For a third consecutive season, the New York Yankees are in a position to make a massive run in the postseason. Unlike those seasons, the Yankees are in a much better position in 2019, sitting at 30 games over .500, 8.5 games ahead of the Rays and eight games ahead of the Boston Red Sox as the calendar gets set to turn to 2019. Unless a drastic catastrophe a la the 2011 Red Sox happens, the Yankees could (realistically) lock up the division as soon as next week.
Despite the stellar season that this team has had, many believe that the one thing that the Yankees need to win a championship is another starter. At this point, Luis Severino — out since March for a plethora of shoulder and lat injuries — will not be ready to start games in the postseason. Domingo German (innings limit aside), James Paxton, CC Sabathia, and J.A. Happ are all either struggling this season or unproven in the postseason and, as far as we know, there is no proof yet that bullpening your way through the postseason could work.
The problem is that the surefire ace that every Yankee fan wants/believes the Yankees need is not available. The Nationals red-hot month has all but taken Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg off the market. The Giants improbable hot stretch has led to the Giants potentially becoming buyers (whether they should is an ENTIRELY separate discussion for another article). It is highly unlikely that the Reds would part ways with young ace Luis Castillo. The single trade deadline on July 31st complicates things further, as teams currently have all of five days to decide whether they want to go for it or sell off pieces.
All that considered, the list of available starters is pretty marginal:
- Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman
- Mets’ Noah Syndergaard
- Mets’ Zack Wheeler
- Indians’ Trevor Bauer
- Diamondbacks’ Robbie Ray
- Tigers’ Matthew Boyd
With the exception of Stroman, all of these guys have underperformed in 2019. When they are right, Bauer and Syndergaard are potential aces, while the rest are solid two or three starters. Adding to their value is the fact that all of them are under 30 years old and (except for Wheeler) are controllable through at least 2020. Therefore, teams (especially the Blue Jays and Mets) are asking for much more than what the pitcher might be worth, possibly a price that the Yankees may not be willing to pay.
This might be sounding like many similar situations in the recent past. In 2015, a then 30-year-old rising ace in Max Scherzer was on the market, but the Yankees elected to pass on signing him due to his contract demands. They had a chance to acquire Justin Verlander in 2017 (who was struggling then but was coming off a near-Cy Young season) but elected not to due to Verlander’s albatross contract. After the 2017 season, they were close to acquiring Gerrit Cole from the Pirates but refused to give in to the Pirates’ demands of both Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar (as well as Chance Adams). This has been an ongoing process, from refusing to give an extra year to Patrick Corbin to not offering Manny Machado and Bryce Harper contracts and electing to stick with Miguel Andújar to not offering an extra two million for Dallas Keuchel.
Do you see the trend here? Over the last six years, Brian Cashman and the Yankees front office have set limits to what they think a player is worth and have refused to pay a cent over that price. And as the trade deadline barrels through, it looks like we are headed down the same path again.
Most people will automatically chalk this up as Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner being “cheap”, trying to be “luxury tax champions”, and that they are not as serious to win a championship like George Steinbrenner was.
The thing is, Hal is not like his dad, a man that signed Dave Winfield to the biggest contract in major league history then turned on him within ten months of signing the contract. This is the same man who traded every ounce of youth (including future should be Hall of Famer Fred McGriff) for mediocre players all throughout the ’80s. George was always trying to make the big splash and headlines, no matter how bad it made the Yankees look in the public eye.
That is why it is no coincidence that, during Steinbrenner’s ban (1990-1993), the Yankees—led by Gene Michael and Cashman, then an assistant farm director, and later an assistant GM—began to build and develop young talent. In fact, there were numerous occasions where Michael had to persuade Steinbrenner into not trading pieces of what would be known as the Core Four and Bernie Williams. That youth influx led the Yankees to one of the only real dynasties that we have seen in the last 25 years (the 2010-2014 Giants being the other one). That is exactly what Brian Cashman is trying to build: a dynasty, a team that can accomplish his goal, as I mentioned in my November article, in winning multiple championships, not “a” championship.
Over the past few years, it has been a fairly simple strategy: if Cashman and company believe that a prospect will be a major part of the Yankees’ in 2020 and the near future, they will essentially be untouchable. If not, then you will see that prospect used in a trade for a star. It is the reason why Estavan Florial, Deivi Garcia, Gleyber Torres, and (at the moment) Miguel Andújar will continue to be Yankees and Justus Sheffield, Jorge Mateo, Blake Rutherford, and (potentially) Clint Fraizer are not.
It is a strategy that would be praised if the Yankees were not a team with mammoth expectations year after year and a large and very impatient fanbase. It is also a process we have seen this decade, albeit slower and with more painful backstories. Both the Astros and the Cubs threw away seasons earlier this decade (including back to back 110 loss seasons) to develop their core pieces. Since then, both teams have won a World Series and will continue to be World Series contenders for a long while. The Yankees were close to doing the same with their 2016 “fire sale”, but ended up with a rebuild that lasted all of nine months.
Additionally, since the postseason is such a crapshoot in this era of baseball, selling the farm, especially for a pitcher, is not always guaranteed to work out. A perfect example is the 2015-2016 Rangers, who would trade Corey Knebel, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and Lewis Brinson (and other prospects) for Yovani Gallardo, Cole Hamels, Jonathon Lucroy, and Jeremy Jeffress over the course of those two seasons. They would get knocked out in the ALDS twice by the Toronto Blue Jays, and haven’t had a winning season (aside from 2019) since. Another example is the 2015 Blue Jays’ David Price trade, which sent Boyd and Daniel Norris to the Tigers. Sure to be the ace they needed to get to the World Series that season, they would get knocked out in back to back American League Championship Series. After 2016, they would be sent back into a downward spiral, with almost no real hope for the pitchers in their farm system. And who could forget the Marlins trading away valuable prospects like Josh Naylor, Chris Paddack, and Luis Castillo for Andrew Cashner and Fernando Rodney, only to completely miss the postseason?
Cashman and company do not want to fall into that same trap, selling everything for one commodity that probably is not worth the prospect haul, not win the entire thing, and potentially deal with the ramifications of having no future (aside from Judge) to look forward to. That is why they take this approach, one that sounds like a small-market team, but has worked extraordinarily well for a big-market team like the Yankees (and will continue to do so).
“…while the major league squad is winning championships, Brian Cashman should also be focused on building and keeping a serviceable to above average farm system. We have seen numerous times in the past in sports that when a championship window closes for a team, and there’s no plan for the future, a team could be in big trouble…”Building Championships—Not Championships—with the New York Yankees, Payton Ellison
Now, I could be completely wrong. Within 24 hours of this article being published, Noah Syndergaard, Trevor Bauer, and/or Marcus Stroman could be sitting in front of the Yankee media, in a Yankee jersey, right between Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone. It would be highly unexpected, especially if they sell off more than two top prospects, but if that is the case, then who’s complaining?
But let’s say the Yankees do not spend the prospects to get the frontline starter, opting for another J.A. Happ or, worst-case scenario, staying pat. Is it Hal and Cashman, in a potential championship season, being cheap, “prospect huggers” again, or is it being fiscally responsible with their young assets? With the way Cashman runs his team, it’s more than likely the latter.
Whatever the case may be, this is not George’s Yankees anymore. The “anything less than a championship is a failure for the New York Yankees” motto does not exist anymore. Cashman will not spend more money or prospects than he deems necessary to acquire that “missing piece”. If the Yankees not adding a starter in 2019 costs them a chance at a championship, it would be very disappointing. But the influx of youth would keep their chances of winning multiple championships over the next few years at a very high percentage, which would be better than risking it all for one in 2019.
We’ve entered this process and the deadline with a pretty good feel of what we’d like to do, what we’re willing to pay for it and also having the built-in discipline of walking away if we don’t find the right matches under those circumstances…And that’s regardless of what’s happened the last week (referring to the Yankees’ pitching woes since July 21st).”Brian Cashman via Newsday’s Eric Boland
Follow Payton Ellison on Twitter (@realpmelli14).