Pinstriped placeholders? Please! Yankees vets aren't interested in a rebuild

Does CC Sabathia care about a 2019 superteam? Um, no. Andy Marlin/USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia responded incredulously to the question.

The perception of the New York Yankees is that they're in the midst of a great rebuild, focusing on developing young players and dropping salary before adding big-name free agents -- with contending in 2019 as the real goal. Everything is supposed to come together in the future, not now.

What does Sabathia think about that?

"Nobody cares about that s---," Sabathia said. "Sorry, but nobody cares about two years from now. We want to win games today. Nobody in here is thinking if they are going to be here or not. There is too much turnover in baseball. If anyone is thinking about that, then they are in the wrong spot."

That ingrained sense of urgency is why the Yankee veterans refuse to become complacent. They weren't satisfied after Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox, which ended an eight-game win streak. And they say they won't be satisfied to simply plod along despite the pedestrian forecasts set for them before the season began. They are 9-5 to begin this season, and the veterans, like Sabathia, have been at the forefront of that success.

While the Yankees clearly are in a transition stage, their 30-something veterans don’t have time to waste. Sabathia, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Chase Headley and Matt Holliday won't go down in history like the core four plus Bernie Williams did.

"Sorry, but nobody cares about two years from now. We want to win games today. Nobody in here is thinking if they are going to be here or not. ... If anyone is thinking about that, then they are in the wrong spot."
CC Sabathia
Early on, they've held their own. Sabathia has pitched the best of any Yankee with a 2-0 record and a 1.47 ERA in three starts. Ellsbury is hitting .327, while Headley is at .409. Gardner has stolen five bases. Holliday hit a mammoth homer in Monday's win.

"The older guys have been doing their jobs," manager Joe Girardi said.

The players’ focus is on the here and now, while outside observers -- and the front office -- might be more inclined to project into the future.

"We hear it," Headley said. "I’ve said it, that the expectation here is always to win the World Series. That is the only way we can look at it -- that the goal doesn’t change, understanding that certainly there are some young players, but they are talented young players. We think we can do some things with them."

It was Girardi who said there was so much talent in spring training that the young players could start supplanting the veterans very soon.

No jobs are guaranteed in the Bronx, even this year. For Headley, 32, players like Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar could come knocking on the major league door. For Ellsbury and Gardner, both 33, Clint Frazier is at Triple-A. For Holliday, who just celebrated his 37th birthday, a career expiration date is likely approaching sooner than later. And there are a host of young starters behind the 36-year-old Sabathia.

But these Yankees are looking ahead, not over their shoulders. They know that if the Yankees are in contention in July, the franchise will go out and add, not subtract. All the talk about 2019 will be erased if the Yankees keep winning into July.

"One thousand percent, that is a part of who we are," Sabathia said. "If we are in the mix at the All-Star break and we need something, they will go out and get it, like they always do."

Though Ellsbury, who has seemed invisible in the clubhouse and sometimes on the field too, is difficult to figure out, Sabathia, Gardner, Headley and Holliday, are all looked upon as leaders on this atypically young Yankees team. They all want to win this season because the clock is ticking.

"Each and every year becomes a little more urgent in trying to accomplish my goal to win a World Series," Headley said. "I'm certainly not looking forward to 2018 or 2019. I'm trying to have a great year in 2017 and hope we can make a run."

These Yankees don’t think of themselves as placeholders. They think the young players could help them turn this season into something special.

On Tuesday, Luis Severino took the loss but showed encouraging signs for a second straight start. After striking out a career-high 11 in his previous outing, Severino fanned 10 batters in his eight innings while walking none. Though he gave up two home runs, he provided a glimpse into what he could add to the Yankees' best-case scenario rotation. If Masahiro Tanaka regains his 2016 form and Sabathia continues to pitch well, Severino, in combination with Michael Pineda, could give the Yankees an excellent top four.

"I don’t think the young guys are fine with not winning," Gardner said. "That is one thing about the Yankees; they stress winning in the minor leagues, too. These kids are accustomed to winning."

Sabathia said he's not checking box scores to see how the kids are doing in the minors. He only cares about the young players who can help the team win now.

"There is no excuse for us to not try to get in the playoffs and win the World Series," Sabathia said. "That is the ultimate goal here, and I think the team that is constructed now, we have a chance to do that. I think the Yankees do a good job to make sure that we are always in the mix, no matter what."