The Yankees put Brian Cashman on a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning to discuss the team’s deal for Zach Britton, roughly 11 hours and 44 minutes after the trade became official, give or take a few seconds.
That’s actually an extended stretch of lag time in the Yankees’ realm, but we’ll cut them some slack, considering the swap with the Orioles was completed shortly before midnight and not long after Tuesday’s 4-0 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Usually, there’s no reason to make note of such things. It’s standard operating procedure in the Bronx, a place where the business of running a baseball team functions like you would expect it should. From scouting and developing talent to signing free agents to pulling the trigger on timely trades, the Yankees have been successful in nearly every aspect during most of Cashman’s two-decade tenure as general manager.
We bring up Wednesday’s conference call as another example only because of what happened over the weekend during the Subway Series, when the Mets’ top decision-makers left Mickey Callaway exposed (and their fans in the dark) after both Yoenis Cespedes’ shocking revelation and the subsequent trade of Jeurys Familia.
The Mets’ information blackout on Cespedes lasted nearly 48 hours (only 24 on Familia) before John Ricco, one of the three spokes in their head-spinning GM machinery, finally showed up outside the visitors’ clubhouse at Yankee Stadium to address the media. But that’s only a symptom of the larger problem in Flushing, where the Wilpons have yet to show any outward signs of steering this rudderless organization away from even deeper dysfunction.
The juxtaposition of Wednesday’s events, with the Yankees discussing their trade for Britton at the same time as the Mets were announcing Cespedes’ double-heel surgery, was just too much. The baseball gods, or at least the deities that oversee the five boroughs, can be a mean-spirited bunch. On Wednesday, they had the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
The Yankees, already a World Series favorite, added what amounts to a fourth closer to the game’s most lethal bullpen. Some would call that overkill. Cashman likes to describe it as improving a strength, or getting the best player available at the right cost, just as the Yankees did with the Giancarlo Stanton trade last December.
Don’t chalk this up to gluttonous overspending, either. Ever since Cashman convinced Hal Steinbrenner to approve the Yankees’ 2016 fire sale, the franchise has followed a well-designed blueprint: get younger, better and less expensive. Not only has the Cashman/Steinbrenner duo produced a perennial World Series contender, it’s currently satisfying Hal’s goal of staying below the $197-million luxury tax threshold for this season.
In trading for Britton, the Yankees took on about $4.4 million, increasing their payroll to nearly $184 million, which ranks sixth in the majors overall. The Red Sox, who own both baseball’s best record and the sport’s top payroll, have spent roughly $226 million after Wednesday’s trade for Nathan Eovaldi — - Boston’s counterpunch after losing out on Britton.
“If we’re fortunate enough to get to the postseason, the teams and the lineups we’ll be up against are very impressive and obviously very difficult,” Cashman said. “So that’s why I feel like I have to thank ownership — Hal Steinbrenner and his family — for stepping up and allowing us to import someone on a rental basis like Zach Britton and take on his remaining portion of his contract.”
Cashman always does right by Hal on the media front, but let’s be honest: $4.4 million is pocket change for the Steinbrenners. Still, there’s a big difference between having money and choosing to spend it, so the Yankees can never be accused of lacking the financial commitment to build a championship-caliber organization. They also have the ability to absorb costly mistakes others can’t, as Jacob Ellsbury is being paid $21 million this year to spend the season rehabbing in Tampa. If the rest of the team’s structure is sound, however, embarrassing sideshows like Ellsbury are easily minimized, reduced to throwaway questions pitched to the manager with diminished frequency.
It’s all about having a plan, and the determination to follow it. When Cashman couldn’t get Manny Machado, he pivoted to Britton. Next up is likely to be a starting pitcher. The Yankees’ winning efficiency, on and off the field, illustrates how a healthy, competitive franchise operates. And it doesn’t happen by accident, or luck.