At the beginning of each school year, my students ask me about tests, exams, and the like. I tell them there won’t really be any. Sure, essays count as exams and serve as ‘tests’ when we finish reading units, but I remind them that it’s English class and the line between a ‘right’ answer and a ‘wrong’ answer is pretty blurred. As a student who struggled with math, I always appreciated that flexibility, the power of interpretation. Last week, the Yankees–Hal Steinbrenner specifically, served up something ripe for interpretation:
Right now, these words mean more than one thing. On their face, they mean Hal believes in his pitchers, as he should; they’re talented and capable of great things. And from a practical standpoint, he has nothing to gain by pointing out whatever shortcomings they may have.
The words also serve as a bit of posturing to gain leverage in any potential free agent or trade negotiations. By sounding content with what they have, they’ll appear less desperate and needy on any open market. This interpretation is logical, but part of me wonders if it’s a bit dated. In this information age of baseball, everyone knows the same sorts of things. Is there really an edge to be gained here? Eh, I’m not so sure anymore. But it’s still worth doing; it may not help much, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
Those two interpretations are optimistic. They see Hal’s comments as necessary for morale and harmony, as well as, at the least, a directionally neutral step before the markets really open. But there is a more pessimistic interpretation we’ve acknowledged before.
Hal’s comments were a little too on the nose. Many have predicted he and Brian Cashman would use the return to health from Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery as an excuse for passing on elite pitching talent like Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. To those people, this statement reads like it’s laying the groundwork for the inevitable explanation for not signing or trading for a big time pitcher.
All three explanations are about equally plausible. We won’t know which one is ‘true’ for a long time. Hal’s statement is a starting point, the beginning of the offseason’s journey, to be dramatic for a second. The meaning of the statement will hardly be static; with each twist and turn of the winter, it may change meaning from time to time until Spring Training starts and the roster is set. As frustrating as that is, we’ll have to wait until then.
When will then be now? Soon. And soon we’ll find out if Hal’s words were simply posturing or the foundation for an excuse.