Saturday afternoon’s victory against the Rangers featured a number of talking points worthy of discussion. For example, Miguel Andujar swatted a home run, adding to his Rookie of the Year resume. And the bullpen continued its high-wire act, nearly throwing away the game in the process. Lost in all of this, however, exists a point far more interesting, one with implications that speak to the organization as a whole. Neil Walker started a game in right field, not out of curiosity, but by necessity.
Following the game, Yankees manager Aaron Boone explained that he thought the outing went well. In fact, he was open to an encore performance. “Heck yes,” Boone told reporters when asked if Walker would get more outfield reps.
A veteran infielder was forced into right field because his practically replacement-level bat proved too valuable to keep out of the lineup. Sound familiar? That’s because the same thing happened in 2013.
Lyle Overbay trots out to right field to warm up as an outfielder for the first time in his big-league career— Daniel Barbarisi (@DanBarbarisi) June 3, 2013
Lyle Overybay in right field represented the nadir of recent Yankees history. It exemplified everything wrong with the 2013 squad: injuries, an inability to find adequate replacements, and, most importantly, the luxury tax plan. For a while it seemed like those problems were long gone, a distant memory in the rear-view. Now, however, they have resurfaced to haunt the 2018 club.
Injuries are an unescapable part of the game. They plague every team. The 2013 Yankees lost, among others, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Francisco Cervelli. A starting right fielder, first baseman, and catcher all spent significant time on the disabled list. Meanwhile, this season the Bombers have played without Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, and Gary Sanchez for extended stretches. Freaky!
The injuries themselves don’t usually define a team. More revealing, however, is the organization’s response to them. When Judge and Sanchez went down in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline, Brian Cashman and company could have reeled in adequate replacements. They could have plugged in competent bats to hold them team over until the cavalry arrived. They could have played for a championship.
Instead, the team ran a route out of the 2013 playbook. They opted for the warm bodies strategy, sacrificing wins for the relief of an artificial financial burden. Yankees ownership has made it clear that the main goal of the season is to avoid the $197 million luxury tax threshold. The trade deadline, and lack of waiver wire moves this month, seem to confirm that.
Cashman played off the failure to land an outfielder in part because he sought a bench player. He didn’t want to trade for someone who would play only once a week.
“Is it [starting] one to two to three times over the coming weeks while we wait on Judge’s return or Frazier’s return?” Cashman told ESPN’s Coley Harvey. “What do you pay for that? We were not able to match up in a comfortable way with what we were importing, whether it was their salary trying to fit into our luxury-tax issues, or the prospect value that we were going to have to give up.”
Meanwhile, Shane Robinson started 10 of the team’s last 15 games. And Giancarlo Stanton’s bad hamstring forced Walker into right field. That’s not to mention the increased presence of Luke Voit, Austin Romine, and Kyle Higashioka in the lineup. No playoff team should willingly accept such lack of production for an extended period of time when alternatives exist.
The refusal to make impact upgrades in 2013 left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths, but in a way it made sense. That team wasn’t built to contend; it was doomed from the start. This season, however, the Yankees are a win-now club. You can’t trade for Stanton and then refuse to make the knockout punch. Yet that’s what the Bombers are doing, and the evidence points directly to the luxury tax.
For five years we’ve heard nothing but bookkeeping concerns from the Steinbrenners. What’s worse is that some fans have bought into this and decided to root for the business, not the on-field product. The Yankees have one of the largest market advantages in professional sports, and the revenue generated from a World Series victory would probably come close to offsetting the luxury tax. Instead, the team will keep running out replacement level players down the stretch, while the Red Sox continue increasing their division lead.
I’ve come to accept that leadership will not budge on this so long as fans support it. And, for whatever reasons, they will root for getting under the threshold as if it was their money being saved. Just get this penny-pinching nonsense over with so the team can focus on winning for once. What a refreshing change of pace that would be.