By Jason Keidel
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Earlier this week, the New York Post pondered the possibility that the Houston Astros are, vis-a-vis the Yankees, the new iteration of the Red Sox.
In other words, a rival rolling down the decades.
They are not. Though the World Series champions are formidable, fun, wildly gifted, with a deep farm system, it takes more than their first title to establish them as part of baseball’s long-term aristocracy. Even if they are the talk and chalk of 2018, and just got better by reportedly landing right-hander Gerrit Cole, you can’t just slide your way into the 90 years of white-hot hatred between Boston and the Big Apple.
But speaking of old ways and the old days, the Yankees have been rather muted since landing the biggest log in the hot stove furnace. Since trading — if you’d care to call it that — for home run king Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees have been content to rest on their riches.
Though there’s no rule requiring to attack the hot stove like they are indeed on fire, the Yankees have been the most ardent suitors for about as long as we’ve had free agency, shoveling billions at free agents for decades. Sure, if someone is going to give you Stanton, who blasted 59 homers and drove in 132 runs in 2017, you take him. With or without the luxury tax, the Yanks have endless elbow room within their payroll, so assuming his mammoth contract is not an issue.
But let’s leave the winter at that. If the Bombers want to acquire Cole another front-end starter as insurance against old man CC Sabathia and the tender elbow of Masahiro Tanaka, that makes good baseball sense. But please don’t tell us you want both of the glittering pitching free agents — Darvish and Jake Arrieta. Or that you’re willing to sell the farm for Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer.
Part of the charm behind the 2017 Yankees was that they were not expected to do much, and almost did it all. Nearly every card came up an ace last season, which ended nine innings short of a World Series. And the spark behind the fairytale run came from farm system players, led by rookie Aaron Judge, who hit nearly as many homers as Stanton, and likely would have been AL MVP had it not been his maiden MLB season.
So you’ve got over 100 homers in the two power spots in your lineup, which is plenty deep above and beyond the twin-bombers Stanton and Judge. The Yanks still have a nuclear bullpen. Barring injury, their only possible variable is starting pitching, which was stellar in the 2017 playoffs. Will Sabathia finally pitch to his age? Will Tanaka’s elbow finally snap? Will Luis Severino repeat his lovely 2017, or regress?
A baseball team should have some questions. Except, perhaps, the Astros. The defending champs are loaded and will perhaps get better. Let them. Since when do the Yankees worry about the Houston Astros? FanGraphs predicts the world champs will finish 2018 with a 97-65 record, while the Yanks and Red Sox are projected to finish 91-71. What were the Yankees supposed to finish a year ago? Around .500, to be sure. In fact, the natives were way more excited about the Mets. (Shame on us for that.)
But don’t go grabbing the Darth Vader mask and poach the star pitcher from three teams. There’s little in MLB history, or in Yankees history, other than in 2009, to suggest a free agent splurge will yield October success. The Yanks already shocked us by canning Joe Girardi, who seemed to be the perfect manager for this club, until the brass said he wasn’t.
Leave the rest to imagination, to fate, to an organic run to the World Series. These Yanks came within one game of the Fall Classic last year. They should only get better. Unless the brass says they’re not. And we know how that always ends.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel