NEW YORK -- They're the New York Yankees. They're worth billions. They're built on a foundation of championships stretching back more than a century.
There is just no way they don’t go for it when another title is possible. This is the mandate any year, but it's even truer when they've only played in one playoff game since 2012. So the Yankees had to acquire Sonny Gray.
The Yankees, under Hal Steinbrenner, are a scary organization for the rest of the baseball. Steinbrenner has handed the player personnel keys over to his GM, Brian Cashman, and the results have been franchise-changing. A year ago, they were waving the white flag. A year later, they're positioned for championship flag No. 28.
Last July, Cashman finally sold Steinbrenner on playing for another day, unloading veterans like Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran to reload the farm system. The Yankees were not breaking down the franchise -- tanking, as is the trend in sports -- but instead reloading. To say it has worked so far would be an understatement.
With 59 games to play, the Bombers are in first place in the AL East. They have the deepest roster. They're the favorites. It's on manager Joe Girardi to deliver, and Gray is his final piece for 2017.
The Yankees had to bring in Gray because the American League is still wide open. The Astros are the best team and the Indians and Royals are streaking, but the Yankees, with the help of the 27-year-old starter, could enter October with a real chance. With the bullpen the Yankees have built and the format of the postseason, some will surely pick them to escape from the AL side of the playoff bracket.
Now the pressure moves from Cashman to Girardi. While missing the playoffs four of the past five years, Girardi had legitimate excuses, starting with an over-the-hill roster. That is now gone. He has the horses.
Girardi must manage this team to a division title. By staying out of the one-game wild-card shootout, the Yankees will have a chance to set up their rotation and relievers for playoff success.
That's why Cashman went double-down. He first added lefty Jaime Garcia before the righty Gray. The Yankees have six starters for five spots, which gives them a lot of options down the stretch, as well as protection if they suffer an injury. Cashman’s mission is accomplished.
He did it, too, while protecting his core prospects (Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams and Estevan Florial). The Yankees gave up talented but tainted goods in Dustin Fowler and James Kaprielian (who are both recovering from serious injuries) and Jorge Mateo (who was suspended last season for violating team rules), but it costs something to get something. Plus, they have acquired a No. 2 or 3 starter for players who might not even make the majors, let alone go on to have standout careers.
Meanwhile, Frazier is already in the big leagues, while Torres certainly would have been up this year if he hadn’t hurt his elbow. Sheffield and Adams project as possible top-of-the-rotation arms. All are 22 years old or younger. The Yankees are in position to win this year and the near future. (We haven’t even mentioned all the money they have coming off the books, for Bryce Harper or whomever else from the potentially historic free-agent class of 2018.)
Titles in baseball are not built on signing the game’s LeBron James. Harper would guarantee nothing. Instead, the deepest roster has the best chance of winning in October. The Yankees’ last great run proved it.
When the Yankees were in their Derek Jeter/Mariano Rivera glory days, routinely beating teams like the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers in the division series, they won because they had so many more good players than their opponents. That’s the formula, mixed with a little luck.
This Yankees team is now very deep. It's not necessarily destined for October greatness, but it does have a real chance for it. Sonny Gray adds to it. For this year, next year and the year after that. This is not a two-month trade.
The Yankees had a need. They were always going to fill it. That’s what they do, to the annoyance of the rest of baseball and to the delight of their fans. It’s their way. They waved a white flag last year. They won’t be doing that for a long time. They are the Yankees again.