Having played the rebuilding Orioles and Tigers to start the season, the Yankees might have believed to be much better than 3-4 at the moment. Injuries are part of the issue (some of which should have been expected), but performance has not lived up to expectations in some cases.
There are 155 games left in the season, but it's difficult to avoid wondering if the current feeling about the club would be different had they made some different decisions this offseason, including...
A stronger pursuit of Patrick Corbin
The Yankees understood that starting pitching was among the keys to getting them over the top in 2019. As such, they struck early in the offseason by trading for James Paxton -- a pitcher with elite talent and upside.
It can be argued that they should have kept pressing on the gas pedal and made a stronger effort to land another left-hander, Patrick Corbin. The Yankees were in the hunt for Corbin's services, but balked when the 29-year-old's contract demands reached six years.
They had already inked CC Sabathia, which seems as much about clubhouse chemistry as it does the minimal number of innings the 38-year-old will provide the club. With Corbin eventually choosing to pitch in Washington, the Yankees shifted gears to J.A. Happ.
It's true that Happ turned in an impressive performance down the stretch in 2018 after coming over in a July trade, but this is a 36-year-old pitcher -- meaning there is always the chance age catches up to him.
Add Happ's $17 million and Sabathia's $8 million salaries together and the Yankees would have saved cash this season compared with Corbin's average annual value of $23.3 million combined with one of the inexpensive handful of young pitchers already logging innings out of the rotation.
Corbin's contract might have gone a year beyond the Yankees' desires, but should the expected early production have outweighed any worries on the backend, especially since they signed a player that is actually older than Corbin will be at the end of his deal?
This guy named Bryce Harper was available
One of the more peculiar signings by the Yankees was re-upping with outfielder Brett Gardner. This is not about signing him, but rather when they signed him and the expectations the club seemingly has for him as a backup outfielder. New York might have easily been able to wait to see how the rest of the roster construction played out before circling back to Gardner, which might have saved some money (he signed for $7.5 million).
Next, the Yanks made a significant commitment (seven years, $70 million) to Aaron Hicks, who has had his troubles staying on the field (10 stints on the disabled/injured list since his debut in 2013). Hicks took an impressive turn in 2018, but he couldn't break camp with the club due to some significant back pain and is expected to be out until sometime in May.
Meanwhile, a generational talent was available in the free agent market in 26-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper. Harper is not perfect, but he would have fit this roster quite well -- and the "too many outfielders" script should have been burned by the front office.
Did the Yankees have to ink Gardner at all? Nope. Despite his own ability to bring calm to the clubhouse, he's a player in decline now being thrust into an everyday role. Did the Yankees have to extend Hicks? Probably not, though at the rate it wasn't a terrible idea and he would not have been blocking Harper.
The notion that New York already had Giancarlo Stanton and will eventually have to pay Aaron Judge hangs out there, but they clearly have the wherewithal to handle a payroll containing all three stars. A crew of Harper, Hicks, Judge and Stanton could have easily rotated between the outfield positions and designated hitter, and at a discounted rate Gardner could have been the final outfielder.
Jacoby Ellsbury you say? Dump him already. And are the Yanks truly concerned about getting Clint Frazier at-bats?
Avoiding Harper to take the route the club did deserves at least a bit of second-guessing, which could go on for years.
Manny Machado as a long term solution to left side of infield
The Yankees put on a show by bringing Manny Machado to Yankee Stadium, but word came out that the club never made an official offer to the 26-year-old.
On the surface, they had reasons to avoid Machado. The team enjoyed an incredible rookie season from third baseman Miguel Andujar and while shortstop Didi Gregorius is out for at least half of the season as he recuperates from Tommy John surgery, he is a potential extension target for the Yanks.
Andujar, despite all the hard work he puts in, will never be the defender at third base that Machado is and maybe not the hitter he is, either. We cannot predict injuries, but Andujar is in danger of missing the rest of the season with a labrum tear. And what comes of his play if he avoids surgery and returns? As for Gregorius, what happens if he comes back and is not the player he was before tearing his UCL?
It's plausible the Yankees could have signed Machado to play shortstop to begin his tenure (not his best defensive position) and shifted him to third base when Gregorius came back. If Gregorius didn't miss a beat and the Yanks wanted to keep him, they could have kept Machado at third base -- where he is an exceptional fielder. Meanwhile, Andujar could have acted as the designated hitter.
Instead, the Yankees tabbed Troy Tulowitzki as the shortstop and signed DJ LeMahieu to be a roving infielder. Not surprisingly, Tulowitzki is on the injured list. And while LeMahieu is performing quite well, he's simply not Machado.
Expecting the Yankees to sign everyone is unrealistic. However, the team could have signed one of the players we've discussed, each of whom might have provided the team a better ability to excel in 2019. And as importantly, that exceptional production could have been expected to last several years.
Instead, the Yankees chose to be conservative in spending by "keeping the gang together" and trying to outsmart the opposition with the decisions they did make.
Is it ever too early to second-guess?