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.