There's no way to properly quantify the immense blow to the Yankees yesterday when Masahiro Tanaka's injury was announced. Words like "defeated" and "deflated" certainly come to mind. Words that I'm reading are more in tune with "fire sale" and "sell." I'm sure those words are going to be repeated ad nauseum as we approach the trade deadline, as are discussions about how the Yankees need to build a new core. You know, just like that. Tank, get prospects, and then the Yankees are riding shotgun into Dynasty City, where the currency are rings and the tears of other fans.
It doesn't work like that. I don't think I can stress this point enough. It really, really does not work like that. If it did, every team would do it and not go through twenty plus years of being awful. Ask the Cubs and their fans how over a century of ineptitude has worked out for them. The Yankees, despite the good times of the late 90's, do not have this magical button which just allows them to win. I will spell it out for you as plainly and bluntly as possible. Ahem.
They. Got. Lucky.
Now keep in mind, this does not take away from the amazing accomplishments of those years. They were an incredibly talented team, filled with fantastic players ranging from great veterans to future Hall of Fame prospects. Even with all of that, they got lucky. No team wins four championships in five years, or comes a few outs away from winning five championships in six years, based entirely on skill and talent alone. It's luck, and to repeat what they did during that time is extremely improbable.
One key thing that people don't remember about those years is that the Yankees did not get injured. It's a really important thing to remember. You can talk about a player's skill, their passion, their offense, their defense, their incredible slider, or even their clutchicity. Few people mention or remember their health. When Robinson Cano was so casually dismissed by fans and certain a YES broadcaster for not hustling enough, what they often forget is that he was out there almost every day for nine years. You know who that reminds me of? Derek Jeter and the majority of the Dynasty Era team.
Those teams, and the majority of Yankee teams after 1996, did not suffer the kinds of injuries we have seen the past two years. No fluke balls to the hand. No pulled hamstrings running down the line. Nothing. The Dynasty Era teams didn't lose 3/4th of their lineup or 4/5th of their rotation to the injury bug. We're through the looking glass people. It's coming up on the All Star Break, and in half a season we've gone from David Phelps in a long relief role to David Phelps being our number two starter in the rotation. That should tell you everything you need to know about how important health is to any team, and why the Yankees of the Dynasty Era and beyond were so fortunate.
If you want another example, I recently asked some members of Amazin' Avenue exactly what happened with the Mets teams from 2007-2008, during which time the Mets were on the verge of what looked like a possible, incredible playoff run of their own. What I was told is that it was a combination of injuries and bullpen problems. Just the tiniest injury can completely derail a team's season. Losing Masahiro Tanaka is pretty much the worst thing that could have happened this year.
So here we are, three games away from the All Star Break trying to make sense of the future of this team, not just for this year but for next year as well. I do not envy Brian Cashman his task this trade season. As sad and hilariously as it may be, the Yankees are still in contention due to the AL East being a dry, overcooked, inedible meatloaf of a division this year. Who knows what happens the rest of the year, but fans should keep in mind the wise words of John Lennon:
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans
Cashman could do everything right and the Yankees could miss the playoffs. Cashman could do everything wrong the Yankees could make the playoffs and win the World Series. A fire sale could get back talent and then said talent could get injured. Somehow, Brian Roberts is still standing. Plan as you might, there's only so far planning can go. Sometimes, there's nothing you can do. Sometimes, your young ace with a magnificent slider gets a partially torn ligament.
This is neither hope, nor is it giving up. This is just a fact. A lot of what can make or break a season has little to do with the players you acquire and more to do whether or not said players stay healthy. This is true of every team in the major league right now. The Yankees of the Dynasty Era did what they did because not only were they talented, but that incredible talent did not get injured. Whether you use this knowledge as comfort or as a rally cry to coax Gene Monahan out of retirement is up to you.
Just try and remember this the next time you think tanking, drafting high, and rebuilding is the ultimate answer to the Yankees current problems. It is not, nor will it ever be. The majority of the time, the answer is health.