Tomase: Baseball is better when the Yankees spend like idiots


The Star Wars universe wouldn't be much fun if the Empire canceled the Death Star due to cost overruns, the Galactic numbers crunchers concluding that resources could be more effectively deployed in the service of nimbler Discomfort Stars.

"As we move forward with the financial commitments we have," Lord Vader declared, "I had to be careful with the dollars we have."

OK, that doesn't sound anything like Darth Vader. But it does sound an awful lot like Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who uttered it this February after the club cheaped out on the offseason and acquired a couple of cost-effective starters with major red flags in Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon.

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Both have predictably battled injuries -- Taillon is on the IL with partially torn tendon in his ankle, while Kluber has made just 15 starts -- and the Yankees have replaced them with a series of band-aids like Luis Gil, Andrew Heaney, and Nestor Cortes Jr.

It's a credit to manager Aaron Boone and the resilience of some 4-A replacements who gave the team life during a COVID outbreak that New York arrives in Boston for a three-game weekend series just two games behind the Red Sox and one ahead of the Blue Jays in the American League wild card race.

But it doesn't make them interesting. It turns out that baseball in general, but certainly the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry in particular, benefits from what Larry Lucchino memorably dubbed the Evil Empire. This newer, leaner, more fiscally responsible version of the House that George built is bland and dull and when you get right down to it, not very good.

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As is the case in a galaxy far, far away, baseball needs a good villain. And the Yankees ain't it. Fans often wonder why the rivalry has lost its juice. Part of that is the inevitable crash that occurs after finally vanquishing every demon in 2004. But it's also the lack of a compelling foil. While the Yankees have made big-ticket strikes in recent years for slugger Giancarlo Stanton and ace Gerrit Cole, they've also become as obsessed with staying under the luxury tax as every other cruddy mid-market club.

Pundits lauded their performance at the trade deadline when they acquired Anthony Rizzo, Joey Gallo, Heaney, and reliever Clay Holmes, glossing over the embarrassing fact that they did so with hat in hand, dealing extra prospects to the Cubs (Rizzo) and Rangers (Gallo) in order to receive cash that would offset the remaining salaries and keep them below the $210 million luxury tax threshold.

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They'll probably suffer in the future for surrendering six of their top 30 prospects in those deals -- and we're talking downright disaster if they miss the playoffs -- but who wants to live in a world where the Yankees must balance their budgets down to the JFK half dollar?

A more traditionally Yankees-like deadline would've seen them pursue Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who instead went to the Dodgers after a bidding war with … the Padres? Meanwhile, the Yankees stood at the register counting pennies out of their change purse while everyone in line cursed them for not whipping out a credit card.

The entire point of the Yankees is excess. Legendarily mercurial owner George Steinbrenner understood this. His Yankees pounced on the stars of the day, be it Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Alex Rodriguez, or Mark Teixeira. Sometimes the moves worked, like when they won seven World Series titles between 1977 and 2009. Other times they didn't, like during the fallow period of the Don Mattingly years or the ill-advised decision to go all-in on Jacoby Ellsbury in 2014.

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But Steinbrenner's Yankees were always compelling. The brash opportunism that led them to swipe A-Rod from the Rangers after it appeared nearly certain he'd join the Red Sox drove the passions of the rivalry into the stratosphere, especially with the equally provocative Curt Schilling on Boston's side.

George died in 2010, and youngest son Hal, who now runs the team, did not inherit his dad's profligacy. Hal runs the organization responsibly, which is to say boringly. Like other big-market clubs in Boston and (for a time) Los Angeles, the Yankees have taken to treating the luxury tax like a hard salary cap, thereby robbing them of their ability to spend their way into and out of trouble.

It might make for a more stable organization in the long run, but then again, it might not. The Yankees haven't reached the World Series since winning it all for the old man in 2009. Now they seem locked into the worst of both worlds -- they don't spend enough to demand our attention, but they don't win enough to earn it.


This is no way to run an Empire.