For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: June 23, 2024 7:46 am PDT

These are the Dollar Tree Yankees.

And just like in real life, your buck doesn’t go nearly as far as it once did at Dollar Tree because of skyrocketing baseball free agent inflation.

AMBS does not despise some of the moves made by the Yankees – they actually make some sense ­– but the reality of this Yankees team is that Hal Steinbrenner is cheap in a rich guy kind of way and Brian Cashman made a much different team than the one he has been building for years; either his philosophy has changed or the Nerds have changed.

Remember when it wasn’t important for Cashman to keep a natural shortstop at the shortstop position like Didi Gregorius? That was not too long ago for the Yankees. Cashman and his merry band of Nerds were going to do it a different way, and what’s the big deal, Gleyber Torres can easily move from second base to play shortstop.

Anybody can play shortstop, after all, it’s more like a zone defense these days with the shift. That will change in 2023.

At least that is what the Yankees were saying and doing.

Well, they certainly have changed their tune this year when they traded for a defensive minded shortstop in Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

Also, it wasn’t important to have a bopper at third base, that is so old school. Who needs home runs from a third baseman, defense and a decent bat and Gio Urshela was where it was at for the Yankees. Gio was a bargain.

“Compared to his father’s hell or high water approach these are your Dollar Tree Yankees. The Yankees have been trying for years to go the cheaper route and every year they come up cheaper in the final standings. ”

Not anymore – this year, it’s back to having a bopper at third base, granted Josh Donaldson is up there in age and leg injuries, but he is The Bringer of Rain, remember.

As for second base, it’s back to Gleyber and maybe by playing him at his natural position, you won’t crush his baseball soul like the Yankees did trying to make him into a shortstop, but hey, what’s the difference, second or short, it’s still up the middle infield, at least that is what the Nerds have been telling us up until a few days ago.

And first base, defense is really not that important.

The Yankees could rock and roll with pure right-handed power at first base in the person of Luke Voit. Once Voit’s knee had other ideas about the 2021 season Cashman and the boys went to another plan, let’s bring an outfielder in to play first base. Jay Bruce was the Yankees starting first baseman in their opener last year. Being a total team player, Bruce took on the assignment and it did not work out.

Now it is back to a first baseman who knows how to play first, a guy who showed up last year in Anthony Rizzo, a left-handed bat too. Last year the Yankees were pretty much all right-handed hitters; that makes sense if you don’t know what you are doing because all you have to do is look to right field and see the short porch and realize, “Hey, maybe it is a good idea to have a few left-handed hitters in the Yankees lineup.’’

And yes, they did deal for a big left-handed bat in Joey Gallo last season, but Gallo was a complete disaster as a Yankee, batting .160 with 88 strikeouts and only 30 hits and 37 walks in 228 plate appearances. So really you could not count him as a left-handed bat. He was a no-bat player and he has to turn it around this season. He will still be bedeviled by shifts this season so let’s see if he takes the layup and tries to hit the ball the other way or lay down the occasional free first base bunt. Can he put his ego aside this year? He couldn’t last year but perhaps he learned some hard lessons.

Ben Rortvedt #38 of the New York Yankees poses for a picture during media day 2022 at George M. Steinbrenner Field on March 15, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Hal Steinbrenner continues to do it his own way and on Wednesday he was lamenting how difficult financially the last two years have been for the Yankees.

Save it Hal, for decades and decades the Yankees have been making the Steinbrenner family rich beyond their wildest dreams and the family could turn around tomorrow and sell the Yankees for billions and billions, so just be honest and say you really don’t like baseball enough to sink more money into the team. You want to do it your way, not George’s way.

My favorite comment of the day was when Hal was saying, “Before we did anything, before the Donaldson trade, we were already over the threshold … The threshold is not a consideration, it’s already gone.’’

Well, who’s fault is that, Hal?

You and Cashman and the Nerds are the ones who spent all that $250 million for a team that could not win a wild card game last year. Spend your money more wisely. This is on you. This is on Cashman. This is on the Nerds. This is not on the fans who continuously shell out big money to see the Yankees.

And please Hal, don’t play the sympathy card when a lot of your fans are wrestling with inflation and gas prices. “I’ve got a lot of partners and banks and bond holders and things like that that I answer to, but at the same time it’s always a goal to win a championship,’’ Steinbrenner said.

“I think a lot of the larger market clubs got hit the hardest,’’ he added. “… And obviously in New York, everything costs more.’’

It does. And if you think that’s bad Hal, try going to a Yankee game.

The parking alone is more than you might spend in other cities for tickets.

And, of course, Hal said, “This is a championship caliber team.’’

Only time will tell but the Yankees have won exactly the same amount of world championships as the Marlins since 2003 – and that is one.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa #12 of the New York Yankees poses for a picture during media day 2022 at George M. Steinbrenner Field on March 15, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

To be fair, the Yankees have a tournament caliber team this season, they certainly figure to be one of 12 teams (everybody gets a cupcake) to make the postseason.

But if they had upgraded and had made better decisions the last few years maybe they could have dropped a Freddie Freeman or a Carlos Correa into the lineup this year – but that would take a George Steinbrenner mentality ­– and year after year, Hal shows he is much different than his dad.

That is his prerogative. Own it, Hal.

Compared to his father’s hell or high water approach these are your Dollar Tree Yankees. The Yankees have been trying for years to go the cheaper route and every year they come up cheaper in the final standings. The Rays run circles around them, the Blue Jays are becoming a monster in the division, the Red Sox evidently are happy just being in the mix like the Yankees and no longer have that win at all costs mentality. And like the Yankees, Boston has been burdened by bad deals, like the Chris Sale contract as the pitcher deals with new injuries year after year.

As for Donaldson and Rizzo, like I said earlier, I don’t hate those moves because both Donaldson and Rizzo are the kind of leaders that good teams need. It’s all about health and declining ability as they get up there in age.

The Yankees in many ways have changed places with the Mets. Steve Cohen is the new George Steinbrenner, spending whatever it takes to build what he views as a championship caliber team. So essentially the Mets and Yankees have traded places.

Remember when the Mets would yearly say, “If everybody stays healthy, we will be in the postseason.’’

That is now the Yankees line: “If everybody stays healthy, we will be in the tournament.’’

It was a number of years ago when I first noticed Cashman had gotten away from the “World Series or bust’’ approach that used to be the guiding light of George’s Yankees. Instead of big-ticket items it became a lottery scratch off like search for talent and to their credit, the Yankees hit on a couple of scratch off cards. Cashman even started referring to the postseason as a tournament, kind of like his baseball version of March Madness.

Anthony Rizzo #48 of the New York Yankees in action against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on October 02, 2021 in New York City. The Rays defeated the Yankees 12-2. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

I get that … to a degree. You make yourself look good if you lower the expectations. You also give yourself some cover when you wind up with a high payroll team that can’t make it through the first round like in 2021.

After winning 92 games in the regular season the Yankees were bounced 6-2 in the wild card game by the Red Sox, who had a multitude of problems.

Season over.

Tournament over for the Yankees.

“World Series or Bust” became “we gave it our best shot and it didn’t work out”.

At least this year the Yankees and Cashman are not trying to pass off Gary Sanchez on the fan base as being an elite catcher and hitter. They finally admitted that under their guidance, a different catcher instructor almost yearly, Sanchez went backwards as a player and in the end, they had the weird situation of having a catcher who couldn’t catch the baseball; so now he is with the Twins, a new version of Jesus Montero.

That’s hard to do but that is where the Yankees were after all the years of treating Sanchez with soft love not tough love. Sanchez is looking to rebound and I think he will just because he will not be as confused as he was as a Yankee. His give-up pinch-hit appearance in the wild card game was the end for him as a Yankee and I said it at the time. So now the Yankees have a catcher named Ben Rortvedt, who at one time was a Perfect Game star and a second-round pick in 2016. The best news is they kept prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, two talented and financially prudent investments.

Here is how a prominent talent evaluator looked at the additions the Yankees made this past week.

“Rizzo is a good signing just for who he is and the way that he plays,’’ the scout said. “And if Donaldson stays healthy, he will help that team.’’

I like Rizzo because he takes control of the infield and is a strong voice to the pitchers, especially with the Yankees having such a young, inexperienced pitching coach in Matt Blake. Essentially the Yankees added some toughness and hitters with a track record in the big moments. Donaldson will give honest answers as well, so that’s a win and the presence of those veterans should help Gleyber Torres.

“Centerfield is still an issue,’’ the scout said of the land of Aaron Hicks.

What role will DJ LeMahieu play for the Yankees this season? (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Having DJ LeMahieu as the super utility helps in keeping Donaldson off his feet for too many games at third base. “I’m sure LeMahieu will play third base a couple days of week and that will allow Donaldson to DH,’’ the scout said.

Aaron Boone will be able to give any players he wants a day off, one of his favorite things to do as a manager to keep the Yankees fresh. That certainly paid off in their one-game wild card run. Good thing the Yankees were well rested for that playoff run of nine innings.

Joe Casale, a longtime sports agent and Yankee expert, noted, “The Yankees are now an older, unathletic and plodding team. In other words, they didn’t improve their weaknesses of the last two years … They have given a clear signal they no longer will shop at the top of the player marketplace. Given how much money the Yankees have and what they charge to attend games, that’s a disgrace.

“The Yankees have lost their way. I like the teams I root for to put their chips in the middle of the table and go for it. That’s not the Yankee Way anymore.’’

I agree. To me, Gerrit Cole remains the key on the pitching front.

“He has to stay consistent this year and not make as many mistakes with his slider,’’ a scout and a former pitcher told me. “Last year I couldn’t understand why he was throwing so many sliders.’’

Cole has to challenge hitters with his fastball and get over the mental and physical hurdle of life without Spider Tack. Don’t forget he got only six outs in the wild card loss to the Red Sox.

It was a good thing for Cole that the Boss was not around to see that.

The Yankees were expecting much more after Cole signed that nine-year, $324 million deal. Cole has a lot to prove this year and so do the Dollar Tree Yankees. Back when the Yankees signed Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner jumped in feet first to the free agent game, the Yankees went to the top of the free agent class.

Sadly, that is no longer the case. There are only so many real bargains at Dollar Tree.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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