I know the Yanks aren’t trading Gleyber Torres, or probably not even Miguel Andujar at this point. But can’t I please pick up the paper one of these days and see the Yankees have made a trade that actually had to hurt a little because of what they’ve given up in return?
Yesterday’s news that they picked up Zach Britton from the O’s got me excited to see who they had to give up to get him. Britton was one of the few elite trade pieces remaining on the market now that Manny Machado has donned Dodger Blue. After all, before his achilles injury, Britton had been darn near near unhittable. To get a guy of this magnitude had to mean at least Justus Sheffield would be heading to Baltimore, maybe Clint Frazier, too, right? Right??
The Astros were hot on Britton’s trail, and the Red Sox should have been if they are realistic about how this record-breaking season translates into postseason baseball (more on that in a second). But nope, just a few middling prospects, none of whom will likely ever find themselves representing the great city of Baltimore in a future All Star Game, leave the Yankees’s stocked minor league system in getting this deal done.
The trade got me to (begrudgingly) thinking about the genius of Yankees GM Brian Cashman. And how his maneuvering may bring us baseball fans a postseason like we’ve never seen before. Here’s three quick points that expand on why I see it this way:
- It pains me to admit that Brian Cashman really is that good. (Once again I feel the need to underscore the degree of urgency involved in ensuring that the Mets don’t engage with him on a deal for Jacob deGrom.) Years ago it was easy to dismiss Cashman as simply a mouthpiece, potential patsy and whipping boy for Big George, ready to take the fall if something didn’t work out, but never the true architect of the Bombers extended runs of MLB supremacy. Behind the scenes we all knew Gene Michael was the real brains pulling the strings to bring the Steinbrenner Family title after title. However Stick has been gone awhile now, and you can argue that Cashman has deftly redesigned the Yanks using way more than just the Steinbrenner fortune. From the farm system’s depth to the solid fundamentals on display in the field daily throughout the organization, to the professionalism between the base paths and in interacting with the media, there’s a “Yankees Way” kind of thing going on under Cash’s leadership (give me a minute here, as I’m weeping just a bit). Think about it. What has he gotten wrong in a big way in the last few years? Neil Walker? C’mon, Walker’s a flea that can’t even be considered a disaster just yet, despite his poor 2018. Brandon Drury? Hell, he’ll probably find a way to come up big, a la Jim Leyritz in ’96, at some key postseason moment this fall, making all the NY press corps giddy with the chance to write the feel good “migraine to hero” articles on a postseason off day. The Britton move was classic Cashman. Not only does it bolster an already deep (but in process of being overworked by neophyte manager Aaron Boone) bullpen, but it lands a crushing blow to the solar plexus (wrestling reference for all you WWE fans out there) of their two closest competitors in the AL — Boston and Houston. And for his next trick, Cash will pick up that additional starter we all know he’s going to get — Wheeler or Happ or Hamels — and whoever it is will then find that annual Bronx Fountain of Youth and deliver down the stretch. Makes me sick as I tip my hat to the Bombers’s GM. I sure hope the Mets are taking notes as they prep for yet another GM search this winter as their quest continues to identify someone (anyone?) that can change the disastrous trajectory of the blue and orange. Somehow, though, I’m guessing the Wilpons are otherwise occupied.
- And this brings me to the Sawx. Sorry Red Sox fans, but you are this year’s 2001 Seattle Mariners in the making (you remember those 116-win Mariners, don’t you? Right, neither does anyone else. They didn’t win the Series. Nuff said.). The Paper Sawx are putting together a logic-defying regular season, that barring collapse should result in north of 105 wins. Yet when I look deeply at this team, I see some enormous red flags. Beyond the obvious one — that World Series winners don’t usually look back and see their best baseball played in May, June and July — I see a team constructed for regular season greatness but ripe for a first-round takeout come playoff time. Maybe not in the first round (although depending on who they play, I’m not ruling that out), but certainly in the ALCS. When I look at the Boston every day lineup, I see Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez mashing at historic clips with no reason besides injury for us to expect them to slow down, but no one really scares me after those two guys. It’s not to say there isn’t talent in the lineup, as they can hurt you from literally every spot 1 to 9, but that’s while feasting on a lot of out of contention, subpar teams, and number 3, 4 and 5 starters. Teams and pitchers they aren’t going to see in October. On the pitching staff side, who besides Chris Sale strikes fear into the opposition? Does anyone in Beantown really trust David Price to come up big in an important spot? Nathan Eovaldi?? C’mon. And the pen? Yes, we all know Craig Kimbrel is an outright stud, but even studs tend to wear down when called on too frequently in a short series (hello 2016 and 2017 Andrew Miller). That’s why Britton would have been such a critical pickup if they really think they can fend off the Yanks in a five-game ALDS. If I’m a Boston fan (thankfully I’m not), I’d fear that the front office may be reading press clippings and annualizing out win totals along with the pennant-waving Boston press corps. I’m going to call out a record of 112-50 right now, as the Sawx shatter the franchise all-time total for wins. And all that will bring them is a best of five series with the Yankees as their reward (unless my prayers are answered and Manaea throws that no-hitter in the Bronx in the wild card game, that is!). How confident will Bosox fans be heading into a short series with the Bombers? Especially when they see how Cash has instructed Boone on how he wants the Yankees retooled pitching staff deployed in the ALDS — this is where things get really interesting.
3. “RelieverBall.” I kinda hope I’m coining a phrase here, because it’s what I see coming this October to a Northeast ballpark near you. While my pal Geno accurately points out that teams have ridden outstanding pens to World Series glory in past years (he cites the 1990 “Nasty Boys” Reds and the Royals of 2015 as two examples), I believe Mr. Cashman may have something so extreme planned for this year that we will all find ourselves mesmerized. Picture this four-man Yankees rotation heading into the playoffs — Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia and Sonny Gray (or insert late-July starter Cashman is certain to pick up in the next six days in Gray’s place). Let’s assume for a second Severino reverts back to his April/May/June Cy Young form and delivers a seven-plus inning gem in a Game 1 (or better yet, for this example, he bests a valiant Sean Manaea and an otherwise overmatched A’s squad in the Wild Card Game). Then throw out the traditionalist mold, as out trot the “other pinstriped starting pitchers.” Tanaka, Sabathia and J.A. Happ (I’m going with him as their deadline pickup) will have the shortest collective leash of any starting rotation (sans Severino) in baseball history. All Boone will ask for from this group is two or three innings of keeping it close, while his collection of behemoth maulers pound away at the opposing hurler matching the opposition’s offense dinger for dinger as they take an early lead. Then RelieverBall begins. So let’s envision two outs in the third and two runners on as we wave goodbye to Tanaka, and here comes Jonathan Holder. He give us two scoreless and hands the baton to Chasen Shreve to get the last out of the fifth. Then David Robertson and Betances get us to the 8th and here comes Britton and his mid-’90’s sinker that feels like a croquet ball when connecting with some unsuspecting lumber. RelieverBall concludes with Chapman and his 102 MPH, left-handed gas closing things out, and we’ll see you in Game 2. Anything beyond two innings from a starter is gravy for Boone and Cashman, and with guys like Holder, Robertson (who’d be a premier closer for most MLB clubs) and Tommy Greene capable of giving you multiple innings every time out plus the liberal allotment of postseason off days, you may not see a single Yankee starter go the five innings necessary to earn a win. I realize it’s only July, but RelieverBall is going to run the table right through a five-game World Series victory over the Dodgers. And then another Yankees parade. Yippee.
And then, when the time comes to hand out the World Series MVP in the champagne-soaked Yankees locker room, as the clock hits midnight and the calendar nears Halloween, for the first time ever it will be awarded to someone not on the active roster. Brian Cashman, ladies and gentlemen. Take a bow.