John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
In some ways the Yankees seem to be in a perfect spot to win any staredown for the services of one Manny Machado, dictating the terms along the way.
The Phillies, after all, are the team that promised its fan base it is ready to spend stupid money this offseason, which sounded like something of a guarantee to sign either Machado or Bryce Harper.
They are also the team that desperately needs a superstar in its lineup and at the box office, after their young players hit a wall and turned a feel-good season of contention into a September collapse.
Meanwhile, the Yankees are the 100-win team, with stars or budding stars up and down the lineup, that doesn't appear to be even the least bit desperate.
However, there's just one thing:
They're the Yankees. Spending stupid money is as much a part of their brand as the pinstripes, in part because they make more of it than anybody else.
It was only last week, in fact, that Brian Cashman seemed to embrace the Evil Empire image with his reference to Yankees' front office being a "fully-operational Death Star."
Yet the image is outdated after the Red Sox just won a championship, in part due to their disdain for same luxury-tax threshold that Hal Steinbrenner has obsessed over for years.
Indeed, at $230 million the Sox outspent the Yankees by some $60 million, a notion that once seemed unfathomable.
Of course, the Yankees were able to win 100 games at such a payroll level because they were disciplined in waiting out some albatross contracts on an aging, injury-prone team that their own fans had grown tired of watching.
Between that and developing multiple homegrown impact players for the first time since the dawn of the Derek Jeter era, the Yankees became likeable even beyond the borders of their fan base.
But come on, the Yankees are about winning championships, not winning any Team Congeniality awards.
And on that note, after consecutive trips to the postseason, their honeymoon period as a team on the rise is over anyway.
After all, since the infamous collapse in the 2004 ALCS, the Yankees are trailing 4-1 in championships to the hated Red Sox, so, yes, in 2019 the heat is on them in a big way.
In that sense, then, the idea that they can afford to be cavalier about the possibility of losing out on two generational talents, Machado or Harper, is to buy in to the notion that getting under that luxury-tax threshold really mattered to a franchise that practically prints money.
As it is, they plotted and saved to get under the threshold just in time to unleash their spending power on this long-awaited and ballyhooed free-agent class.
And never mind that due to injuries, underperformance, and even death, in the case of Jose Fernandez, the class hasn't lived up to all the hype.
Machado and Harper were worth the wait. Not just because of their talent, but at age 26 they are the rarest of baseball creatures -- free agents just entering their prime years, meaning their best could still be ahead of them.
Meaning they can each sign a 10-year contract that would run out when they're the same age as Robinson Cano is now, with five years remaining on his deal.
Which is why Harper-to-the-Yankees was presumed to be fait accompli for years, especially given his well-known desire to play out his dad's Mickey Mantle fantasy.
The unexpected opportunity to acquire Giancarlo Stanton a year ago changed everything, and the Yankees thought they were being shrewd financially in making that deal, since he would cost them less than the projected price for Harper or Machado.
Only it didn't seem so shrewd in October when Stanton was overmatched by Red Sox pitching, and while the Yankees will never admit it, they had to be a bit shocked at how flawed the 2017 NL MVP looked as a hitter last season, especially in chasing breaking stuff.
Due mostly to his no-trade clause, however, Stanton isn't going anywhere, with nine years remaining on his contract, and Steinbrenner really doesn't want to feel handcuffed by another mega-deal of similar length.
Again, you can understand his point of view, after long-term deals for the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia -- not to mention the ongoing disaster that is Jacoby Ellsbury's deal -- choked the payroll during some mediocre seasons.
And, yes, they're going to have to pay Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and the other rising stars as they hit their arbitration years, then free agency.
Still, none of that should be reason to miss out here. Even with Stanton on board, they could find a way to make it work with Harper, and they really could use the lefthanded power.
As for Machado, if they want to dictate the terms, meaning they want no part of a 10-year deal, that's smart -- to a point.
If it costs them the player, well, ok, they still have a loaded team. But if they let opportunity pass on both of these 26-year old superstars, they better go win a championship anyway. And soon.
They're still the Yankees, aren't they?