Amidst a frustrating start to free agency, when can we expect the Yankees to start acting like the Yankees?
The Yankees sitting back at the start of free agency has been, in a word, infuriating. Every winter, Yankees fans around the globe fantasize about the potential injection of new talent to a team that fell short of it's goal the previous season. After making just a Wild Card Game appearance in 2021 and losing badly to the hated rival Boston Red Sox, this offseason was expected to be no exception. Immediately, fans began to reminisce about major offseasons past like 2008 when the Yankees flexed their financial might and brought home a championship the following season. To this point, that has not been the case.
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There have obviously been some signings that were never in the cards for us, namely guys like Marcus Semien (seven years, $175 million with Texas), Steven Matz (four years, $44 million with St. Louis), Javy Baez (six years, $140 million with Detroit), Noah Syndergaard (one year, $21 million with the LA Angels), however, there have been some other players that the Yankees supposedly dipped their toes in the water for and then either never made an offer on, or got completely blown out of the water on. Amongst that group, Starling Marte (four years, $78 million with the Mets), Corey Seager (ten years, $325 million with Texas), Max Scherzer (three years, $130 million with the Mets), Robbie Ray (five years, $115 million with Seattle), and Justin Verlander (two years, $50 million with Houston) all come to mind. Among those players, only Verlander received an offer from New York, and it was a paltry one-year deal worth a reported $25 million with incentives and options for a second season.
More concerning, however, has been the sheer lack of rumors about the Yankees being connected to any of the remaining free agents, or who they have been in touch with on the trade market. There were some grumblings of the Yankees kicking the tires on Byron Buxton but that never materialized into anything and then he signed a seven-year, $100 million extension with the Twins. The Yankees have reportedly expressed some interest in Oakland A’s all-star first baseman Matt Olson, but to this point, names have not even yet been exchanged in potential trade talks. The Yankees were reportedly also looking into upgrading their catcher situation, with Gary Sanchez still yet to be tendered a contract for 2022, but any and all free agents that made sense for the club have already signed new contracts, leaving only Willson Contreras via the trade market left on the table. And, oh yeah, you might have heard that the Yankees need a new shortstop, and this was a historically deep free agent class.
At what point can we expect the Yankees to start acting like the freaking New York Yankees? I get we can’t just go out and buy everyone. And even if we could, those days are probably behind us since the late George Steinbrenner’s passing. But isn’t it fair to expect the team to do SOMETHING to address a bunch of glaring needs with a ton of free agent talent available to them for nothing but money? Yes, the Yankees already have a mega contract on the books for Gerrit Cole. Yes, they’re locked into Giancarlo Stanton for at least another six seasons at an AAV of $22.7 million. Yes, we need to extend Aaron Judge to a long-term deal to ensure he remains a Yankee the rest of his career. But these are the New York Yankees we’re talking about. A team with such wild financial might that they rank, among all big four professional US sports, second in overall valuation, behind only the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
And didn’t we just make a point of going under the luxury tax threshold in 2021 to ensure that any penalties incurred in future years for going over the CBT would come at the minimum penalty? If this team doesn’t plan on spending big this offseason, what exactly is the plan?
Also concerning, is that Major League Baseball will lock out it’s players in just a day which would initiate a work stoppage – one in which new contracts cannot be negotiated or signed – until a new CBA can be agreed upon. The team seems content to ride out the deadline and resume operations once the new CBA is in place, but by doing so, has allowed the rest of the league to pounce on a bounty of available talent without any competition from the big bad Yankees.
Perhaps Hal and Cashman will open up the floodgates once the new CBA is active and they have a clearer view on the new luxury tax rules and penalties. Perhaps they’ll make a flurry of trades to acquire top talent at positions of need (shortstop, first base, catcher, center field). But then again, perhaps not.
A true nightmare situation would be if this team never opens up the checkbook outside of a few fringe moves this offseason and we enter Opening Day 2022 with Gio Urshela (or someone like Andrelton Simmons or Freddy Galvis) as the starting shortstop, with Gary Sanchez behind the plate, with Luke Voit at first base, and with Aaron Hicks in center field. That lineup might have been good enough in 2018 or 2019, but after what we saw in 2021, it certainly won’t be good enough moving forward.
The New York Yankees have, to this point, prioritized financial stability and profits over winning championships, and it’s that mentality that has led to the rest of the league not only catching up to us, but surpassing us. As of this writing, the Yankees project to be a fourth-place team in the AL East in 2022. There is still a long offseason ahead of us, and much can change between now and April, but if something doesn’t change fast, the Yankees will have completely lost their identity. And it’s possible they’ll lose the fanbase next.
Andrew NatalizioFollow @BronxBomberBall