We’ve come to expect that even though the Yankees have been historically on top, there’s no denying that in today’s post-Bambino world, the Yankees and Red Sox are two of the most popular and important franchises in North American sports. Even though the Red Sox have been the dominant franchise the past few years, everyone generally expects the two teams to be neck-and-neck. That probably won’t be the case this year.
The Red Sox, with the acquisition of Chris Sale, are likely the best team in the American League. My back-of-the-napkin math has this: Chris Sale and David Price are likely worth about ten wins combined, and Rick Porcello likely regresses to a decent number-two; Mookie Betts is a perennial MVP candidate; Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, and Jackie Bradley Jr. likely net about three wins apiece. That’s a playoff caliber club.
This creates some obvious problems if you’re a team like the Yankees. On one hand, you don’t pretend as if you can’t contend. The season is long, of course, and even when favorites are clear, injuries and unexpected developments can cause the year to take drastic turns. If two players get hurt for the year, or a player’s talent collapses, the year could go south. On the other hand, though, wasting your resources trying to compete when it may seem out of reach could be misguided, because waiting for your upturn, or a Red Sox nadir, would be a more opportune time to write the checks.
This hype could force the Yankees to play the long game, and that’s probably wise. The Yankees have one of the best farm systems in baseball, and waiting until those prospects flourish, or fail in which a new plan would be devised, would be the only way you could hope to consistently outclass your rivals. Hey, the Red Sox did it under Theo Epstein’s tutelage, and now this new-look franchise is trying to do the same. We’ll see if the Yankees respond in kind.
The talent disparity, in context of this offseason, makes the Aroldis Chapman signing all the more interesting. Having an elite closer maybe adds two wins over a season, but it isn’t magic. With the Red Sox getting even better it probably doesn’t help your division odds as much as your wild card odds, which isn’t as inherently valuable.
Other than that move, though, the Yankees have shied away from plunking down a lot of money or years. The organization only has $101.2 million worth of salary in 2018, and just $74 million in 2019. That would be the time to strike.
If this was 2014 or so, it might not have made sense for the Yankees to hold out. When the AL East was up for grabs, it made perfect sense to spend or to make risky deals, because each upgrade was more valuable to your division odds than if there was a dominant team. Today, though, the story is a bit different. I’d look for the Red Sox to be one of the best teams in the league, which should (rightly) force the Yankees into a wait-and-see approach. We may grimace while looking upward in the standings, but that waiting will hopefully pay dividends.