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The Yankees, Manny Machado, and the concept of need

The Yankees don’t need Manny Machado. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t sign him anyway.

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Four Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Yankees signed DJ LeMahieu to a two-year, 24 million dollar contract. While there is some speculation that the Yankees intend to use LeMahieu as a utility player and are not out on Manny Machado, I have serious doubts about that argument at this point. Machado, in all likelihood, will not be a Yankee. So much for the storied 2018-19 offseason.

Much blood has been shed on these digital pages concerning Machado and the Yankees’ need for him. This is an argument without a clear right or wrong side, because it depends on how the concept of ‘need’ is defined.

If you define ‘need’ as a perceived weakness which requires remedying, then it’s easy to argue for signing Machado. Many commentators have pointed to the Yankees’ high-strikeout tendencies and low-ish team batting average as problems, and while I tend to disagree with them, there’s no question that Machado will help on both fronts.

I’m more of the camp that sees an issue with the left side of the infield as currently constructed. With Didi Gregorius out for who knows how long and the oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki in his place, shortstop could turn out really ugly for the Yankees. Meanwhile at third base, Andujar’s defense will likely prevent him from sticking at the position long-term. Machado would have provided a much-needed steady presence at both positions, which is why I wanted him so badly.

However, if you define ‘need’ as in necessary for contention, then it becomes much harder to make the case for Machado. The Yankees are already a very good team - they won won 100 games last year with much of the same roster, and are projected by FanGraphs to win 95 games as of now, 3rd most in baseball. Even if the Yankees pass on Machado, they will in all likelihood still be plenty good.

The question is, is that enough to justify not paying up for Machado?

I guess in a business sense, it is. Signing Machado would certainly move the needle for the Yankees, but not by that much, at least compared to a contender on the bubble. Plus, it’s impossible to isolate the effects of a single signing on the season of a given team from all the other factors that go into it. Machado is a top-tier talent, but it’s not hard to envision the Yankees winning the World Series without him, or the Yankees suffering an early exit with him. That’s not a knock on Machado, who I would love to see on the Yankees - it’s just the nature of the game we love.

Why sink 300 million dollars on that kind of investment? Sure, it would make the team better and would give the fans a phenom in his prime to root for, but what does that do for your bottom line? The Yankees already upgraded their rotation by substituting James Paxton for Sonny Gray, which should be enough to make them division contenders this year. And once they’re in the playoffs, they have as good a chance of winning it all as any other contender.

The Yankees do not exist to please the fans. The Yankees do not exist to win the World Series every year. The Yankees exist for the self-interest and profit of their owners. That doesn’t mean they won’t spend on the on-field product; they will, enough to ensure that the Yankees will comfortably make the playoffs, because that is what their brand is built upon. But they will not spend any more than that, because in baseball being “the team to beat” isn’t that different from being your run-of-the-mill contender.

No amount of money spent will guarantee that the Yankees will win it all. That is why they will pass on Manny Machado, and that is why they will pass on everyone else, as long as this current core is present. They will be good enough without being overwhelming favorites, despite having more than sufficient resources to do so. And no matter how many apologists defend the Yankees for their reluctance to spend over that threshold, fans have every right to demand more.