
That steady, constant, reliable core of homegrown talent at key positions up the middle.
In shortstop Derek Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada, starter Andy Pettitte, and closer Mariano Rivera, the Yankees had themselves top-10 level talent at each position that they brought up themselves, aptly titled the “Core Four”.
While we may never see such a collection of players stay together for the better part of 18 years ever again, the Yankees of today have the makings of their very own “Core Four” all over again.
Enter right fielder Aaron Judge, catcher Gary Sanchez, first baseman Greg Bird, and starter Luis Severino: the next incarnation of the mighty “Core Four”.
Back in 1995, the “Core Four” were still scuffling in the minor leagues. Jeter was a high draft pick with sky-high potential but some issues with patience at the plate and consistency in the field. Posada had just made the switch from second base to catcher, an extremely difficult transition to pull off. Pettitte was in fact experimenting with a knuckleball, and Rivera was still a starting pitcher.
There were no guarantees that any of these prospects would pan out, despite their vast ceilings.
Flash forward to 2016. Aaron Judge had taken over AA, but hadn’t adjusted well to AAA pitching yet. Gary Sanchez was in AAA for the second year and still had questionable defense. Greg Bird was on the DL, as shoulder surgery knocked him off course for the year. And Luis Severino, perhaps the biggest star of them all, had been relegated to AAA after a disastrous start to his 2016 season.
Once again, the Yankee farm system was in jeopardy. The team had invested lots of time into these kids, but the big league results just weren’t there yet.
But much like former General Manager Gene Michael did in 1995, current GM Brian Cashman convinced ownership to hang onto these kids and to give them a shot in the late season playoff push.
Sure enough, the young Yankees began to settle in down in AAA, and they were all promptly recalled in August of 2015 and 2016.
People tend to forget at times that the “Core Four” Yankees were a little rough around the edges when they first got called up. They of course overcame all of that to be immortalized in Monument Park, but in the year of 1996, fans of the big club were far but confident that their prospects could shoulder the load.
None of the “Core Four” were particularly impressive when they were called up for the first time in 1995. This is where the story of the Yankees’ new core differs a little bit. When the Baby Bombers of 2016 came up to the bigs, they took the league by storm.
Sanchez has hit .377 with 8 home runs in 18 games, and has also thrown out 5 of 7 potential base-stealers. Judge hit his first two big league home runs in his first two games. Bird blasted 11 home runs in 46 games when he came up in 2015, and Severino was in the Yankees’ playoff rotation as a 21-year-old rookie last year.
Heck, there’s even a Bernie Williams figure in all of this. Williams was a fantastic center fielder that won 4 Championships with the Yankees, but he is left out of the “Core Four” due to the fact that he first came up with the Yankees a few years earlier than the rest of the bunch and wasn’t around for the 2009 ring.
While Tyler Austin debuted in 2016 with the rest of his peers, he is the oldest one at 24 and was in the Yankee minor league system years earlier than the others were. Austin may not be considered part of the Yankees’ new “Core Four”, but he is very deserving of the praise that he receives, much like Williams was back in the 1990’s.
One of the keys to the success of the “Core Four” was the fact that the 1996 Yankees were a veteran bunch. Guys like Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Wade Boggs, Cecil Fielder, David Cone, and John Wetteland were instrumental in the development of the youth movement.
The Baby Bombers of today have a similar squad of helpful veterans. Players who have been there and done that before, like Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, CC Sabathia, Dellin Betances, and the since-released Alex Rodriguez have all been mentioned as huge influences on the young kids.
One of the many intangible qualities that the “Core Four” was notable for was for being team leaders who were always accountable and willing to chat with the media.
And wouldn’t you know it, the new core was raised just the same. It doesn’t take long to ascertain that Sanchez, Judge, Bird, and Severino are individuals of class and character, which goes a long way towards building a Championship team.
The parallels between the Yankees’ new core and their old core are too prevalent to overlook. If history is any indicator, it will not be long before the Yankees are back to doing what they do best – winning World Series – with a hungry group of youngsters eager for more leading the way.