There’s a scene in the movie Heavyweights where, in regards to the state of Camp Hope, camper Gerry Garner asks camp counselor Pat Finley, “Did this place always stink this much?” Pat answers Gerry by saying, “No Gerry, this place used to stink very little. In fact, it didn’t stink at all.” Gerry replies, “Well, it does now.”
The New York Yankees are Camp Hope, and unfortunately, I feel like camp counselor Pat Finley (minus the overweight part), constantly needing to remind everyone of a time when the Yankees would do everything possible to try to win a championship. A time when saving some money wasn’t as important as trying to get to the World Series and when winning the World Series was more important than being fiscally responsible or thinking every prospect in the organization would turn into an everyday major leaguer.
The Yankees are the best team in baseball, or at least they were before 4 p.m. on Wednesday. They have the best record in the American League and are tied in the loss column with the Dodgers for the best record in baseball. They have accomplished this despite every single member of their expected everyday lineup and three-fifths of their expected rotation missing time due to injury at some point this season. They are on their way to their first division title in seven years, could possibly be the No. 1 seed in the American League playoffs, and might even have home-field advantage in a potential World Series. Despite their ability to overcome a seemingly impossible injury situation, their 103-win pace and their impressive play against the other postseason contenders, the front office still didn’t do everything it could to put the team in the best possible position to win a championship.
This isn’t about what happened, or rather didn’t happen on July 31. This is about all the missed opportunities leading up to July 31 when the Yankees failed to address the one glaring weakness on the team: starting pitching. It’s about not addressing that issue in the offseason or in the first four months of the regular season. It’s about a never-ending theme with the Yankees.
Even with Luis Severino (prior to his shoulder and subsequent lat injury), Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton set to be in their 2019 rotation, the Yankees could have signed Patrick Corbin or even Charlie Morton to be part of their rotation. They passed.
With Severino having not thrown a pitch in 2019, Paxton having spent time on the injured list and pitching through a knee injury, CC Sabathia not being good and also landing on the injured list, J.A. Happ being ineffective and Severino’s replacement in Domingo German also landing on the injured list and pitching with an innings limit, the Yankees could have signed Dallas Keuchel with draft compensation no longer attached to him. They passed.
The Yankees passed on every money-only option to truly improve their starting pitching and then balked at the high prices on deadline day. They failed to use their greatest resource of money on starting pitching and failed to expect such demand in return shortly before and on July 31. They backed themselves into a corner where the deadline was their only option and when it didn’t play out the way they envisioned, they were left empty-handed, acquiring only a 20-year-old minor-league pitcher shortly before the league’s only trade deadline.
The Yankees have tried in recent years to build a team which can win in both the regular season and postseason by creating a super bullpen, capable of shortening games to four or five innings. The strategy nearly got them to the World Series in 2017 before the bats went quiet in Games 6 and 7 in Houston, and it might have worked in 2018 if the manager had used his best relievers with the season on the line. So far, the Yankees’ decision to focus and spend on building the best possible bullpen while piecing together a rotation filled with inconsistency and injury concerns hasn’t worked out, and it’s likely they could be headed for the same fate this postseason.
This all started two years ago this month when the Yankees decided against trading for Justin Verlander’s contract when it would have cost them nothing other than money. It continued the offseason after Verlander single-handedly beat them in the ALCS when the front office chose to cut payroll by $50 million, coming off a season in which they were one win away from the World Series. It didn’t stop when they wouldn’t part with their prospects for Gerrit Cole, and it went on when they wouldn’t pay for Corbin, didn’t want Morton and didn’t care to add Keuchel. Every chance along the way, the Yankees have held on to their money and their prospects, worrying about next season or the season after, thinking their current success can be counted on year after year.
The Yankees could win the World Series with their current roster, though their chances would certainly increase if Severino and Dellin Betances return and return at their normal performance level. But Severino is one setback away from not being able to start a game this season and Betances is getting dangerously close to having his free-agent season be lost. The Yankees should have planned to not have either back, instead they now desperately need them both back.
For yet another season, the Yankees didn’t do everything they could to build the best possible roster. They were too cheap to pay for starting pitching and too attached to their prospects to trade for starting pitching. Too cheap to pay and too attached to their prospects to try to win a championship for the first time in going on a decade.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!