Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware the Red Sox are currently playing in the World Series. For the most part, this isn’t fun news. The Red Sox have a great team full of exciting, compelling players, but they are the Yankees’ nemesis. Seeing them advance toward a fourth title this century is not pleasant.
With Boston experiencing so much success, it’s tempting to ask what we should take away from it all. We’ve already done some of that here, with Kento examining Boston’s offense and whether the Yankees could learn a thing or two. Overall, Kento found there wasn’t much to glean; Boston’s offense is good and got hits at the right time, while New York’s offense is good but faltered in big moments. That’s not a systemic problem, just a small sample one.
There is a broader, strategic takeaway, however, that the Yankees would be prescient to note. In their run to the World Series, the Red Sox have been rewarded for following a simple, easy to replicate strategy. They pressed their financial advantage to address their biggest weakness, and in turn, they won the American League pennant.
The Red Sox of recent vintage were good young teams. Boston won over 90 games and the AL East in both 2016 and 2017. In both years, they were bounced early in the playoffs. As always, part of the reason the Red Sox lost is simple variance, but part of it was the fact that Boston’s teams were good, but not great. They had holes.
Last season’s Red Sox posted a .258/.327/.409 slash line at the plate. Their collective 91 wRC+ ranked 24th in the majors. They ranked 27th in home runs. The Red Sox made the playoffs on the strength of an underrated pitching staff, one that posted the third-best adjusted ERA mark in the league. Their offense, on the other hand, needed to be addressed.
To some extent, the Red Sox just needed some positive regression to run its course. Their young core of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. all mildly underperformed in 2017. That being said, Boston wasn’t content to just hope that their youth would play better. They recognized the area in which they struggled, understood their status as financial power players on the market, and used their advantage to handle their weakness.
In February, with the Yankees refusing to sign free agents in order to duck under the luxury tax threshold, the Red Sox inked J.D. Martinez to a five-year contract. The Red Sox needed a hitter. They had a ton of money. They gave a ton of money to the best hitter on the market. It wasn’t rocket science, but Boston was one of the only teams last winter to deploy this straightforward team-building strategy.
Not all of Boston’s offensive resurgence this year can be tied to Martinez, but a primary factor in their revival is their newfound employment of the fourth-best hitter in the majors over the past five years. The Red Sox had a young, talented team with an obvious hole, and they used their financial might to demonstrably and effectively address it.
Does that sound familiar to you? Do you happen to know of any young, talented teams with boatloads of money and a clear need that begs to be addressed? Because to me, that sounds an awful lot like the current New York Yankees.
The Yankees have one of the most talented cores in the league. They also have just two pitchers penciled into their rotation for next season, and absolutely no reason not to spend heavily on the free agent market. It’s painfully obvious that the Yankees should take a page out of Boston’s playbook and use their economic advantages to paper over their holes.
Going out and spending a fortune this winter won’t guarantee the Yankees a championship. Boston isn’t in the World Series solely because they bought Martinez. Yet the Red Sox greased the wheels of their title run just by throwing financial austerity to the wind and spending money when it was clear they should. The Yankees have an excellent opportunity to do the same, with ample payroll room and a potentially enticing free agent market at hand.
It’s clear what the Yankees should do, though whether they will do it is murky at this point. At times, Hal Steinbrenner sounds ready to spend. He’s also on record stating “I’ve been saying you can have a world-championship-caliber team and not have a $200-plus-million payroll”.
The Yankees should blow past that $200 million figure. The Red Sox have made clear the benefits of doing so. If there’s anything for the Yankees to learn from their rivals, it’s that when you’re a financial superpower that has on-field needs, austerity should be damned. Boston internalized that lesson a year ago, and they’re still playing right now.