After a thrilling victory Tuesday night, the Yankees have a six-game AL East lead on the Rays. Better yet, they have a two-game advantage on the Twins for the American League’s best record.
It’s remarkable to think the Yankees are off to a 60-33 start with injury after injury overtaking this roster. By all appearances, this team is right in the middle of its contention window with a core of Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez and more.
Though the Yankees are one of the favorites this season, you can easily argue team will be a favorite for years to come, and perhaps the singular favorite with improvements to the starting rotation. The Bombers have yet to sacrifice a significant prospect to upgrade their roster, yet they are poised for a third straight playoff appearance.
They have a chance for a special run. But so do the Rays.
Tampa Bay had a ragtag approach to win 90 games in 2018 with a rotation strung together by openers, followers and cheap, young talent. This year’s team has built upon that while slowly adding prospects like Brendan McKay to the roster, all while seeing Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and others blossom. Their only big free agent acquisition, Charlie Morton, is an AL Cy Young favorite.
Meanwhile, they still have either the best or second-best farm system in baseball, depending on how you view the Padres. Wander Samuel Franco is the top prospect in baseball and might be just 12 months from contributing. We’ve already seen Nate Lowe and McKay, and players like Jesus Sanchez aren’t too far behind.
That’s all to say that the Rays have a pipeline of talent ready to fix the weak spots on their roster, or replace key contributors when they get too expensive. In all, the Rays have a chance to keep getting better and challenge the Yankees, Astros and Red Sox for the title of best AL roster.
That doesn’t mean the Yankees need to go all-in on 2019, but the Bombers need to make the most of their opportunity. This season’s division chase could get close, but they won’t start 2020 with a six-game advantage, not to mention the 10-game lead they hold on Boston.
If anything, the Yankees could follow the Dodgers’ model: Use their financial advantage to maintain a core and excel in player development while making necessary upgrades each summer without sacrificing the core. Los Angeles has added Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Manny Machado on rental deals at the last three deadlines, yet they’re looking ready to make a third straight World Series, all while holding off any rising challengers in their division.
The Yankees have enough prospects to make whatever upgrades they need this year without mortgaging the future. However, the top-line starter they’d want is either on their IL (Luis Severino), unavailable due to #Mets (Syndergaard) or tough to find. They made need to make incremental upgrades or add to the bullpen instead.
Regardless of how Brian Cashman handles the trade deadline, the Yankees will be a top-end team come October. This could be their year, even without a Madison Bumgarner in tow.
But next year might be the Rays’ year. Or the Red Sox’s year. The lack of a dynasty coming after the 2016 Cubs or 2017 Astros showed how fleeting success can be, even when you have what appears to be a sustainable future.
So what appears to be a wide-open window could be a mirage. The Yankees need to treat it as such and not leave it to the future. In other words, hold off all challengers before they can properly form and beat you.