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Now more than ever, these are Hal Steinbrenner’s Yankees

All of Hal Steinbrenner’s efforts over the past decade have led to this singular moment.

Major League Baseball London Announcement - Regent Street Cinema Photo by Kirsty O’Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

For a few years now, I’ve simply been poking a metaphorical stick at the lifeless corpse that is the Yankees and asking them to do something. Make an effort. At least act like they’re trying. They haven’t really done that though. Sure, they made some big moves like trading for Giancarlo Stanton, signing Gerrit Cole, and then signing Aaron Judge, but all the moves they’ve made over the past decade have been about simply maintaining the status quo or getting slightly better. They’ve stopped aspiring to be the best.

A parade down the Canyon of Heroes is a nice to have, but it’s certainly not the goal. It hasn’t been since maybe the last time they took a stroll down that lane. If not that far back, it stopped being the ultimate goal a few short years after.

The same stories have been repeatedly told about the Yankees over the last decade, but a quick summary is this: Robinson Canó, Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Corey Seager, Max Scherzer, etc. have all been free agents, who could’ve been had for nothing more than simple money, yet the Yankees either stood firm at their offers and didn’t even negotiate, like with Cano and Machado, or they didn’t even entertain the idea of bringing the best to The Bronx, even when they met a clear need.

Getting repeatedly embarrassed by the Astros in the playoffs for the last half-decade plus wasn’t enough to spark them, at least they made the playoffs. Apparently getting embarrassed throughout the 2023 season, missing the playoffs, and barely reaching a .500 record, was at least enough to give them a jolt. They promised improvements and they did deliver, not just marginal ones. While Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham alone would genuinely represent significant upgrades to the non-Aaron Judge division of outfielders, they also got the big fish: Juan Soto. One of the few hitters in the game who is in the same company as Aaron Judge will share an outfield with him. The best available hitter was theirs.

They tried holding firm about what they were willing to give up, but ultimately knew that even a year of Soto was worth the cost. After acquiring Soto, the Yankees were rightfully patting themselves on the back. Brian Cashman talked about the Yankees’ culture, their “intent” to win every year, and about how they “certainly want to try to always under the Steinbrenner leadership make this the mecca of baseball.”

After an embarrassing tirade during the GM meetings a few weeks earlier, Brian Cashman was calm, cool, and collected. He was wheeling and dealing and ready to go after his next big fish. The top pitcher on the market was Yoshinobu Yamamoto. A 25-year-old pitching master from Japan who had never thrown a single MLB pitch, yet so many saw him as a potential franchise-altering cornerstone for any team serious about contending long-term. Cashman and company had coveted Yamamoto for a while now. They were serious and ready.

They were in it until the very end. I kept convincing myself that he was going to be a Yankee because how much the Yankees were actually letting on by publicly speaking of him. How often do the Yankees actually publicly fawn over a player and fail to land him? After all, they can match and top any offer as long as they think the player is worth it, and New York is the biggest stage in baseball. The stars were all aligned for him to put on the pinstripes, with a #18 jersey waiting for him. 12 years and $325 million later, Yoshinobu Yamamoto is a Los Angeles Dodger.

Honestly, I’ve been stunned, disappointed, and neutral on this whole thing since the news broke. I’ve said many times before “it’s okay to lose out on a player whether it’s through trade or free agency, as long as you actually try.” We never know exactly what the other side is thinking or prioritizing. So as long as the Yankees put their best foot forward, they get an “A” for effort. Well, the Yankees did try here. They were one of the three finalists.

Now we don’t know, nor will we ever probably know the exact dealings of what went on, and Yamamoto’s thought process or the Yankees’ thought process. What we do know is that the Yankees did “up” their offer to a final offer of 10-years, $300 million. We know the Mets went to $325 million and we know the Dodgers matched it. And we know he ultimately chose the Dodgers.

Jack Curry made it seem like the Yankees were standing pat with their offer, but really that doesn’t make sense to me with how much they wanted this player and how little the difference was. Maybe stupidly, but I kind of refuse to believe they wouldn’t have given in over $25 million. They were already at absurd money levels for a guy who’d never thrown a single MLB pitch.

Something tells me that he just always favored the Dodgers and that’s what his ultimate goal was. There’s a number of reasons that could be true, but the biggest one is that they’ve shown a genuine commitment to putting a winning product on the field for years now. They haven’t been shy about spending their money. They just committed $700 million to a DH who can also pitch, but we’re not actually sure if he will effectively do so again. Even if they “only” have one ring to show for it, which a lot of people scoff at because it came in 2020, Los Angeles has become the “mecca of baseball.” Offer the top dollar and the best chance to win annually. What’s better than that for an athlete trying to decide his future?

That’s where the fault comes in for Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman, mainly Steinbrenner. They’ve been harping on their legacy and “27 rings!” for too long without actually going for number 28. The Dodgers, on the other hand, keep trying. They took on Carl Crawford’s contract just to get Adrián González. They traded for and extended Mookie Betts. They traded for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. They planned for Shohei Ohtani and they got Shohei Ohtani. We know their ultimate goal. It’s no wonder why Yamamoto would want to go there. And I just can’t stop thinking about Brian Cashman’s words.

They “certainly want to try to always” be the mecca of baseball. The Yankees were that once, but they’re not that anymore. They shouldn’t have to want to try to be that. Now, they have work to do to get there again. Maybe they will. I’m personally not counting on it, but I encourage them to make me eat my words.

The failure of landing Yamamoto is their own damn fault. Whether it was because of the contract, which would be dumb, or just not being the top destination in the league anymore. A decade’s worth of work and effort got them to that place. They get some credit for trying for Yamamoto, but they don’t get a pass. Not until they commit to putting the best product on the field, no matter what it takes. Until then, I, too, certainly want to try to always hope the Yankees become the mecca of baseball once again.