Discontent Throughout the Cold Winter - "What Might Have Been..."

NOTE - One day soon Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign with their new teams. All accounts seem to indicate that the Yankees are not players in either sweepstakes. And, while the Yankees did make some nice acquisitions this winter, and the team did improve, it looks like they are going to pass on the greater players.

I find this to be a shame. A huge shame. In anticipation of these two stars and potential difference makers signing with other clubs, I penned the following piece. (I’ll also say this at the outset. There is still time (and hope) that I am wrong and that the Yankees will swoop in and make a big splash or two by signing Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado.)

***

They had the chance.

They had the chance to be great. Super Great.

Legendary.

They let it slip away. Right through their hands.

And, by seemingly every, or at least most accounts, they didn’t even really try.

***

The Yankees, a team whose net worth is four billion dollars, chose, at the worst possible time, to pass on great talents who filled important needs, and who wanted to come to New York.

The Yankees let their desire to be cost conscious get in the way of turning question marks into exclamation points.

***

The Yankees like to say that they are a young team, a team building for today and the future. They feel they’ll compete in 2019 - and they will.

But they had a chance to be unbelievably great.

Their biggest young star, Aaron Judge, will be 27 years-old when the season starts. He has had a great start to his career. He’s already earned 13.2 Wins Above Replacement in his career. Impressive? Yes, indeed!

But greater stars, who are younger than Judge, were available. And these players would not have replaced Judge, they would have complimented him.

Manny Machado was there for the taking.

Manny Machado, a super star who will still be 26 when the season starts, has accumulated a lifetime WAR of 33.8. Yes, more than double Aaron Judge. And, yes, he’s younger than Aaron Judge.

Bryce Harper was there for the taking.

Bryce Harper, a super star who will still be 26 when the next season is over, has accumulated a lifetime WAR of 27.4. Yes, his career has also been worth double that of Aaron Judge. And, yes, he’s also younger than Judge.

Championship teams are supposed to be build around great young talent. Aaron Judge is great. He could have been joined by more greatness.

In Aaron Judge’s best season, his WAR was 8.1.

In Bryce Harper’s best season, his WAR was 10.0

In Manny Machado’s best season, his WAR was 7.1

What a collection this could have been.

***

What could have been.

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will be stars for other teams for at least the next decade, probably longer.

Each time they are on a highlight reel, there will be Yankees fans watching and saying, “He could have been a Yankee.”

“He should have been a Yankee.”

“He isn’t a Yankee.”

***

The Yankees’ shortstop, a young star in his own right, Didi Gregorius, suffered a terrible injury. He needed Tommy John surgery. A gigantic hole opened up on the Yankees infield. It just so happens that Manny Machado plays shortstop.

He could have filled that hole. Manny Machado is an All-Star shortstop. He’s also two years younger than Didi Gregorius. (For the record, Gregorius’ best one-season WAR is 4.2.)

No one knows when Didi Gregorius will return. No one knows if Didi Gregorius will even return in 2019. If he does, no one knows what type of player he’ll be. At best, he might be back by July or August, but it’s equally as likely that he won’t be. The Yankees have often under-estimated on the duration of time a player is out with an injury. We’ve seen this often in recent years with Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, and… Aaron Judge, to name just three.

If Gregorius returns, no one knows how he’ll perform. Will he still have a rocket throwing arm? How about his fielding range? As a batter, will he be able to hit after missing much (or most) of the season? At any age, it’s tough to come back from months and months off.

All the Yankees can do with Didi Gregorius is hope.

And when the season ends, Gregorius will be a free agent. The Yankees will probably have to spend superstar money to keep him. They’re paying him $11,750,000.00 this year to rehab and hopefully come back from the injury. Look for him to expect a big raise for 2020. Will he expect Machado-type money? He just might.

The Yankees filled what they hope is a temporary gap at shortstop in 2019 by signing two players. The first is a shortstop, an All-Star shortstop, sure, but one who is 34 years old and one who hasn’t played a big league game since 2017. The Yankees plan to replace their shortstop with a player who didn’t even play last year because he was injured. This player, Troy Tulowitzki had been great, but his has also been a career riddled with injuries. You want to know the last time Troy Tulowitzki played in more than 131 games in a season? It was 2011.

“Don’t worry,” some say. “He doesn’t have to play every day this year. Didi’s coming back.” (They hope.)

As a way to hedge their bet, the Yankees signed D.J. LeMahieu. He is a great defender. As a second baseman, that is. The last time D.J. LeMahieu played shortstop in the Major Leagues was 2014 when he played there for… one inning. One inning. In his entire career, LeMahieu has played four innings at shortstop. Four innings.

Manny Machado was out there.

The Yankees passed on him.

The Yankees will head into the 2019 season with a giant question mark at shortstop.

Manny Machado would have turned that question mark into an exclamation point.

***

In 2019, the Yankees are hoping that Brett Gardner will play a solid and competent left field. They re-signed him for $7,500,000. Brett Gardner is 35 years old. He’s at the end of his career. Bryce Harper, with all his accomplishments, is still just at the beginning of his career.

Brett Gardner was so bad at the end of last season that the Yankees benched him. In the second half of last season, Brett Gardner batted .209 with just three home runs. The Yankees are now hoping he can play every day in 2019. Brett Gardner has always been a player who wears down, even when he was young, in the second half of a season. For his career, Brett Gardner’s numbers are drastically worse in the season’s second half.

Gardner’s career first half batting average is .274. It drops to .243 in the season’s second half.

His On-Base Percentage goes from .356 to .329 when comparing his career first half to his career second half.

Slugging? .415 to .356.

If Gardner can’t play every day, the Yankees hope Clint Frazier can. Frazier is a young guy, coming up, with great potential, and a scary injury history. He’s played in a total of 58 games in the Major Leagues with a lifetime slash line of .238/.295/.429. He’s hit four lifetime homers. But, he’s young. Frazier is only 24. Wait, that’s just two years younger than Bryce Harper. When Harper was 24, his lifetime numbers were .285/.386/.515. By that time in his career, he had already hit 150 home runs.

Some people speculate that Giancarlo Stanton will play left field for the Yankees in 2019. It’s possible, but if he does, who is the designated hitter? Hint - There isn’t one.

Jacoby Ellsbury is still on the roster. He’s also hurt, he didn’t play at all in 2018.

Compounding all of this is the fact that the Yankees’ center fielder, Aaron Hicks, an excellent ballplayer, also has a propensity for getting injured. He’s never played in more than 137 games in a season. If he gets hurt, who plays center field?

This is a team that had to resort to playing Shane Robinson in 25 games last year due to its lack of outfield depth. Robinson batted .143 with but one home run. Was he, at least, a young guy brought up from the minors with potential for the future? No, Shane Robinson, the guy they had to turn to, was 33 years-old.

Some claim that the Yankees’ outfield is a strength. Pardon me if I see a lot of question marks out there.

Bryce Harper could have turned those question marks into an exclamation point. All the Yankees had to do is sign him.

They didn’t.

***

One concern with the Yankees offense is that their big hitters strikeout far too much. Here are their big hitters and their career strikeout percentage per at bat: Aaron Judge (38.7), Giancarlo Stanton (32.2), Gary Sanchez (27.2)…

Manny Machado, a big bat who would slot in with those guys has a lifetime strikeout percentage of 17.9%. Even Bryce Harper (25.2%) strikes out less often than the Yankees’ big guys.

***

Heading into the 2019 season, the Yankees have one player, Aaron Hicks, a switch hitter, who is an offensive threat as a left-handed hitter. (The only other left-handed hitter in the line-up will be Brett Gardner.) Hicks’ lifetime slugging percentage is actually higher, though, as a right-handed batter (.431) than as a left-handed batter (.380) - and that difference is not insignificant.

Bryce Harper bats left-handed.

He would have greatly balanced the line-up.

And, just as a matter of record, there are significantly more right-handed pitchers in baseball than left-handed ones.

***

The Yankees had the chance, a huge chance, a once-in-a-generation chance, to add young premier talent to a strong and exciting core.

They passed.

They seemed to get scared off by the dollars, the big dollars it would cost them to invest mightily in the team.

***

It’s often written in response to posts like this that “Brian Cashman knows more than these bloggers who complain.” Those who write that are correct. He knows a lot more. Tons more. Brian Cashman knows more about baseball and the Yankees and the players and their agents and all of it than all the bloggers combined I suspect. Of course he does.

I’ll never claim to more about baseball or the Yankees than Brian Cashman.

Never.

Brian Cashman knows more about baseball than me. A lot more. Of course he does.

But, maybe, just maybe, Brian Cashman also knows all of this that I wrote. Because he does, of course. If I know all this, then he certainly does.

And, maybe, just maybe, Brian Cashman agrees with all of this. It is possible.

Perhaps Brian Cashman also knows that the right moves, the smart moves, the best moves, the moves that would have solidified the 2019 (and beyond) Yankees would have been to acquire Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.

Maybe the ownership wouldn’t allow Cashman to sign these players.

But that doesn’t mean they weren’t the right moves.

Maybe the ownership also knows these are the right moves and the smart moves from a baseball sense.

Because they are.

Absolutely.

***

As Yankees fans, we live and we die with each game. We’re passionate about the game.

For us, the Yankees are something we’ve invested our lives and our emotions into. We lose sleep when the Yankees lose. We long for championships. And we spend a lot of money on the team. We give the team our time, our emotions, and our money. It costs a lot of money to be a Yankees fan.

We also want the team’s ultimate decision makers to care as much about winning as we do.

We’ve been nurtured as fans with this idea that the Yankees mission statement is to win. Period. But it does seem that that mission has changed.

The Yankees mission now seems to be to hopefully win but only within certain financial parameters.

And, of course, this new model has produced, thus far, zero championships and zero World Series appearances.

Maybe 2019 will be the year that changes.

I hope so, but a couple of big signings would have made some championships even more likely.

***

The Yankees had the chance to make significant upgrades to the team.

They had a shot.

They had an opportunity.

They let it slip.

They’ll head into the season with question marks. Many question marks.

They’ll probably still be an excellent team.

But, oh, what could have been.

The players were there. They were this-close.

And the Yankees passed.

***

I suspect we’ll be looking back, for the rest of our lives, at this winter. It’s a defining winter in Yankees history.

It will be forever.

If Bryce Harper and Manny Machado lead their new teams to pennants and World Series, the Yankees will forever regret the chances that they let pass.

If Harper and Machado go into the Hall-of-Fame, the Yankees will, forever, wish they had earned that recognition in pinstripes.

It could have been the winter of power and glory and true greatness. It could have been the winter where the Yankees set themselves up to be the team of the next decade or so.

Instead, it’ll forever be known as the winter that might have been…