John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
You can make the case that if Aaron Judge had hit in the ALCS like Jose Altuve -- the guy who beat him out for MVP in 2017 -- the Yankees would still be alive in this postseason, and indeed that is sometimes the difference between winning and losing in October.
Your star needs to be better than their star.
However, I would argue that even if the Yankees were still alive, they'd have only the tiniest of chances to win Game 7 against the hottest pitcher in baseball, Gerrit Cole.
And that's really where any discussion about getting over the hump, after three straight failed trips to the postseason, begins for me.
If the Yankees want to talk about how nothing matters but championships, as Judge himself did following the gut-wrenching Game 6 loss Saturday night, echoing the old Derek Jeter mantra, then they need to start acting like the Yankees again and go get the missing piece.
Go outbid the Dodgers, Angels, and whoever else for Cole this winter.
The Yankees can continue trying to build the world's best bullpen. But as you may have noticed, starting pitchers have taken back the sport this month, with the Nationals and Astros going to the World Series on the backs of their studs in the rotation.
To be fair, the Yankees thought they had developed their own ace in Luis Severino, and he still has that type of potential. And in James Paxton, they acquired another starter who has dominated like a No. 1 at times. They also have a big-game performer in Masahiro Tanaka.
And don't forget, they were bitterly disappointed when Shohei Ohtani barely acknowledged their all-out recruiting effort while choosing to sign with the Angels, a rejection that set the stage for the Yankees to fall in love with the idea they could trade for Giancarlo Stanton and his albatross contract.
Whoa, would they like a mulligan on that one.
In any case, the bottom line is they still don't have an ace that would help put them over the top in October, the way Justin Verlander did for the Astros in 2017, the way Cole and Verlander are doing for the 'Stros right now, and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are doing for the Nationals.
So while Brian Cashman has done a marvelous job building a young core that has played October baseball the last three seasons and should get more chances -- all while working with Hal Steinbrenner's budgetary restrictions -- the time has come to once again flex their financial muscles in grand George Steinbrenner tradition.
Which brings us back to Cole, the pitcher the Yankees have been chasing since they drafted him out of high school 11 years ago, believing they could change his mind about going to UCLA. They whiffed on that idea and then they essentially passed on the chance to trade with the Pirates for Cole two years ago, because Cashman wouldn't give up Miguel Andujar in any package of players.
At the time, Cole wasn't the strikeout monster he has since become, though Yankee people thought that with some analytic tweaks similar to what the Astros did, he had the ace-like potential that has blossomed in Houston.
So now he's a free agent, at age 29, set to cash in with what could be a record-setting contract for a pitcher. And you'd think the Yankees would be all-in on Cole. But at the Stadium, last I spoke to someone who'd been told by a top Yankee official they see him as a longshot, at least partly because so many people who know him think he wants to play on the west coast.
We'll see if the sting of coming close again in the postseason changes that mentality. Mostly meaning we'll see if Hal Steinbrenner has a limit to his patience while ever mindful of the bottom line.
It was 11 years ago when word was free agent CC Sabathia, another California kid, was determined to play on the west coast and the Yankees changed his mind with their money. They need to go after Cole with the same zeal, knowing they'll have to overpay.
In recent years, they've been firm in holding true to the valuations of their analytics department, which is why they wouldn't go to a six-year deal for Patrick Corbin a year ago. That's the business of baseball these days, as teams have become more risk-averse to long-term deals, and often smartly so.
But the Yankees are at a point, having just gone an entire decade without a World Series appearance for the first time in a century, where investing in their brand is surely more important to them than their analytics-related discipline. So if it takes a seven or eight-year deal for $200-$300 million to outbid the west coast teams and convince Cole to play in New York, they should look at it as a small price to pay in search of more championships.
After all, they have the other pieces in place, no matter what they do with their own free agent, Didi Gregorius, and possibly Aroldis Chapman if he opts out.
Of course, it's true that signing an ace wouldn't guarantee a championship if they don't hit better in the clutch. But the arrival of D.J. LeMahieu and the continued growth of Gleyber Torres offer hope in that regard, and I have to believe Judge is simply too good not to have a big postseason soon.
So the time is right to make the big splash move. Strasburg, if he invokes his opt-out clause with the Nationals, would be nearly as attractive, but Cole is the best bet.
Last winter, remember, the Cashman regime resisted public pressure to sign either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado and wound up looking smart for doing it. At least until October.
And since nobody sells their history of October success like the Yankees, falling short of a championship for a 10th straight season should leave them no choice but to revive another of their grand traditions.
Go write the biggest check.