The Houston Astros won the 2017 World Series, and congratulations are due to an extraordinary, deserving team. However, there's one thought I've had for a week or so that I just can't shake: there's a good chance the Astros lose the ALCS without trading for Justin Verlander. The right-hander stonewalled the Yankees twice in the championship series, en route to the ALCS MVP. More importantly, along the way he justified the price the Astros paid to acquire Verlander at the waiver deadline in August.
"Flags fly forever" is a popular cliche, but that doesn't make it untrue. The Astros are on the hook for Verlander's considerable 2018 salary and will have to eventually deal with the problems associated with having a 35+ year old player on your team. All of that matters, but it also doesn't matter. The Astros won, and it validates the huge risk they assumed in August.
The Yankees 2017 also involved some wheeling and dealing at the trade deadline, acquiring Sonny Gray, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier in a clear sign they were all in. These players cost a lot; highly ranked prospects like Blake Rutherford and Jorge Mateo. Like the Astros, all that matters and it doesn't. The Yankees finished a game shy of the World Series, and without their acquisitions, may never have even gotten that far.
Robertson was the real hero of the 2017 Wild Card game, throwing 3.2 scoreless innings after Luis Severino’s early exit, and buying the time needed for the Yankee offense to take over the game. Kahnle was a star in the ALDS against Cleveland, and Frazier and Gray were clutch pieces down the stretch as well. Brian Cashman’s gamble paid off, and even though the Yankees didn’t win it all, the deadline deals were worth the cost paid.
There’s often a debate around the trade deadline over whether or not a team should go “all in”. For a team like the Astros, they were so good that they would make the playoffs without adding a stud starting pitcher, and the Yankees were supposed to be in a rebuilding year that didn’t line up with their true talent level. Both teams would have been forgiven for staying put, but the foresightedness of their front offices shone through instead.
Contrast this with the 2017 Minnesota Twins, a fringe-level playoff team that decided to sell at the deadline. We’ll never know what might have been, but that decision also reverberates into the postseason picture. Maybe the Twins pick up a starter, or a couple of relievers and change the dynamic of the Wild Card game.
The guts to “go for it” often separates the best teams from the rest. In 2015 the Toronto Blue Jays put faith in their true talent level and bought big, trading for Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, accelerating a playoff run that ended in the ALCS. The cost is high, but worth it to the fanbase and organization, just as the case is with the Yankees and Astros.
Next year, teams are going to be faced with this dilemma again. There will be good teams who have to decide whether they should go all the way in that season. Some will, and some will decide to stay put. Those teams in the latter camp would be well-served to remember the value going “all in” brought to the Yankees and Astros, and play to win the whole thing.