Many a championship window has been undone by mismanagement. When the Yankees’ contention period began four years ago, earlier than expected, it seemed like they wouldn’t become one of those cautionary tales. They had young talent, plenty of economic resources and a front office regarded for its shrewd dealmaking.
Four years deep into the championship window, the Yankees are falling apart, and it’s largely due to organizational stubbornness. The Yankees are what they are at this point —their current plight is more than a “slump,” despite what management says. Fueled by analytics, Brian Cashman assembled a squad of powerful hitters and powerful pitchers. Their best players had similar limitations, but instead of paying attention to the writing on the wall after years of injuries and early playoff exits, Cashman doubled down.
The Yankees had a chance this offseason to get more balanced. It was becoming clear that Gleyber Torres might not be a Major League shortstop, but he still had a place on the roster. Accommodating him at second base likely would have involved trading Luke Voit, a useful but redundant part of the roster. Instead, Cashman stuck to his guns, and now the Yankees have a crowded, unproductive and ill-fitting infield without a true shortstop.
Or what about when the Yankees reportedly could have acquired Gerrit Cole before 2018 for Clint Frazier and Miguel Andújar, but Cashman said no? The Yankees eventually got their man, but not before he tormented them in Houston for two years.
I mention these non-trades to bring up a point about value. It’s very easy to suggest the Yankees need to make a trade to spark their current roster. However, it takes two to tango. Who can the Yankees even give up right now in a potential trade? Popular trade pieces of yesteryear, like Voit, Frazier and Andújar, now have little-to-no trade value. It would still be hasty to deal Torres before trying him at another position. The Yankees wouldn't get much for Gary Sánchez. And even though the team’s pitching has been better than expected, it wouldn’t make sense to deal an arm. Their best trade piece is probably Gio Urshela, and that’s not an easy price to pay.
Unfortunately, there’s another piece to the trade puzzle as well — the Yankees’ luxury tax situation. Unless the team was able to match salary in a trade (which seems unlikely), adding any significant piece would involve going over the luxury tax threshold. Would Hal Steinbrenner sign off on such a move? And if he would be now, why wasn't he willing in the offseason, when the Yankees were limited in the moves they could make? It’s downright ridiculous that we’re discussing a soft salary cap limiting a team like the Yankees, but it’s where we’re at right now. Unless Steinbrenner gives the blessing for a player like Max Scherzer, Starling Marte or Ketel Marte, it could be another summer of finessing the waiver wire for the next Cameron Maybin (who, by chance, is now available after going 1-for-28 with the Mets).
It all adds up to the Yankees’ hands being tied, and by their own doing. Their self-imposed budgetary restrictions make it difficult to add to the roster, and it’s not like their current group has much to give in the way of trade value, anyway. The next wave of prospects is intriguing, but far away from the Majors. The Yankees are stuck with this group, and the captain is going down with his ship.