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The Yankees and the problem with patience

Patience is a virtue, but one that doesn’t necessarily land you a World Series ring.

League Championship Series - New York Yankees v Houston Astros - Game Seven Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

When the Yankees let Gerrit Cole slip through their grasp during the offseason, the organization made a strategic decision to hold off on adding a starting pitcher. Instead, they would save their money and wait until the trade deadline to make a move. “We’ve got some flexibility payroll-wise,” Hal Steinbrenner told reporters last month, “so the question is what’s going to be available and what are the asks. We purposely left a decent amount of money just for this.”

That jives with this note from Jon Heyman back on March 29th:

“People who have spoken to the Yankees believe they are saving their pennies for a big pitching push at the deadline. They still are an estimated $12-17 million under the threshold, which should give them enough money for a big pitcher.”

The problem, as it turns out, is that no such big pitcher exists on the market. The Mets could control the deadline, but all signs point to them hanging on to their pair of aces in Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. The Giants, despite their numerous setbacks, cling to a playoff hunt. That rules out the possibility of acquiring Madison Bumgarner. The arms that are available range from disappointing to downright terrible.

The Yankees waited and it backfired. The front office, of course, doesn’t own a crystal ball. Who could have envisioned a completely barren trade market? In any other year, the club would be primed for a big splash. That’s not how the season unfolded, however, and now the Bombers are paying for their inaction.

Unfortunately, the wait-and-see approach remains in the team’s decision-making DNA. Based on a number of reports, the Yankees have all but been eliminated from the Manny Machado sweepstakes. When other teams upped their offers, the Bombers faded in the running. After missing out on the star infielder, the front office will likely talk about how they made their best effort and will move on to the next piece of business. Almost assuredly, any sense of urgency will be absent.

This line of thinking has also become evident among the fanbase. The flood of comments and reactions on social media show an unusual level of prospect hugging from Yankees fans. Avoid significant trades, they lobby. Stick to the youth movement — “play the kids” — becomes their mantra.

Keep in mind that winning the World Series represents the goal of the 2018 season, not creating a stepping stone for seasons to come. Dynasties require a level of providence. The odds of a core maintaining health and elite production en route to victory after victory after victory remain exceptionally low. Besides, before creating a dynasty run, a team needs to win a championship in the first place.

The easiest path to a World Series involves winning the division. The Yankees have an uphill battle to climb, considering the Red Sox show an uncanny ability to never lose. Many think that the Yankees can make incremental upgrades and wait for Boston to come back down to Earth. That’s the sort of patience that landed the Bombers in this position in the first place. Collective wisdom suggests they will fall back to the mean, but you can’t say for sure. It’s just as likely that the Yankees regress in the second half.

The club should be pushing hard on moves that shift the balance of power, such as Machado. From there they could have offered up Miguel Andujar as the centerpiece in a trade for a frontline starter. With the market as shallow as it is, there’s a chance a player of Andujar’s capability pries loose an arm. Players who were previously unavailable become available.

For those who balk at the idea of unloading the farm system and mortgaging the future, consider the Yankees’ window of contention. It doesn’t take a lot to slam that window shut. Take Aaron Judge for example. Few players of his size and skill have existed before. Would anyone be surprised if his peak years of production are limited? The Yankees have a homegrown ace in Luis Severino, but pitchers break all the time. As for Giancarlo Stanton, well, he’s not getting any younger. The Yankees should pull out all the stops to win now with this core.

Unfortunately it seems like the best paths to do that, however, have either closed or become unrealistic. Let this then be a lesson to teams in the hunt. When there’s an opportunity to upgrade the club, take it. Nobody knows what the future holds. Waiting for the trade deadline seemed like a prudent move at the time, but it turned out to be a mistake. No virtue goes unpunished, after all.