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On the Yankees’ current state, ownership, and the “want” to win

Falafel is a fine appetizer, but it shouldn’t be the main entrée when steak is an option.

Hal Steinbrenner, the managing general partner of the New Yankees at spring training camp
“I have no idea where I am right now.”
Photo by J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images

In the current state of the world, there is an abundance of very real dilemmas that can’t be easily solved. However, some issues have a very simple solution: throw money at said issue. One such problem is a bad baseball team. It should be acknowledged that bad baseball teams (or any bad sports teams, really) don’t have to be bad. Injuries and generally unfortunate luck can of course get in the way, but most times, teams can can weather the storm by throwing money at the problem.

As the scholar Homer Jay Simpson once said, “Money can be exchanged for goods and services.” Or to put it in other words, give money to good baseball players and they will hit or throw baseballs hard while representing your team and leading them to win games. The more games the team wins, the farther they move from “bad.” It’s simple, and there are only two things required to accomplish that mission: 1. An abundance of money and 2. The “want” to win.

Alas, there aren’t many people who have both. I, for instance, really “want” the Yankees to win. I want them to win lots of games and I want them to win a World Series championship. As much as the New Jersey Devils fan in me loves the number 27, it’s not good enough. I “want” more. On the other hand, there’s Hal Steinbrenner. Most known for looking like he has no idea where he is, believe it or not, he also has an abundance of money. He also happens to own the New York Yankees. Unfortunately, he does not seem to care whether the Yankees win or not; he almost certainly doesn’t display a “want” for the Yankees to win.

It’s unfortunate because Hal owning the team and having boatloads of money would set him up very well to distance the Yankees further from “bad.” As they stand right now, they’re certainly not a bad team on paper, but they’re not a good team either. They’re fine. They’re there. The Yankees will definitely win games, and they’ll most likely win enough games to make the playoffs — especially in the new 12-team format — but it’s also likely that they won’t win enough games to hold up a championship trophy at the end of the season. And again, Hal Steinbrenner doesn’t act like he cares. In fact, he pretty much said as much.

“It’s always a goal to win a championship.” It’s a goal. I’ve mocked the “George Steinbrenner is spinning in his grave” crowd plenty, but I have to imagine that if anything is actually going to solve the world’s energy crisis, it’s this quote from George’s son. For all his flaws — and there were plenty of flaws — George Steinbrenner made it known that year in and year out, the goal was to win a championship.

Is a team going to be successful 100 percent of the time? No, but he was always going to do what he felt was going to get them to that goal. I cannot imagine George Steinbrenner ever thinking “But what will the banks say?!” Therein lies the problem. For the current regime, winning a championship is nice but it is not the focal point.

Coming into this season, the Yankees had many needs. Shortstop, first base, center field, and another starting pitcher were the big ones. On the bright side, money could’ve solved a lot of these problems. Yet, both before the lockout and after it finished, fans of the Yankees waited eagerly as players like Corey Seager, Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa, and Trevor Story came off the board as options. What did the Yankees do instead? They upgraded third base, made the catcher position more suspect, barely addressed shortstop, and merely maintained the status quo at first.

Although I’ve been an avid Gary Sánchez supporter, I found it more and more difficult to make a case for him to remain the Yankees’ catcher. In fact, I’m happy that he’s getting a chance for a fresh start somewhere else and am eager to see if he can regain the form that made him so captivating back a years ago. Even recognizing the need to move on, I can’t get behind the Kyle Higashioka and Ben Rortvedt duo. I kept telling myself there has to be another move, but I forgot about Hal’s lack of “want.” I will happily eat my words if one or both of them prove me wrong, but right now, it’s just not a good look (especially with the latter catcher already injured).

The other problem with that move was the acquisition of Josh Donaldson. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Donaldson as a player and think he’ll be very good for the Yankees. He still profiles as an elite hitter, as a few of my colleagues here have already written. However, much like the acquisitions of Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon last year, it’s a good move on its own but it becomes problematic if it’s the only move. If they traded for Donaldson and then also got one of Correa, Story, Freeman, or even made a trade for Matt Olson, then the conversation around Donaldson would be entirely different. Now of course, they did make another move in re-signing Anthony Rizzo, but I think that’s the baseball equivalent of having a pulse proving a body is technically alive.

What angered me the most was seeing the deal that Carlos Correa ended up signing. The Yankees insisted that they were fine with a stopgap solution at shortstop because they had top prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza. I understand being excited about prospects of that caliber, but I firmly believe that there’s no such thing as too many good players and logistical details can be figured out. (The Twins had their own prospects to “block” with Correa, as well.) Players who are good enough can move positions, or those same prospects could be used as trade chips to upgrade other positions on the roster. Still, the Yankees were team “stopgap.”

Once that became public knowledge, at the very least, I knew not to expect any of the big shortstop names to sign in the Bronx. But when Carlos Correa, arguably the top free agent of the offseason, signs a three-year deal with opt-outs after each of the first two seasons, there’s just no excuse for not bringing him to the Bronx. It’s worse that the Yankees themselves ended up helping the Twins clear payroll space to bring him aboard by taking on Donaldson’s deal. There is no defending that. If Carlos Correa could have been had as a “stopgap” then he should’ve been in New York. I don’t care what the banks will say.

Another problem is that I’m not sure who to blame for Correa ending up in Minnesota. Most likely, it’s Hal Steinbrenner who didn’t even want to sign off on that deal. Maybe it’s Brian Cashman, who overall I think is a good general manager, but I think he gets too cute sometimes and doesn’t know how to best allocate his resources. Maybe it’s just a combination, so I’ll just be mad at everyone and everything.

There are a number of different ways the Yankees’ offseason could have gone, and many of those different combinations would have left me satisfied. Signing Correa and Rizzo and keeping Sánchez, trading Sánchez for Donaldson and still bringing in Correa or Story or Freeman ... instead, they chose the safe path. With expanded playoffs, the Yankees will still probably get into the playoffs, but there’s no “want” to win the whole damn thing.

The fans have the “want.” The current regime has the abundance of money. I don’t know who has both.