The Yankees won 100 games last season and lost to the Red Sox in four games in an American League Division Series that could have easily gone the other way. But the Yanks didn't win, because the Red Sox weren't just better -- they were one of the best teams
The Yankees won 100 games last season and lost to the Red Sox in four games in an American League Division Series that could have easily gone the other way. But the Yanks didn't win, because the Red Sox weren't just better -- they were one of the best teams of all time. It was like when the Knicks of the '90s were really, really good but then they would run into Michael Jordan in the playoffs.
Now, the Yankees have re-signed J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia and Zack (now with a 'k') Britton and added James Paxton and Adam Ottavino. They also brought aboard Troy Tulowitzki because Didi Gregorius is recovering from Tommy John surgery, as well as DJ LeMahieu. So they are loaded and could beat the Red Sox and the Astros to get out of the AL and win it all.
And, who knows, before they are through, they could still sign Manny Machado -- who is still a free agent, as is Bryce Harper. The Yankees always make moves, never have a losing season, and spent most of this century outspending the world -- until other teams, notably the Red Sox and the Dodgers, began to spend even more.
But with Machado and Harper still available, the question for the Yankees -- as their pitchers and catchers get set to report to Tampa -- is this: How much is World Series championship No. 28 worth to the franchise, to the brand, and to Yankees fans most of all?
New York has won one title since 2000 -- and that was 10 years ago. Over the last 15 years, the Red Sox have won the World Series four times. Right now, the Yankees' payroll sits around $220 million, which means they have exceeded the $206 million luxury tax threshold. The Red Sox? As they try to become the first team since the 1999-2000 Yankees to repeat as World Series champs, they are knocking on the door of $250 million. And now, it looks as if they're the real "Evil Empire."
This past week, Hal Steinbrenner, a very good guy whose management style is vastly different from his father, said during the Owners Meetings in Orlando:
"If there's a narrative that we're not spending money and being cheap, it's just false. ... I mean, we're well above $200 million [in payroll] -- we're at $220 [million], right now -- and we're well above where we were last year. We did everything we wanted to do to really improve, again, the pitching, because that's where I wanted improvement -- because, as far as I'm concerned, pitching was a big problem in the Division Series, more so than anything else."
It all sounds right. And, in Steinbrenner's defense, he has watched the Yankees pay billions in payroll and taxes in this century -- what has become the Red Sox's century in baseball, at least so far -- and win just the one championship in 2009. But Yankees fans want Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman to finish the job this season. The Yanks were one win away from the World Series in '17 -- ahead of the Astros three games to two in the AL Championship Series -- before they went to Minute Maid Park and scored just one run in Games 6 and 7. The Astros won the pennant and went on to win the World Series.
So the Yankees went out after that and showed they still weren't afraid of a big contract -- or a big move -- and traded for Giancarlo Stanton and the remaining nine years of the $325 million contract he signed with the Marlins. But instead of going to the Series, they regressed slightly.
Again, the Yankees have added a lot of new guys. They have the best bullpen in the sport. They still have all the players who combined to break home run records (267) and windows last season. Have they added payroll? They sure have, after a couple of years when it was mandated to Cashman -- as powerful a general manager as there is in baseball -- that he stay under the tax threshold. But if it turns out that they haven't spent enough, and Machado or Harper might make all the difference, Yankees fans aren't going to want to hear about how fiscally responsible the team is being.
Steinbrenner said pitching was the difference in the ALDS last October. Maybe he thinks that way because his ace, Luis Severino, got lit up in Game 3 at the Stadium -- a game the Red Sox ended up winning 16-1. What I mostly remember is the runs the Yankees left on the bases in the late inning of Game 1 at Fenway, and in the bottom of the ninth of Game 4.
Here is something else Steinbrenner said in Orlando:
"Fans should keep an open mind that I'm never done until I'm done, and that's usually not until Opening Day."
He left the door open. If he wasn't leaving it open for Machado or Harper, I'd like to know whom he's expecting to come walking through. Spending more money guarantees the Yankees nothing, of course. The Dodgers have spent like crazy recently, with no World Series title to show for it. But they have made the Series the last two seasons. The Yankees haven't made it in a decade. New York has spent a lot and done a lot since the final out of last season ended up in Steve Pearce's glove after a superb play by Eduardo Núñez. Gleyber Torres, trying to extend the Yankees' season, was a step late. This season, Yankees fans just want to make sure their team isn't a dollar short. They want their team to finish the job, no matter what the cost.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.