Yankees fans are frustrated. It’s strange, when you think about it. After all, there is a lot for which to be grateful.
Only a year into a rebuild, the Yankees clawed their way to within one win of the World Series — and they did it largely on the backs of the Baby Bombers. Luis Severino finally stuck in the rotation, and went on to finish third in the Cy Young Award balloting. Aaron Judge turned in a debut campaign for the ages, winning the Rookie of the Year Award unanimously and falling just short in the MVP voting. Gary Sanchez followed his explosive 2016 campaign by breaking the single-season franchise record for home runs by a catcher, while Didi Gregorius accomplished the same feat at shortstop.
Heading into the 2018 season, there existed hope that the Yankees would take the next step up the ladder. Two more promising youngsters vied for starting jobs, and fans wondered what kind of contributions Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres might make. They placed as Rookie of the Year finalists, and may have succeeded in capturing the award if not for the historic production of two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani.
The fountain of youth coming from the Yankees’ system may not be dry, considering prospects like Estevan Florial, Mike King, and others are still working their way up through the minors. Greg Bird, Luke Voit, Jordan Montgomery, Tommy Kahnle, and Clint Frazier have contributed in the past — and might again. Perhaps one or more of Domingo German, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Stephen Tarpley could experience a breakout like Severino or Chad Green did.
Factor in Jonathan Holder following Green and Dellin Betances into the bullpen circle of trust, and fans are currently witnessing an explosion of young talent that is rarely seen in baseball. Despite the franchise’s storied history, it’s actually unprecedented for the Yankees to graduate so many impact players within such a narrow time frame.
But therein lies one major reason for fans’ frustration. That window won’t remain open forever. Right now, the Yankees might be only one or two pieces away from going over the top, yet the front office appears unwilling to go in for the kill.
After the season, Betances, Gregorius, and Aaron Hicks will become free agents. Do you think the Yankees would have made the playoffs the last two years without those three? Where will the club be in 2020 if they fail to retain that trio? That’s what I mean about short windows.
Most teams go a decade or more in between World Series appearances. Heck, the Mariners and Nationals/Expos have never been — and those two franchises have played in the league a combined 92 years. It’s not like they lacked talented players, either. Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Alex Rodriguez, Tim Raines, and Gary Carter are among the all-time greats who suited up for those two clubs. Yet, at their respective pinnacles, those teams were one or two pieces away.
One or two pieces is often the difference between a championship and a drought that stretches on for multiple decades. Thankfully, the Yankees and their fans don’t know anything about that. Since Babe Ruth first donned the pinstripes in 1920, the Yankees have won 40 pennants and 27 world titles.
Making 40 trips to the Fall Classic in 99 years is how the Yankees became the envy of the entire sports world. That, and the love for the players who did all of that winning, explain why fans feel so much pride in the team.
It all began with six World Series appearances in the Roaring Twenties, followed by five in both the 1930s and ‘40s, eight in the ‘50s, and five straight to begin the ‘60s. The Yankees won three pennants in the ‘70s, one in the ‘80s, three in the ‘90s, and four in the 2000s. The team has been to the World Series zero times so far in the 2010s, and there is only one year remaining in the decade to change that.
The chain could be broken this year, or the Yankees could run their unrivaled streak of excellence to 10 decades. What a difference between those two outcomes! So where is the sense of resolve from the front office?
After the Red Sox clinched both the AL East crown and the Division Series at Yankee Stadium this past October en route to their fourth championship in 15 years, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said he’ll spend whatever is needed to win the World Series. Unfortunately, that hasn’t materialized yet, and spring training is a mere 10 days away.
Despite both Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman singling out starting pitching as the area most in need of improvement, the Yankees didn’t make a formal offer to the top free agent starter this winter. Steinbrenner was also critical of the Bombers’ hitting, yet New York hasn’t pushed to sign either of the two most-coveted bats. Club officials had a brief meeting with Manny Machado in December, but haven’t even met with Bryce Harper.
”It certainly pisses me off,” Steinbrenner told the New York Post when asked to comment directly about Boston’s championship. “I never want a division rival to outdo us.”
The tough talk hasn’t translated into action thus far. In contrast, late last week Padres general partner Peter Seidler flew to Las Vegas with GM A.J. Preller and manager Andy Green to pitch Harper on playing in San Diego.
Seidler’s aggressive move brings back memories of Hal’s father, George. The elder Steinbrenner wined and dined Reggie Jackson at the 21 Club in New York in an effort to woo the former MVP and three-time world champion. The Boss then flew to Chicago to close the deal at an airport bar with the man destined to become Mr. October.
George Steinbrenner once said that buying the Yankees was like owning the Mona Lisa. He apologized to fans when the team failed to capture a championship, and was renowned for his unmatched commitment to winning. When Steinbrenner passed away in 2010, Reggie remembered the “desire for success that George has instilled in pinstripes. The desire to win... all efforts are focused on winning regardless of cost.”
Yankees fans question the commitment and passion of the current ownership. They make memes facetiously declaring the Yankees “Luxury Tax Champions,” while Red Sox fans celebrate an actual championship. The cost to attend a game at Yankee Stadium is among the highest in the league, yet the club spends a tiny percentage of its revenue on player salaries compared with other MLB teams.
Although the hot stove isn’t over, many fans question the sincerity of Hal’s pronouncements that he will do whatever it takes to dethrone Boston. It’s been weeks since Cashman raised eyebrows with his “fully operational Death Star” line, but we haven’t seen a move that rises to that level yet.
A year from now, will Yankees fans look back at this winter as a series of missed opportunities? That very real possibility is perhaps the most frustrating of all.