2. No More Half-Measures. Do We Win, or Do We Do Favors?
Brett Gardner is not the representative photo for this segment because he isn’t a viable major leaguer. Every single time the Yankees have brought him back in recent years, he’s had extended stretches where he’s been invaluable.
He’s also played between 80-90% of his team’s games from 2018-2021, which would not have happened if the Yankees had imported the depth required of a champion in any one of those seasons.
New York wants to win every trade. They want to hold their prospects and play their veterans. They want to add pitching, but only if they believe they can uncover something no one else has seen yet. They want to horde young pitching at the upper levels, but not at a level higher than Triple-A, if they can avoid it by any means necessary!
And, perhaps most importantly, they want to bring in just enough big-league depth help, often seemingly discovering solutions on the fly. Why did they drop everything and pivot to Jay Bruce midway through last Spring? The veteran slugger ended up as the first line of defense weeks after being signed, filling in for Luke Voit with no one behind him on Opening Day. Teams with a plan don’t typically put all their eggs in the basket of someone who’s about to retire, something the Yankees have done with both Bruce and Gardner in recent seasons.
Teams with a plan don’t enter Spring Training with one first baseman they believe in, leading to a lefty slugger of yesteryear being tossed into the spotlight unexpectedly. The Yanks didn’t plan for Bruce, which means it turns out they didn’t plan at all.
So, what are the Yankees? The team of $35 million AAV centerpiece contracts like Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton, or the team that tries to flip assets for Jameson Taillon coming off his second Tommy John surgery because Year 1 might be a wash, but Year 2 could be outstanding (even though Year 1 was supposed to be a season of World Series contention)? Are they the team with the behemoth outfield of Stanton, Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo, or are they the team that forgot to replace Aaron Hicks or build in backup for his inevitable injuries, leading to a Jay Bruce-esque Gardner deal on April 12?
The Yankees can’t be an upper-echelon contender that fills the top of their payroll with the elite of the elite, then looks to save a million or two on their Nos. 3-5 starters, as well as their bench (and fill-ins 27-through-31 on the roster, who’ll inevitably play). Is 2022 the season they determine that champions seek as much talent as possible at all times (see: Atlanta’s 2021 trade deadline)? Or will they continue trying to outsmart their opponents, ending up holding the Bruce Bag anyway?