By Jason Keidel
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In case you missed the 1980s, the Yankees were equal parts back page and Page Six.
The only decade since Babe Ruth in which the Yankees didn’t win a World Series title saw the Bombers and the Boss at their ornery best. After a loss or two, demote a player, can a manager, fire off a missive. Impulsive and impetuous, George Steinbrenner flashed his fangs while the Big Apple became a Mets town.
So there was a sense of nostalgia when after the Yanks lost to the Mariners on Saturday, there were reports of local interest in Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton.
That’s so “Evil Empire” of them. It’s counterintuitive, silly, if not simply dumb. It’s in contrast to everything the club has done to shed Darth Vader’s mask, resist their epic impulse for reckless spending, while rebuilding their farm system into perhaps the most fertile in the sport. Not only would the Yanks surrender a glut of prospects, they would also assume the $295 million left on Stanton’s contract.
Yes, the reports touched on tepid talk or interest, typically opaque as these things go. But just consider the symbolism, the symmetry, the paradox, just in their outfield should they deal for Stanton. On one side, you’ve got Aaron Judge, the phenom who bloomed into the young face of baseball in three months, perhaps the only hitter on earth whose mammoth homers sail farther than Stanton’s. Judge makes $544,000. Next Judge would be Stanton, who makes LeBron James money, has won nothing and is toiling in South Florida on a team that can’t possibly contend for a World Series title. Hey, but at least Stanton is a mainstay on those ESPN “The Body” periodicals.
It’s not a knock on Stanton, per se, who’s a fine ballplayer. But this is the exact thing the Yankees have worked so hard to avoid, this corporate reflex to launch into a financial hissy fit the moment things stop going your way.
The Yankees started the season so much better than we predicted, so we all projected grandiose dreams upon them. Not only were they ahead of schedule, they were about to bag title No. 28 and force manager Joe Girardi to take an eraser to his jersey number. Fans are even more impatient and impulsive than the Steinbrenners, which lends much credence to the cliche, credited most recently to Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian: “If you listen to the fans, you’ll soon be sitting with them.”
Let Stanton stay in South Beach, where he’s being mentored by a famous former Yankee (Don Mattingly) and perhaps will soon draw paychecks form an even more iconic Yankee (Derek Jeter). Shaving payroll has been as public and painful as that chest hair scene from “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” But in the end, the Yankees look younger, more confident and competent.
Just because you have the cash to spend doesn’t mean you should spend it. After the splendor of the Joe Torre dynasty, the Yanks reverted back to their archaic, ’80s business model, which yielded similar results: a stack of regular-season wins with scant October success. Love or loathe the Yankees, they are baseball royalty, a monetary machine of the highest order. But for at least half of the last 40 years, it felt like the Yankees were a Rolls Royce being driven by a child.
Then the brass decided to snap the vocational leash from general manager Brian Cashman’s collar and allow him to do his job, and let adults drive the luxury car. Even flirting with Stanton suggests that the Yankees still listen to their inner child. After a few years of failure, it seemed they finally turned this baseball tanker around, building from the bottom up.
Losing is hard to swallow — and mediocrity is losing in the Yankees universe — because you’ve been taught World Series parades are your birthright. But if you want the crawling procession of cars and confetti again, resist the urge to splurge on Stanton. If you’d like to toss $300 million at Bryce Harper when he becomes a free agent, fine. It costs nothing but money, something the Yankees have in absurd surplus.
But dealing for Stanton would be a retrograde move for a team that finally has a grip on its future.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel