The first thing I ever wrote for Pinstripe Alley was right as the 2015 Yankees made it to the American League Wild Card game and were set to face Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros. The Yankees hadn’t made the playoffs for two years and were finally back where they belonged after a postseason “drought.” In that piece, I argued whether “World Series or bust” expectations were fair and how “enjoying the ride” is rewarding on its own.
Since then, I’ve written many posts complaining about the Yankees and their lack of action. I think “World Series or bust” is unfair, but I cannot accept standing pat. My biggest complaint about the state of baseball has been how so many teams are okay with giving up and selling the idea of “rebuilding” to their fans. Out of 30 teams, only a handful go for it year in and year out. The problem with the Yankees is that they’ve been playing both sides.
The Yankees have been fine with finding their way back to the postseason on talented, but flawed teams without making any real upgrades to actually win. They banked on the playoffs being a crapshoot and treated the luxury tax threshold as their salary cap. They’ve taken their biggest strength and used it against themselves.
Going into the season, the Yankees’ goal was to reset their tax number by getting under the threshold. It’s why they let Masahiro Tanaka walk and didn’t do much to guarantee upgrades to their starting rotation. Still, they put together a good team on paper and hoped their division rivals getting worse would let them cakewalk back into the postseason and get the division handed to them.
Obviously that plan backfired. The Yankees severely underperformed, the Red Sox emerged out of nowhere, the Rays remained annoying, and the Blue Jays are probably the only competitive AL East team who are exactly where people expected them. That brought about an interesting few weeks leading to MLB’s trade deadline.
I honestly expected the Yankees to do nothing. They already blamed the players for the team’s struggles, and I figured they were going to just ride that and Boston’s hot start to resetting their tax number, which was (and still is) the main goal for 2021, rather than simply winning the World Series. And while I do agree that the players are the ones on the field and ultimately just have to perform better, ownership and management also deserve a lot of the blame for not improving other areas of the team — even if the different ball and “sticky substance” ban are not problems they could have easily planned around.
Then on Wednesday, the Yankees actually surprised me by trading for Joey Gallo. They followed that up by trading for Anthony Rizzo the next day. They were far enough away from even a Wild Card spot that some folks wanted the team to sell off assets instead of buying. They also traded for Andrew Heaney to “bolster” their pitching staff, but that move’s much less important.
Bringing in Gallo and Rizzo demonstrated that they’re going all-in on trying to save this season. The past couple weeks, I’ve been struggling to stay interested in following this team. The bad baserunning, cringeworthy defense, inconsistent offense, and heartbreaking bullpen collapses took its toll. Something needed to change for me to keep investing, and they did just that.
Sure, these moves were probably only made because Brian Cashman went full “Ninja Cash” and got the Rangers and Cubs to pay for Gallo and Rizzo’s salaries, so the Yankees are still pretty much guaranteed to raise another “under the threshold” banner. Still though, the Yankees changed overnight and gave me a reason to keep investing.
As my first piece showed, I’ve never been one to expect a championship every single year. Other teams do exist, and I do buy into the idea that the playoffs are a crapshoot. However, what I do expect every year is to see a competitive team. All I ever want is an honest effort. While I would’ve liked real additions to the rotation and bullpen and still don’t think that this is the best club they could put out there for that reason, Brian Cashman did make an honest effort to improve this team and get better results.
This may all be for naught thanks to the hole the team has dug for themselves, but for now, I’ll keep investing.