Manny Machado was supposed to help the Yankees surpass the Red Sox. He's apparently not coming (and neither is Bryce Harper), so the Yanks should double down on their strongest facet -- the bullpen.
If the Yankees want to measure up to the Red Sox, they must possess an advantage somewhere on the roster that unequivocally distances the World Series champs. Adding one more "elite" reliever, like Adam Ottavino, should make it next to impossible for the Red Sox to catch the Yankees in that department even if Boston re-signs Craig Kimbrel. Boston arguably has a slight edge in the rotation and the offenses are quite similar in strength, but the overall scale could tip toward New York if the Yanks add to an already dominant bullpen.
Much has been made about the Yankees "coming up short" in the offseason if they're unable to secure Machado or Harper. Expectations were high that one of the two 26-year-old stars would become part of the Yankees after the team reset their luxury tax rate. Adding Machado or Harper would have clearly pushed the Yanks offense ahead of Boston's.
There is little doubt that the Red Sox offense was clicking on all cylinders in 2018 -- finishing with a league-high 876 runs -- and they return the entire group in 2019. The Yankees got a down year from Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge missed 50 games and Giancarlo Stanton was getting used to his new surroundings, but the team still scored the second-most runs in the game (851), while breaking the MLB record for home runs by a team in a season (267).
More than adding to an already potent offense, the Yankees needed to improve their rotation from 2018. And they have done that.
The trade for James Paxton provides the Yanks with a top-level talent who is conceivably on the verge of reaching greatness. Pairing Paxton with soon to be 25-year-old Luis Severino at the top of the rotation is nearly as formidable as the Red Sox pairing of Chris Sale and David Price. The Yanks are perhaps as strong from No. 3 to No. 5 (Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia) as the Red Sox (Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez).
So, if we've established that the Yankees are at worst a shade behind the Red Sox and at best in a virtual dead heat regarding the respective rotations and offenses, then the bullpen becomes the deciding factor.
As it stands, the Yankees' elite talent in the bullpen far outshines Boston's crew. The Red Sox may indeed add Kimbrel once the market price comes back to their liking, but regardless, the Yanks should be investing in Ottavino to put a complete stranglehold on the advantage they will maintain over the defending champions -- and any other MLB club for that matter.
With Ottavino, the Yankees could trot out five upper-tier relievers with him joining Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green. Teams would be ecstatic to have three of those arms in the bullpen, let alone five. The physical and psychological supremacy the Yankees would possess at the end of ballgames might be overwhelming to opponents.
Without Ottavino the Yankees would still have a clear edge over a Kimbrel-led Boston bullpen, but adding the right-hander would allow the Yankees to bear the brunt of any injury without loss of leverage over its opponents. Going five-deep with elite relief arms would provide Yankees manager Aaron Boone with multiple variations of deployment and allow for plenty of rest when needed. Further, the Yanks have several high-upside pitchers able to comprise the final three spots in the bullpen in the likelihood that the team utilizes an eight-man relief crew.
New York's plan is to score copious amounts of runs to support a very competitive and improved starting rotation and then throttle opponents with dominant reliever after dominant reliever.
The Yanks hold the pieces to fulfill the goal. More importantly, they have a clear bullpen advantage over the Red Sox today. And if New York adds Ottavino, they can potentially shift the entire balance of power beyond the midpoint over its arch rival.