By Chris Melore
It’s deja vu all over again for Brian Cashman and the Yankees.
With multiple game-changing pitchers sitting on the trade market this offseason, New York appears poised to inexplicably let another world championship opportunity slip through their fingers.
As the second full day of MLB’s Winter Meetings wrapped up in Las Vegas Tuesday, rumors of a potential three-team trade with the Mets and Marlins fizzled into irrelevance. The highly talked about blockbuster speculated that the Yankees could land Noah Syndergaard; bolstering a starting rotation New York’s own general manager admitted needs two new pitchers.
The Yankees have said over and over how 2019 was the goal. For three frustrating years, they beat their fans over the head with the message that the franchise needed to reset their luxury tax penalty by cutting costs. New York passed up chance after chance to sign or acquire the final piece to a title contender; all with the expectation of roaring back into free agency this winter.
Now the Winter Meetings are nearly over and all of Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman’s promises are starting to look like a bunch of empty talk.
What should be even more distressing to fans of the Bronx Bombers is that, for the first time in decades, the Yankees front office looks like a timid pushover compared to their championship-winning rivals.
After trading for Seattle’s James Paxton on Nov. 19 New York turned their sights on fellow lefty Patrick Corbin, but the Yankees were badly outbid by the Washington Nationals. Corbin signed for six years and $140 million and baseball insiders reported New York’s bid never went past five years and $100 million.
Since losing out on their top free agent target, Brian Cashman’s brain trust has seemingly punted on the idea of acquiring another big name starter.
While several contenders are reportedly targeting top Cleveland hurlers Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, New York has barely been mentioned as a possible landing spot for either star. There’s been even less chatter about a trade for San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner.
Whether the Yankees enter the bidding for these franchise-changing talents or not, the fact that they publicly seem content to let other teams attempt to swipe up these pitchers is unforgivable.
An even more confounding question is why aren’t the Yankees already on the verge of acquiring a new staff ace?
Kluber, a two-time Cy Young winner, is the most durable pitcher available this winter. The Cleveland ace has averaged 17 wins, 218 innings, and 246 strikeouts over the last five years.
The 32-year-old is under contract for the next three seasons at an average rate of $17.5 million – an incredible bargain the Yankees can’t afford to pass up.
The Indians are reportedly trying to attach some bad contracts to their top pitchers in a trade – namely second baseman Jason Kipnis. This shouldn’t even frighten the Yankees away. Kipnis is under contract for just one more year at a manageable $14.6 million. He would provide a decent lefty bat while Didi Gregorius recovers from elbow surgery.
A trade with Cleveland makes so much sense for both teams that passing on Kluber could only be attributed to one of two things – ignorance or incompetence.
The Yankees are clearly not learning from recent history with their shocking level of inactivity this week.
In 2015, the Yankees passed on signing Max Scherzer. Since then he’s won two Cy Young awards and led the NL in strikeouts three times for the Nationals.
In 2016, Cashman wouldn’t pull the trigger to acquire Chris Sale from Chicago. Sale has a 2.56 ERA with the Red Sox now and led them to the 2018 World Series title.
The most unforgivable gaffe came in 2017 however, when the Yankee front office chose Sonny Gray over Justin Verlander at the trade deadline.
Let me repeat that: the Yankees traded for Sonny Gray instead of Justin Verlander because Gray was a more cost-effective option. Houston went on to rub this disaster in New York’s face as Verlander single-handedly pitched the Astros past the Yankees in the ALCS.
Now on the eve of 2019, Cashman seems ready to make the same mistakes all over again. New York is reportedly ready to settle on bringing back the same average, cost-effective starters they traded for last season – J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn.
General managing partner Hal Steinbrenner went on local radio programs this fall and publicly acknowledged the Yankees rotation (aside from Masahiro Tanaka he noted) had failed to get the job done in October.
“We weren’t good enough and I knew we weren’t good enough so we went over,” Steinbrenner added when talking about how he was willing to cross MLB’s luxury tax threshold to pay Tanaka in 2014.
It’s hard to say what the son of George “win at all costs” Steinbrenner is looking at this offseason because this Yankees roster is simply not good enough either. To settle for the same pitchers you already had while expecting a different result is a textbook case of insanity.
Meanwhile, the team remains a contender for Manny Machado. Despite the 26-year-old’s obvious talent, can someone please explain how spending up to $35 million a year on another slugger helps fix New York’s pitching issues one bit?
Whether it’s “paralysis by analysis” or a simple unwillingness to deal the franchise’s prospects, New York’s executives seem to be on the verge of botching a golden opportunity to acquire a game-changing ace.
It’s a mistake the Yankees’ rivals will surely pounce on this winter and one that will quickly have fans calling for their general manager’s job.
Read more columns by Chris Melore