George Steinbrenner must be rolling over in his grave.
He is not alone. Any self-respecting Yankees fan is wondering if they’ll go to their graves without seeing another World Series title.
The Last-Place Bombers
A quick look at the American League East standings shows the franchise that has won 27 World Series titles, the most in baseball, in last place. It’s bad alone being behind the rival Boston Red Sox. But throw in the Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles and there is a near-death baseball crisis in the Big Apple.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman tried to bolster the fan base recently by assuring them he believes in the roster. But the words are hardly a comfort. The last time the Yankees won a World Series title was 2009. The Kansas City Royals have won a World Series more recently. The Royals!
“Don’t count us out,” Cashman told reporters in early May. “Don’t give up on us. … This is a championship-caliber operation.”
The Yankees surely have spent the money to be considered a championship-caliber team.
But when Cashman uttered those words, the Yankees were 17-15 and eight and one-half games behind the division-leading Rays. It is an astounding position considering the Yankees payroll is about $277 million. The Rays? Try $75.5 million.
Does Money Buy Happiness?
“What’s the biggest fear coming into the season on behalf of all general managers?” Cashman said. “I would say that you would not want to get wrecked by injuries early.”
The Injury Bug Bites
That certainly has been the case for the Bronx Bombers. Some $151 million of that payroll was on the injured list when Cashman spoke. That included reigning MVP Aaron Judge, slugger Giancarlo Stanton, and pitcher Carlos Rodon, the team’s big free agency signing.
But these are the Yankees. Every team deals with injuries. If there’s one franchise that has the financial means to withstand injuries, it’s the one in the pinstripes. The Yankees won’t get any sympathy around baseball.
The Yankees opened the season at +600 to win their 28th World Series, tied with the reigning champs, the Houston Astros, and the money-spending Mets. The Dodgers +700, Braves +900, Padres +900 round out the favorites. The Yankees were +900 at the start of May, making them an intriguing play, injuries, and all.
Certainly smaller-market teams such as Tampa Bay (28-7), Pittsburgh (20-15), Arizona (19-15), Minnesota (19-16), Baltimore (22-12) and Toronto (21-14) have found ways to win. The Yankees basically print their own money.
Advertisers Love the Yankees
Virtually nothing takes place at the House That Jeter Built without it having a sponsor. The Yankees have a European automaker (Audi), a Japanese automaker (Toyota) and an American automaker (Ford) as sponsors. That have Anheuser-Busch, MasterCard, Pepsi, State Farm and Alleve pain reliever, which sponsors the call to the bullpen. Alleve has been getting its money worth this season.
But the injury bug is nothing new to the Yankees. The team overhauled its training staff after the 2019 season. They set a Major League record that season by having 30 players make 33 trips to the injured list.
Of course, any team would be affected by losing players of Judge, Stanton, and Rodon’s caliber. Centerfielder Harrison Bader, infielder Josh Donaldson and pitcher Luis Severino also have seen time on the Injured List. The Yankees hold themselves to a higher standard. Every season begins with this standard for success:
Win the World Series or bust. Right now, it looks like bust.
“They’re elite players when they’re healthy, and we just need to get them healthy,” Cashman said. “Whether it’s an overreliance on them or not, they are our players, and I know when they’re healthy — and I’m looking forward to getting them healthy — so we can get what they’re capable of because they are impact, talented players.”
No one would argue that. Judge set the franchise and American League record for home runs last season with 62 dingers. It was a fantastic accomplishment, but it clearly took a toll on No. 99. He hit just .132 with two homers and three RBI as the Yankees were ousted in the American League Championship Series by the Houston Astros.
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Cashman correctly pointed out that the one saving grace for the Yankees is the length of the baseball season. There is plenty of time to get back in the playoff hunt. But the division includes at least two other playoff-caliber teams in Toronto and Tampa Bay. There’s also a lot of time for pitchers to break down and position players to wear down.
Meanwhile, 2009 gets further and further away. What if the Yankees don’t win World Series title No. 28?
“If you want to convict someone,” Cashman said, “convict me.”