What Have We Learned from the Loss to the Astros? Pretty Much Nothing
As with all things these days, the direct aftermath of a loss is the wailing and gnashing of teeth. There are all sorts of recriminations and “coulda woulda shouldas.” There is a call to re-evaluate strategies and, of course, there are demands for change.
All of this makes sense if the strategies were wrong in the first place. They weren’t.
The Yankees lost to a historically great Astros team. They were likely going to lose, and they did. It stinks. But Brian Cashman finally has the ability to run the Yankees in an intelligent way and for that we should be grateful. Given the Yankees strong core of young players, they should be competing for a title every year for the next five years, at least.
The Astros Were the Better Team
The Astros should be commended for building a historically great team. They led the majors in position player WAR at 40.8 (The Dodgers were second at 34.8 and the Yankees third at 32.7). The Astros were also fourth in pitching WAR at 23.7 behind only the Rays, Dodgers and Twins. Their total WAR of 64.5 also led the majors. This is a great team that the Yankees ran into. The Astros also led the majors in run differential at +280. Additionally, they had two of the top starters in the American league by WAR, Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. At the trade deadline, they also added Zack Greinke who was 9th overall in the majors in WAR. Together, that’s a squad that would be difficult for any team to beat.
How did the Astros assemble such a juggernaut? First, they have done a remarkable job of adding young, talented, cost controlled position players. We all know about Alex Bregman, George Springer and Jose Altuve. But rookie Yordan Alvarez also looks to be a star. They Astros then used the budget dollars that they saved from having this affordable core to add top end starters. Moreover, their Top 2 starters, Cole and Verlander, were relative bargains. Cole because he was incredibly talented but not dominant and Verlander because he seemed to be on the downside of his career. The Astros somehow turned them both into elite starters.
Cashman Has Done a Great Job
Brian Cashman has done a fantastic job of assembling a group of young players. And in recent years, he has largely avoided the kind of illogical long term contracts that have hurt the Yankees in prior years. (The Giancarlo Stanton contract may be the sole exception to this if Stanton cannot stay healthy.) The minor league system still has some top talent although it is weaker largely because top talent is at the major league level (which is a good thing). Yes, the Yankees have a great foundation because of Brian Cashman’s great work.
The Playoffs Are a Crapshoot
Anything can happen in a five or seven game series. The second best team by run differential this year was the Dodgers – they were actually very close to the Astros. We all saw what happened to them. A couple of players get in a slump. A couple of players on the other team get hot. A great team can lose to a merely very good one. It happens. Heck, it happens almost every year. This is why you don’t bet the farm on a championship in any given year (by trading your top prospects) if you don’t have to.
The Yankees have the financial resources to compete for a championship every year if they do smart things and avoid doing stupid things. Cashman did not deplete the farm season because he knew that it would not guarantee a championship and by doing this, it would decrease the chances of competing for a championship in future years. Cashman didn’t build the team for 2019 alone. He built the Yankees to be great into the future as well.
Hope for More of the Same
The Yankees are finally being run by adults. Brian Cashman is one of the best general managers in the game. Hal Steinbrenner seems to understand the game and the metrics that drive success. He is not going to push Cashman to do anything stupid as his father often did. Cashman is only 52 years-old. He will be around for a long long time – which is good news for the Yankees and their fans. If he can eat healthy and avoid falling off any more buildings, the Yankees should have at least another 10-15 successful years under his stewardship.