If you haven't yet read former River Ave Blues/current CBS Sports scribe Mike Axisa's timeline of the Yankees' self-inflicted wounds from 2017 to present, now is the best time to do so. It's a remarkably thorough dissection of an organization he believes is too arrogant to face its own failures (and I wholeheartedly agree).
Axisa's multi-pronged approach towards analyzing this Yankees' spectacular ability to somehow close their seemingly limitless World Series window in just two or so years covers every base. Sadly, though, the pain point that hit hardest was the Yankees' first move after soaring to Game 7 of the ALCS unexpectedly back in 2017.
The stalled development, the poor financial resource allocation, the remarkable tendency to outsmart themselves ... it all comes second behind the team's ridiculous decision to slice payroll and get below the CBT threshold immediately after experiencing their greatest success in years.
The one caveat here? I might argue that passing on a Justin Verlander trade midseason in 2017 for financial reasons, allowing him to be funneled to Houston (illegally, after the trade deadline had passed, it's fine, everything's fine) was the first domino here. But Axisa nails it, pointing out just how wildly antithetical it was to slice payroll by $31.2 million while preaching publicly that they were about to enter another gear.
Yankees never recovered from cutting payroll prior to 2018 season
And that was a $31.2 million payroll reduction while adding Giancarlo Stanton's contract. How the actual f**k is that possible?
Brian Cashman's excuses, in the moment, are patently absurd to read back in Axisa's story, but mostly involve not wanting to help out the Yankees' rivals with revenue sharing money. That is A) tangentially true and B) remarkably weak for a team that was, at the time, claiming to be a "Fully Operational Death Star," among other absurd things that might appear on a motivational poster on a frat guy power lifter's wall.
The 2017-18 reset wasn't New York's only absurd "That's It?" offseason during this crucial window, either. After the 2019 season, they signed Gerrit Cole, but didn't add a single additional major league free agent, bringing only Brett Gardner back on a one-year deal. If 2017-18 wasn't the time to go "all in," then surely importing Cole after a several-years-long quest to find their rotation White Whale was.
Instead, the Yankees muddled through the shortened 2020 season, Cole contributed five solid innings during a do-or-die playoff game on short rest, New York lost anyway, and the funhouse truly began in 2021. The team's rotten stench began to emerge in earnest in '21, but the root cause was first buried below the surface of their payroll in 2017.
If you found it ridiculous that the Yankees pledged not to be "done" after signing Carlos Rodón this offseason, then proceeded to be very done, then it's worth reacquainting yourself with the two other crucial offseasons during this cycle where the same thing happened. In both '17 and '19, Hal Steinbrenner and team leadership pledged the same all-in mentality, then found flimsy excuses for barely dipping their toes in the water (and, in some cases, removing water from the pool entirely).