A Yankees fairy-tale World Series just got less sweet — and more likely
TAMPA — Tough spring training for the Baby Bombers.
Good spring training for the Yankees.
You love your young pinstriped guys, the more homegrown the better, for good reason. You monitor their development and celebrate their arrival in The Bronx.
Nevertheless, it’s indisputable that, with Monday’s signing of Neil Walker, the Yankees will depart camp with a stronger, deeper roster than with which they kicked off workouts here at George M. Steinbrenner Field. A club that’s better positioned to contend at the outset and better leveraged — in talent, although not in dollars — to further upgrade their outfit by late July.
“All I can tell you is, if we see something that makes sense, then we’re going to get aggressive on it,” Brian Cashman said after the Yankees officially announced the Walker acquisition.
Cashman described the 32-year-old Walker, one of the game’s more reliable second basemen for eight years running, as someone who “at least in the short-term is expected to come off the bench while he competes for an everyday job.” Aaron Boone sounded even more intrigued by the idea of capitalizing on Walker’s ability to play third base and first base.
Eh. We’re still talking about a guy whose major league breakdown reads like this: 1,008 games at second base, 19 at third base, 17 at first base. Has Tyler Wade, with a .333/.387/.407 slash line this spring and an underwhelming rookie campaign last year, impressed so much as to shrug off Walker’s considerable track record? I’ll bet on Walker being the primary second baseman by the end of April. Gleyber Torres, who has endured a rough Grapefruit League, will play every day at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre — alongside Miguel Andujar, who saw his path to the majors get blocked last month when the Yankees traded for veteran third baseman Brandon Drury.
For now, Andujar and Torres rank among the Yankees’ untouchable prospects. Stuff happens, though. A year ago at this time, the Yankees had zero interest in trading outfielder Dustin Fowler or pitcher James Kaprielian. Then both suffered major injuries, and both got packaged alongside Jorge Mateo in the trade-deadline deal for Oakland’s Sonny Gray.
So who’s to say? If the Yankees have a chance to get, say, young Tigers ace Michael Fulmer in July, they’d probably have to lead the package with Andujar or Torres to make it happen. Or perhaps they’d have to include one of the pair to get the Rangers to eat some of the money owed veteran Cole Hamels, whose $23.5 million salary for 2018 might not fit under the Yankees’ mandate to stay under the $197 million luxury-tax threshold, especially now that they gave Walker $4 million with another $500,000 attainable in incentives.
Those exceedingly team-friendly terms — “He fell into our laps,” Boone said — resulted from this nuclear winter for free agency, and for that, the Yankees got a guy who doesn’t strike out much (his career 17.4 whiff percentage pales in comparison to Giancarlo Stanton’s 27.7 and Aaron Judge’s 32.3), offers steady if not spectacular defense, has earned a reputation as a clubhouse leader and knows what it’s like to play in New York after spending 2016 and most of 2017 with the Mets.
Teams need youth in these times of tougher drug testing. The Baby Bombers played a huge role in getting the Yankees all the way to Game 7 of last year’s American League Championship Series. Yet you don’t want to overdo the youth movement when you’re trying to win it all, and in Walker and Drury, the Yankees found upgrades that simultaneously make them less dependent on the kids while not blocking their long-term chances to make it here.
“These aren’t easy conversations to have,” Cashman said, “but when you’re having them, especially after all the dialogue we’ve had, as you walk through it, you can’t be afraid to ask the next question. … If you don’t ask, you might not get the result we have today.”
That result increases the likelihood of the Yankees attaining their optimal result. Even if it’ll be less of a storybook tale.