Destroying the myth Yankees needed Machado or Harper
TAMPA — I think the Yankees made the right choice. Now, we begin learning if that is correct.
They did not sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. Both remain free agents. But short of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres falling off a treadmill together and all blowing out ACLs, we can assume Harper and Machado have a better chance of signing with the Yomiuri Giants or the San Francisco Giants than the New York Yankees.
For certain, pitchers and catchers will report Wednesday without the dream of many Yankees fans: Harper and/or Machado on the roster.
I sense many Yankees fans felt lowering payroll in 2017-18 was to create an environment to sign one and/or the other. But those fans should not act like this put them through some Marlins-esque hardship. The Yankees had the majors’ second-largest payroll in 2016 — and it was nearly $30 million more than third place. They missed the playoffs. They reduced significantly for 2017 and went to ALCS Game 7. They dropped again last year and won 100 games. They were eliminated by the eventual champs in both seasons.
The Yankees’ aim was to drop beneath the luxury-tax threshold in 2018. That reset the tax penalties to the lowest percentage if the Yankees went over again in 2019. By the way, they are over the $206 million threshold, projected at about $215 million, though Hal Steinbrenner has stated he does not believe a team needs to be over $200 million to contend for titles.
We can argue Steinbrenner should open the coffers further. But it is likely this is the budget he gave Brian Cashman. If you ran baseball operations, would you have used the allotted money to sign Machado or Harper and then settle for, say, Brad Brach and Sergio Romo to round out the pen? Or do what the Yankees did to address every phase: diversify the talent, limit the long-term risk?
Before answering, consider that from a 100-win club, the Yankees lost off the roster one significant contributor: David Robertson. I do not want to downplay Robertson. He is one of the most consistent high-end performers in a role that often defies consistency, plus he proved unflappable in New York. But given a choice of Robertson or Adam Ottavino for the next three years, the majority of clubs would have taken Ottavino’s upside.
The other loss, Didi Gregorius, is mammoth. Gregorius is lefty, strikes out infrequently and is a high-end glove for a team that is righty, strikes out often and has infield-defense questions. But the Yanks believe Gregorius is going to return two or three months into this season. Signing Machado for eight to 10 years to fill in for a guy who is going to miss three months is akin to using an Uzi to take out a fly in your living room.
The Yankees left a personal, two-hour workout with Troy Tulowitzki impressed by his skill and condition. For the minimum wage, they might have a quality stand-in for Gregorius — remember, if Tulowitzki fields the routine stuff and has, say, a .740 OPS for two months, that would be great and anything better/longer gravy.
If Tulowitzki cannot overcome his injury-prone history, then the Yankees would take the third-place AL Rookie of the Year finisher, Gleyber Torres, put him at short and deploy one of the best defensive second basemen in the game, DJ LeMahieu, next to him. Most fan bases would be thrilled to see what Torres and Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar do next. Machado would assure the Yankees would not get that opportunity for at least one — unless it turned out Andujar was capable of playing first, which would extinguish the chance of finding out if Luke Voit and/or Greg Bird were for real.
Also, the mindset cannot be all that matters is 2019, and there is amnesia about the past and disinterest in the future. The Yankees did import the largest contract in history (Stanton) last offseason. They are still living for two more years with Jacoby Ellsbury’s seven-year deal. Players such as Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino are about to get more expensive.
Say they sign Machado for eight years and next offseason they need a starter. Will the cry be they are not trying unless they sign Chris Sale? Then the year after they need another bat, are they not trying unless they sign Mookie Betts? There is no flawless roster, and the financial chase to fix everything has mostly proven unwise.
Currently, every public computer simulation and over/under posting has the 2019 Yankees projected to 95-plus wins. Will they get there? Who knows? A season is a twisting road that defies script. But adding Harper or Machado to take on eight-plus years of risk to raise their win probability by a victory or three in 2019 feels like overkill. It feels as if many Yankees fans are upset that the Red Sox payroll was by far the largest last year and they won, which ignores how many years it was the Yankees or Dodgers with the largest payroll, or the Tigers chasing titles with dollars to no avail.
It feels as if many Yankees fans are forgetting their team can’t have everyone — that they do not have Commissioner’s Office dispensation to have more than a 25-man roster.
The Yankees made themselves among the game’s most legitimate contenders with their offseason work without absorbing the risks inherent in a deal for a Harper or Machado. Beginning Wednesday, we see if this was the right play — or whether there will be much Harper/Machado “I told you so’s” in their future.
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