Going For The Gusto

The MLB playoffs are not a crapshoot.

Yes, it is small sample size theater. A bad bounce of the ball can alter the outcome of a singular game. A poorly located pitch can change the complexion of a series. These things can all be true, but playoff games are won with talent, attention to detail and execution. Victories in October don’t come from the luck of the draw.

The idea that “anything can happen in the playoffs” isn’t a trustworthy or foundational ethos when looking to construct a championship contending team. We’ve heard too many times from Yankees brass that they just want to make the dance. You punch your ticket to the tournament and see what happens. Well, what’s happening is each Yankees season ends at the hands of a team that built their roster to win in the playoffs. Yankees opponents are aggressively putting their teams in positions to succeed. As each postseason disappointment builds upon one another for this current version of the Yankees, the organization needs to be proactive in building a roster that is built for October and not solely the grind of the regular season.

The Yankees continue to operate with a fatal flaw. We are all well aware that the starting rotation isn’t championship caliber. There is a ton of talent, but there are inconsistencies, durability issues and a sheer lack of pitching length in games. Instead of acquiring players that directly address this weakness, the Yankees repeatedly circumvent them. The decision to maximize the bullpen feels partly based on the Kansas City model, but it is also a smart way to keep payroll in check.

It is unfortunate that the desire to stay under the luxury tax coincided with the rise of this tremendously talented roster. We’re seeing the impact of this balancing act. To be clear, I do acknowledge the importance of operating the franchise with the big picture in mind. This is a multi-billion dollar company and there are responsibilities that fans will never have to consider. Some of the success and good health of the franchise depends on this big picture view. With that said, it feels like this balancing act is hampering the Yankees ability to go big fish hunting. And a big fish is exactly what this team needs.

The Yankee need an ace, but just as importantly, they need the competitive resolution to say they’re absolutely going to acquire one. They can’t continue to settle by spreading the money around with more complimentary pieces. The DJLM, Urshela, Tauchman and Maybin moves are all fantastic. But they can’t continue to bring in J.A. Happ types. We can’t get the *a healthy Severino and Jordan Montgomery are difference makers* talk anymore. The last time the Yankees solely targeted an elite pitcher they ended up with CC Sabathia (I view Tanaka in a different vein). They immediately won a title and CC became a Yankee legend.

You can look across the field to see the impact an organization’s go for broke attitude has on team performance and results. The Houston Astros built up an incredible core (despite the not so cool way they went about doing it) and were bold in their decisions to supplement it. In 2017, they were short a pitcher and took a risk on Justin Verlander. In 2018, they weren’t satisfied with winning one title so they acquired Gerrit Cole. Despite having a two-headed monster this season, the Astros acquired another ace to address their pitching depth in Zack Greinke.

In each scenario, Houston was proactive in bolstering their roster with the absolute best available. They didn’t balk at price. The team wasn’t handcuffing itself to potential rosters in 2023 and 2024. They didn’t operate with the idea that anything can happen in the playoffs. Houston’s approach was they were going to make things happen in the playoffs. That difference in ethos makes all the difference in the world. It fields a team that dictates the game to their opponents because of the imposing talent they possess. Unfortunately, we saw this play out in the ALCS.

After every playoff series loss, Yankees fans and baseball media ask a now aged old question: was the Yankees season a failure? This question feels rooted in privilege. The question’s foundation hints at an assumed ownership of a title. This doesn’t feel like the right question to ask. The more appropriate question is did the organization do everything in its power to put the team in the best position possible to win a championship? The answer to that question for this current group is a resounding no. The results are the ultimate measurement of the process. Their chief competition continues to make bold moves to put their team in as optimal a position to win in the playoffs. The balancing act needs to end. It is time for the Yankees to be bold in addressing their weakness or we’ll be back here next season lamenting another lost opportunity.

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19 Comments

  1. Winning a WS is really hard. It’s very difficult to be the favorite to do it in one year AND have a long term goal to remain competitive for a WS every year. The Astros went all in for this one, they’ve gone all in for this window, and it makes perfect sense. They tanked for years to get this opportunity. That being said they are going to run into a spot very soon where they are going to have to make some tough decisions because of their payroll. The Yankees strategy seems to be to compete for a WS every year, forever, and I do think they’ll run into one in this window even with this strategy. But, they’ve had some chances to trade some future value and go all in at points here and they haven’t. That hurts, but I don’t think I’d be happy enduring the tanking years either.

    Now with Cole is the time. They have money coming off the books this year and next (Didi/CC/Tanaka/Paxton/Ellsbury/maybe Chapman). There are almost no long term SP commitments right now, with Tanaka and Paxton slated for FA in 2021. So they could essentially load up for the one year, go all in, and then be right back in a place to reset the tax the following year. Or they could just keep going all in and resign one or both of Paxton and Tanaka, but I digress.

    • Randy

      The Astros are on the verge of a dynasty and made aggressive moves to keep the window open. Sure, they’ll have some tough decisions, but they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

  2. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    I agree, Randy. The greatest loss this franchise ever suffered was the death of George. We haven’t even been to a WS since his passing. During the 90’s dynasty whenever we needed another player George got him. Cost was no issue. Need a Coney, got him. Need a Wells, got him. Need a Rocket, got him. Need an El Duque, got him. This current regime believes that Moneyball was about the Scott Hatteburgs and not Mulder, Zito and Hudson. That’s what made the A’s good. We need an ace that can actually pitch into the 7th. Even in the game he lost Verlander pitched 7. Tanaka didn’t even go that long in his two wins.

    Another big problem is the medical staff led by that butcher Dr. Ahmad and the training staff led by fat Stevie Donahue. Ahmad was sued by Alex and misdiagnoses every injury from Betances to Teixera to Sevy. And the biggest whopper was telling Hicks he needed life altering TJS and then a month later his buddy tells him you don’t need surgery, your arm looks just fine.

    When I think of head athletic trainer I think of someone who actually looks like they were once an athlete and I’m not talking about Saturday morning bowling champion. Stevie is a nice guy and the players love him but he doesn’t keep these guys healthy and players like Gary look at him and think that’s what I need to aspire to be. Time to clean house in the medical and training staffs if we ever want to get back to the WS.

  3. Scully

    The simple answer here is no, ownership did not do everything needed to win a title, because winning the title at all costs isn’t what this particular ownership group is about… they’re about winning as much as possible, while remaining fiscally prudent, and maximizing their revenue. As fans we’ve been spoiled by George Steinbrenner’s competitive nature… we assumed his son would look at owning the team in the exact same light, and he does not. The Yankees were George Steinbrenner’s baby…. for his son they are a job.

    I’m much more angry at the ownership’s unwillingness to go all out than I am upset at the Yankees not winning.

    All season every intelligent fan and pundit said “the Yankees need more starting pitching.” When the Astros picked up Greinke—a guy whose openly said he doesn’t want to pitch in NYC, we chalked it up to “well, we couldn’t get that guy anyway.” We, however COULD have had Patrick Corbin who is in the World Series himself this year. That’s the one move that stands out to me… it’s not Sonny Gravy vs. Justin Verlander on deadline day 2017, or Greinke vs. Marcus Stroman or whomever else was available on deadline day 2019… It’s Patrick Corbin and a bit more money vs J.A. Happ and a bunch of excuses as to why it was the best move all winter.

    I think what I’m most upset at is that I’m at a point in my life where I bust my butt to make end’s meat and push my life forward, and I want to escape with the Yankees, but I can no longer do that because I know the Yankees ownership is most interested in making money its way and not the way that George Steinbrenner saw how one makes money (by winning every game possible and being the last team standing at the end).

  4. mikenyc2007

    Great article- we all could look at the “what if’s”…if Betances and German gave us 7 total solid innings, how much better would the series have been….if Stanton and/or Voit could replace EE…but the bottom line is the Yanks cant be half-pregnant…if you build a super bullpen you make the trade for Giles at the deadline. if you want to bolster your rotation over the corpses of Happ and CC, you go overpay for Lynn or Stroman. Thats the incremental way to build a championship team, as the team is always as weak as its worst player…and with the short bench the Yanks have ( due to injury and inflexibility) their roster is shorter than most. Its not a question if Stroman is better than Happ, he will be better than Holder/Heller/Loisiga etc.

    This offseason, ill already prepared to hear “Cole wanted to go home, we made a fair offer etc.” and “ownership is committed to winning” as Cashman dazzles us with double-speak about putting together a championship roster.

    However…go look at what a championship roster looks like in the late 2010s from Sox and Astros (and even Cubs)….kinda like the one in the late 1990’s….a bunch of patient, multidimensional hitters with occasional pop in their home park, average defense but no black holes, strong baseball instincts – backed up with strong starting rotations and impeccable late inning relief. Thats the blueprint that always wins

    • Randy

      I just want to point out the Astros won with homers. Overall, their lineup was abysmal in the ALCS. They hit timely homers and won games that way. They were not winning by being patient and multidimensional.

    • RetroRob

      Nope. Power wins. That’s been shown time and time again. The numbers back it up. The Yankees can win with their hitting, which actually is multidimensional. They actually out hit the Astros outside of HRs. Once again. It was HRs. Not slapping the ball the other way and stringing together a bunch of hits, which is really, really difficult against elite pitching.

      The pitching part overall I agree with. The Yankees have a strong bullpen. They need to strengthen the starting rotation, which will allow them to maximize the pen more.

      The loss sucks, but the Yankees were very close to beating the best team in baseball. They need to close the very tiny gap between the two teams in 2020.

  5. Hmm…. I disagree. Could they spend more? Absolutely, but the Astros are a GREAT team. Literally, if the ground ball that deflects off of Altuve in game 2 bounces a little further into the outfield, then the Yankees (may) win that game and we are talking about a different series. They spent big on Stanton ZERO, Ottavino BAD and added EE ZERO. Happ was a bad signing, they aren’t perfect, but would signing Patrick Corbin to that contract been the move? eh…..

    I was all about claiming Verlander, but that was a big risk for a lot of money and a lot of miles on that right arm. turns out that was THE move to make, but that’s with 20/20 hindsight.

    • Randy

      That didn’t happen though. What did happen was the Yankees were shut down by superior pitching. They were shut down by superior pitching in 2018. They lost to JV in 2017. In those three years they didn’t have a rotation that could compete with their opponents. I didn’t say they didn’t spend. I am saying their decision is limited by a need to satisfy a balancing act and that is why we get Happ instead of JV. And yes, signing Corbin would’ve been the move. He helped his team get to the WS.

      • Yes, 20/20 hindsight, JV would have been the pickup over Happ, but that was not clear at the time. No one was saying that move was a slam dunk move. Corbin 6years $140mil. Again, eh. They traded for Paxton, regardless of how it turns out, it was a good move. Sonny Gray was supposed to be a good pitcher, he was not. They’ve made upgrades, it hasn’t worked out. You can’t spend $140mil on a SP every year.

    • mikenyc2007

      I think Verlander was more complicated than just $$…he just got hooked up with Kate Upton, and the Yanks just got rid of ARod back-page drama. Verlander is outspoken (and not in line with most NY liberals), and we have seen where she is very active/aggressive on social media. Her outfits/ their break up/ his new girlfriend/ marriage etc would have been all over the papers.

      Besides the $ and performance issues, i cant discount the fact that Cashman was afraid of that being the story in the clubhouse as he was trying to build a culture around Judge/Didi/Gardner etc

      • Randy

        Yeah, I don’t think that mattered. They traded for Chapman and signed him back in FA. They haven’t released Germán. I don’t think Kate Upton would’ve been a problem.

  6. Flynn

    Good stuff Randy- rather than a full on “preaching to the choir” regurgitation of your post,

    Who really owns this?
    Hank and the budget?
    Cashman and his approach?

    The management of the budget and Hank’s (anti gorge) approach to some level of fiscal responsibility has been covered over and over.. I get where he’s coming from, you want your business to have efficiencies and some cost control. Paying Arod to go home, Jacoby to sit and grow new injuries has to get old.. But he must also realize caution has a price. But damn, Justin Verlander for the past 2 1/3rd seasons would have looked a lot better than JA Happ.

    Cashman I think owns a good chunk of this as well.. I’m not going to kill him for the Cole trade of a couple off seasons ago (hindsight being the bitch that it is, I’d have given Frazier, Andujar, and Sheffield and laughed all the way to the WS)..BUT I do think he’s sometimes guilty of trying to be the smartest guy in the room sometimes .. Looking at his staff construction over the past few years, it seems like the guy who would rather get 21 getting by being dealt Ace, 6,3,2,and 9, rather than getting dealt Blackjack.

    Windows close quickly, another off season of being timid I fear will end in the same fashion we just witnessed. This them is very good, but very good isn’t good enough most years.

  7. It was a popular joke to make fun of the people who called Hal cheap on RAB, but nobody should be laughing now, that’s for sure.

  8. H.E. Pennypacker

    Bold Prediction: Yankees trade Gary Sanchez in the off-season with a package for a starting pitcher. Trade could include other big league pieces. He’s the most valuable non-Judge/Torres piece they have. And he really is the most expendable. The big question is: whom do the Yankees acquire?

    • Randy

      Gary Sanchez is not the most expendable Yankee. Who replaces him at catcher? You’re either getting below average play behind the dish or you’re paying significantly more money to an older player who won’t match or surpass his production. And also, why not just spend your riches on Cole?

    • There is really no reason to do this when they can just pay Cole and/or Strasburg a boatload of money all while not downgrading the catcher position.

    • There is really no reason to do this when they can just pay Cole and/or Strasburg a boatload of money all while not downgrading the catcher position.

    • Doug Hudgins

      Hope you are right !

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