NEW YORK --- Imagine it's the winter of 2018 and Bryce Harper is sitting on a stool during his introductory news conference at Yankee Stadium. Next to him, Manny Machado and Jose Fernandez giggle as Harper holds the mic close to his lips, predicting, "Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven."
On Monday, the Yankees did wave a white flag, but in burying 2016's mediocrity, they have established the ground floor for what could be their next "uber team," to borrow GM Brian Cashman's phrase.
In the aftermath of the great sell-off, the Yankees made it clear they are trying to set themselves up to win "not one, not two, not three ..." championships. They did it by acquiring 12 prospects who have elevated their farm system to among baseball's best.
"I understand why they did it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of the front office's decision to sell with the team at .500. "There is age on this team. I think there are needs on this team. Brian and his staff are trying to put this team in a good position to have a long run of not just playing well, but winning championships. I think this is what this organization is about. It is not about being a second wild-card team and winning one game or losing one. We want championships."
On Monday, the Yankees closed the curtain on their historic, nearly 25-year run of success that began with the Core Four, which led the team to four titles, while CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez quarterbacked a fifth.
At some point the run would be over, and the Yankees, teetering for a few years now, finally knew it was time to move on.
They are most likely moving on up, because out of the wreckage of this middling 2016 season, Cashman has masterminded a plan that could very well lead to the next dynasty.
"From my perspective, there is no shame in what we have tried to address," Cashman said. "I think what we have tried to do is make good, sound business decisions to put ourselves in the best spot possible."
In acquiring not one, not two, not three ... but 12 prospects by trading Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran and Ivan Nova, Cashman has transformed a Yankees farm system that was once an eyesore into one envied in the game.
Cashman's plan is somewhat akin to Riley's plan with the Heat six years ago, when he shaved off salary-cap space to add James and Chris Bosh to form his super team, which reached the NBA Finals four straight years and won two titles. The Yankees have now created a prospect pool which allows them to not only offer gobs of money to free agents, but also gives them the possibility of more glory.
That is not the full plan. The Yankees will shed salary over the next two years, which could lead the way to a shopping spree of more than $500 million around Christmas 2018.
Between Beltran's $15 million, Mark Teixeira's $22.5 million, Sabathia's $25 million and A-Rod's $21 million, the Yankees will have dropped more than $83 million annually by the beginning of 2018.
In the interim, they will likely duck beneath the luxury tax threshold, which currently costs them 50 cents on every dollar spent. For a $400 million contract, the Yankees now would have to outlay $600 million. In two years, they may not have any tax.
After the 2018 season, who could be available? Well, just about everyone, including Harper -- who wears No. 34 because 3 and 4 adds up to Mickey Mantle's No. 7.
By 2019, when prospects like Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Jorge Mateo could be ready for the majors, or already into their primes, the Yankees will be poised to pounce on the likes of Harper, Machado, Fernandez, et al.
There are no guarantees this will all work, of course. Cashman and his lieutenants must be proficient in self-scouting, figuring out which of the young guys they should keep and which they should trade at peak value.
Still, on the day the Yankees admitted defeat in 2016, it felt triumphant. The selling Yankees won the deadline.
If it all works out, the last-place Tampa Bay Rays' sweep of the Yankees this past weekend might go down as the greatest losses in the club's history.
According to Cashman, that embarrassment finally convinced the team's upper management, led by Hal Steinbrenner and president Randy Levine, that it was time to deal.
Miller and Beltran brought back, among others, Frazier -- who Cashman says has "legendary bat speed" -- and the fourth pick in the 2015 draft, righty Dillon Tate, who has struggled this season, prompting Texas to toss him into the discount bin.
For a while now, Cashman has been sipping the old-time Yankees beverage, the "reality potion," realizing that the organization was going to be on an endless rut of wild-card races if it didn't bolster its young talent. Steinbrenner finally embraced the sell strategy after watching the ugliness at Tropicana Field.
The beauty of the plan? The Yankees can still be wild-card contenders, and maybe even compete for division titles, the next two years. If they want, they could re-sign Chapman and Beltran, who both have already said they are open to the idea this winter.
They could bring back Nova, too, which in theory, would mean they acquired Adam Warren and 12 prospects for Miller. It might turn out to be a Herschel Walker-type trade haul.
"I think we did as well as we possibly could," Cashman said. "We got a number of exciting, talented players that will be fun to follow for our fan base. Not all will make it, not all will cross the finish line, not all will live up to our expectations; but some of them will."
The Yankees have given their fans renewed optimism. Cashman hinted that Sanchez, Judge and another prospect, Tyler Austin, could be in the majors soon, as the Yankees try to figure out who will make their "uber team" that might feature this lineup on Opening Day 2019:
Clint Frazier, LF
Bryce Harper, RF
Manny Machado, 3B
Aaron Judge, DH
Greg Bird, 1B
Gary Sanchez, C
Didi Gregorius, SS
Gleyber Torres, 2B
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Fernandez would be the Opening Day starter. The Yankees might use Mateo -- who was their No. 1 prospect before this week -- and others to acquire someone like Chris Sale or whichever other ace comes up on the market to be a No. 2. Masahiro Tanaka could be their No. 3 starter. Luis Severino could be their fourth starter, and Tate could be the fifth starter. They have other pitching prospects, including their 2015 No. 1 pick, James Kaprielian.
On Monday, fans who hate the Yankees could celebrate as the front office finally surrendered. But the plan hatched by Cashman means the possibility of the next "uber team" is in place, which could one day mean:
"Not one, not two, not three ..."
You get the idea.