So here come the Yankees again, acting like the Yankees, looking like the baddest baseball men on the planet, ready to out-spend everybody if they have to. They have taken Gerrit Cole, one of the best pitchers in the world, away from the Astros, who beat them last October in another American League Championship Series, same as they did in 2017.
The Yankees were 19 games better than the Red Sox in 2019, the year after the Red Sox were the ones to knock them out of the playoffs. And they have watched, along with the rest of us, as the Red Sox look to cut payroll instead of add to it.
It’s good being the Yankees right now. And it was even announced on Friday that they had avoided arbitration with Aaron Judge, the face of their team, and Gary Sánchez and James Paxton. So now it was early Friday evening, and I was on the phone with general manager Brian Cashman, and asked him this question:
“So are you set?”
“This is the Yankees,” he said. “We’re never set. My job is to never assume that we’re set. As excited as I am about our team, and as excited as I am to get going, my job never really changes: I have to assume that we’re not good enough, all the way from now until the Trade Deadline.”
It reminded me of something the late producer Robert Evans once said, and famously, when asked if a movie deal was set.
“Of course it’s set,” he said. “It’s just not set-set.”
But a month out from Spring Training, Cashman’s baseball team looks pretty set to the rest of us, even having lost Dellin Betances to free agency and the Mets, and having lost Didi Gregorius, who did such an amazing job following Derek Jeter at shortstop at Yankee Stadium, to old friend Joe Girardi in Philadelphia. The Astros won four more games than the Yankees did last season, and then beat the Yankees in six games in the ALCS. But no one is sure what sanctions the Astros are facing from Commissioner Rob Manfred as a result of allegations that Houston used illegal, electronic sign stealing.
There have also been rumors all winter that the Red Sox might trade Mookie Betts before he becomes free-agent eligible at the end of this season, and David Price, the pitching star of Boston’s World Series run in 2018. Additionally, there is the suggestion that MLB is also looking at sign-stealing allegations against the Red Sox, whose manager Alex Cora worked in Houston before getting the job at Fenway Park.
Compared to all of that, Cashman’s concerns right now are small enough to fit into a shot glass.
“Listen,” he said, “we had the shortstop place established for awhile with Didi. But then, we saw how really good Gleyber [Torres] looked when he had to go back over there and play his natural position.”
He paused and said, “So if you’re asking if I’m looking at any particular area of need right now, it’s really not anything specific. We just want to get our team down [to Spring Training] and get them together and get them on the field and see if the mojo was the same.”
The mojo he is talking about involves a Biblical amount of time spent by Yankee players on the injured list. Then there is all of the Yankees’ home run mojo -- which saw them hit 306 home runs as a team, a number that would have been a new world record if the Twins hadn’t hit one more. They did that, please remember, in a season when Judge played just 102 games because of injuries and hit just 27 homers, and Giancarlo Stanton, who once hit 59 in a season for the Marlins, hit just three in 18 regular-season games.
I asked Cashman about center field, still affected by injury even now, because Aaron Hicks still hasn’t fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.
“Gardy [Brett Gardner] and [Mike] Tauchman until Hicks is ready in June,” Cashman said.
I asked then about Miguel Andújar. In 2018, Cashman referred to him and Torres as his “booster rockets on the space shuttle we’ve built.” Torres was all of that, and more, in '19, playing himself -- from the middle of the Yankees’ infield -- into the middle of the conversation about the most gifted young talents in the sport. But Andújar got hurt early, undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery before even making it to the baseball summer, and was limited to just 47 at-bats.
Gio Urshela stepped in for him, mightily, and became one of the star Yankees replacements. Now Andújar is healthy, taking ground balls and throwing, but Urshela will show up in Tampa, according to Cashman, as the Yankees’ starting third baseman.
“It’s Gio’s job to lose,” Cashman said. “The same as it was Andújar's job to lose until he got hurt.”
When he talked about first base, he talked about Luke Voit -- fully healthy again after the core injury he suffered when the Yankees were playing the Red Sox in London -- as the starter, but with Mike Ford, another replacement who finished strong for the Yankees in September, waiting in the wings.
“I feel as if we have a lot of flexibility in the infield,” Cashman said, “especially with the way we can move D.J. [LeMahieu, the Yankees MVP last season] around if we have to.”
The 2020 Yankees. Big payroll, small problems. Trying to win their first World Series since 2009, the last time they looked this loaded coming into a season. Maybe not set-set. But close enough.