It’s been a minute. Maybe a minute-and-a-half?
Whatever the case may be, as we turn the page on a new year, we continue to scour the sports pages and sports blogs (yes, you do) in search of the latest iota of information, inspiration and motivation to believe that ‘next year’ is going to be different than ‘this year’, especially if this year saw you repeat the same ending from the year before, the year before that and so on.
How many times does the record (record? CD? MP3? concussion?) have to skip before we hear the rest of the song or we simply skip to the next track?
Well if you’ve followed the Yankees up to this point, you probably already know that answer. We’ve seen the Yankees throw huge wads of cash at certain players while totally avoiding others; like a hobbyist restoring a classic car, they tinker with certain parts while keeping the style and shape intact; maybe polishing it up to make it look nice, take it for a spin until it breaks down, take it back to the garage and tinker with it some more, repeat. The Yankees always seem to have the makings of a great (if not super) team, but that team always seems to break down before they get to the World Series. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later. Playoff-bound, but insecure at best.
That said, you cannot say (anymore, at least) that the Yanks, i.e. Hal Steinbrenner and Family, are, um, “Cheap!” as has been thrown around the horn more times than Tinker-Evers-Chance. No (reasonable) fan can look at how much the Yanks pay for key players on the current roster and accuse them of being the Bronx Wilpons, no matter how many high-priced vets their new nemesis Steve Cohen comfortably gobbles up like familiar hedge fund assets. The problem that we as (again, reasonable) fans have with the Yankees’ spending is the allocation.
Of course, you can call up the local radio hotheaded hosts and talk until you’re blue in the face about this, and the narrative will not change, but just between you and me I don’t think Hal and his stepbrother Cashman like the idea of being labelled anything that doesn’t correspond with “genius”. Too bad, because to this point that conjecture has been very hit-and-miss. The fact is, while they have certainly pinpointed and extracted unseen or unexploited talent from other organizations and have even developed their own through aggressive drafting strategies, the gambles they’ve lost have been ignominious, self-inflicted and to a certain extent debilitating.
By most accounts, the Yanks have one of the strongest farm systems in baseball, and it’s a well-known fact that they spend well to recruit and develop talent to their system. But having a great system does very little good if you only use it except as an “in case of emergency, break glass” option (or a way to maintain and extend team control over elevated young players for an ethically-challenging and legally-inordinate amount of time). But then, there is the strange flip-side behavior of HODLing various prospects who, in due time, fail to develop into full-time contributors on the 40-man roster, never mind in the lineup or rotation. It’s one thing to have high expectations, but then to not offer them consistency throughout the season for years on end is obtuse, which leads us to another problem:
The way several times the Yanks have painted themselves into a corner with strikingly bad contracts on borderline has-been/never-were vets they used microscopes and tweezers to pluck a shred of overlooked value from… this seems to be an organizational blind spot with either Cashman or his advisors; how they sign or trade for players who have shown either a spark of promise in a little time or consistency in other places for a long time, yet that consistency ends within a year or two of putting on pinstripes. Some would call it a blatant misallocation of funds, some would call it pure bad luck. All I know is that with this and the unwillingness to move prospects in deals (while failing to utilize or develop them in a reasonable amount of time to address those weaknesses) has prevented the Yanks from making solid moves to shore-up weaknesses in their lineup or rotation.
Sometimes they got lucky, like with Jose Treviño as their new No.1 catcher who not only had a marked effect on the pitchers’ productivity, but also had a bigger bat than they expected. However, that was in response to a puzzling move to acquire a promising, yet equally unheralded catcher to replace the former blue-chip prospect and former All-Star catcher they had who had fallen so far into the gutter as a productive player and clubhouse guy in general that they had to not only get rid of him, but absorb a seriously and indisputably bad contract and worse overall presence as their third baseman; that also to make up for the weakness at that position they fell into with promising, but inconsistent/unlucky signings to fill that and other holes.
How far does this rabbit hole go down, you ask? Let’s not go there, or we’ll have to dig up names like Jacoby Ellsbury who, were it not for a slight indulgence that opened up the escape hatch for the front office, would still be on this roster for the next three seasons. And that’s tangentially in relation to the long-gone and until recent years lamented Robinson Cano!
But soft, let us look yonder towards the future and take leave of our past frustrations. What’s done is done as they would have us believe (underlined by Cashman’s recent extension and continued duties), and we gloss over the present confluence of talent heading into the new year…
Aaron Judge is the the new King of New York (with apologies to teammate Michael King, and to say nothing of the Emperor-in-making or New Clothes HQ’d in Flushing), and perhaps the only reason I’ve decided to remain a Yankee fan and a baseball fan in general. I’ll be quite honest, I was ready to walk away from not only the Yankees, but baseball altogether if the Yankees decided not to pursue him as hard as they did. They knew he is what makes them relevant to anything these days. Not Cole, not Stanton, not Gleyber, not Severino, not Loáisiga(sp!), not Rizzo, not Nasty Nestor, not “The Best Framer in Baseball” Treviño, not the idea of new Baby Bombers in the Ozwaldo Twins or Volpe or Jones or other Whatchamacallits, not the ever-present threat of Brett Gardner’s dirty uniform leading off and starting in left (although even that might be a slight upgrade at the present) and certainly not the existential threat that Cashman will convince Hal to go for it and sign Carlos Correa from under Cohen’s suddenly wary nose, thus giving us a replacement for the dread of Scott Proctor’s Arm with My Leg!!
Nope. It’s all about Judge; for you, for me and the whole world. Judge playing for any other team would have meant the end of believing in any player being anything more than an asset, any team being a team but instead just a business organization first and last. Judge, being a homegrown player for any team and staying would be an affirmation to a large degree in the eternity and resiliancy of baseball in the face of contemporary and ever-evolving trends, a bastion of consistency and the rewarding of greatness by the very family that raised you.
That he happens to be a Yankee means more than most people are willing to admit firsthand. Of course the Yankees are the hated (perceived) rivals of every other team in existense, according to traditional baseball fans at least. Of course they are considered the Most Moneyed Team Of All and the big bad wolves who just might come and steal your most precious All Star either in free agency or with with a bargain trade for “overblown” prospects. Even though we all know that’s not been true for decades now, we still believe in the Evil Empire mythos, not the least because the front office still plays with this jargon in some of their press conferences and releases to the media-at-large.
But this, signing Judge and keeping him a Yankee-for-Life (ostensibly) and deifying that signing by anointing him as the new captain gives life to baseball on a mitochondrial level. How often do we see star players, superstar players at that, stay with the team they were raised with? The Yanks have three players that stand out as traveling mercenaries either by choice (Cole, Rizzo) or by circumstance to a degree (Stanton). And of all the Baby Bombers that were supposed to revolutionize the Yankees’ new focus on core-and-dynasty building through analytics, the only ones left standing today are Severino (who is a free agent after this season, btw) and Judge…
Yunnow, there was a time when the Yankees were much concerned about the conundrum of being able to afford the embarrassment of riches they were grooming. Instead, they gave it all to one guy. The thing is though, that guy took an enormous risk, bet on himself… and hit the (mouthallmighty!!) jackpot. The strange thing about this though, he did it with the team he came up with. He could have gotten even more if he listened to San Diego. He could have been much closer to home and family playing for the team he rooted for growing up with San Francisco. He even could have been more generous with his loyalty and signed an extension instead of betting his professional career on one season.
But he didn’t, and I applaud him for it. For all the things the Yankees could have done and actually did with and to him over the years, from (perceived*) service-time manipulation to capitalizing on his rookie fame, the many times he was placed on the IR, which compelled the limiting of his playing time directly or indirectly (in an “abundance of caution”) to staging themselves as the heroes during negotiations before the Season of All Seasons desecnded upon the masses, Judge had every right and reason to hold the organization over a barrel and squeeze every drop of juice from their cold, dead bank accounts. And he did it with class! As far as we know (being reasonable fans), he was the Consummate Teammate™; hero of the proletariat, striking back at the ever-capitalist bourgeoisie ownership and its middling, confounding bureaucracy… yeah, okay.
As comment boards around the interwebs foamed with gnashing teeth and ever dropping temperatures from the shade from largely anonymous individuals or entities who identify as fans, i.e. HATERS speaking ill of the rich getting richer, those awful Yankees, they’ll eventually admit that viscerally it makes sense for a player to not only stay with the one team he’s always known out of a sense of loyalty, but to what having that loyalty rewarded immensely (by hook and by crook, regardless) says; speaking to his name, there is a semblance of justice in the world that we can relate to, even if only in our dreams.
Before anyone says it, I was going to try to figure out how to work in David Justice, Justus Sheffield, Lawyer Malloy, Babe Ruth, Harrison Bader, Joe Ginsberg and other subversive distractions from this feel-good musing, but it’s just too much to ask you all to suspend your disbelief at such an audacious attempt at a Dad-joke >;)
That’s all I will say for now; as much as I’m certain you miss me either by sentiment or by lack of proper aim, but I’ve said all this to say: I’m sorry I’ve not been around as much, I’m glad to have not been compelled to give up my fandom over the machinations of modern baseball, and although I likely will continue posting intermittently (ces’t la vie), I will be alongside you all in spirit, pushing this team over the top. May this new year bring us all joy and reward. Welcome aboard the Crazy Train, Carlos Rodón!
(Insert Stylized Parenthetical Here)