The New York Yankees were likable for a hot second last season, but the arrival of Giancarlo Stanton reestablishes them as the Evil Empire.
Wow, for about 25 seconds last year, the New York Yankees were, dare I say it, a likable Major League Baseball franchise. With Aaron Judge taking the league by storm and a surrounding cast of young players full of personality. The excitement with which Judge, Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino and Brett Gardner played the game was almost enough to allow non-Yankee fans to push down a surge of overwhelming nausea and halfway root for the team to go to the World Series.
In a blink of an eye, however, those feelings are over. Giancarlo Stanton is a Yankee (traded to the team by one of their own, Derek Jeter, no less), and there is an overwhelming sense of dread sweeping over any fan that roots for a team that does not call the Bronx home. After a few years in hibernation, the Evil Empire is back in full force.
In the end, it took no less than 24 hours after Stanton named the Yankees as one of his four finalists for them to reach deep into their wallet to find $265 million to bring him into the fold.
The Yankees lulled the rest of us into a false sense of security. They rebuilt at the 2016 trade deadline, sending away Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran for prospects. General Manager Brian Cashman somehow managed to avoid signing a single free agent after the 2015 season. The Yankees got younger, and the rest of us prayed and prayed for their downfall. It wasn’t hard to convince yourself that the 2017 season would be the team’s first below .500 since 1992.
It wasn’t hard to see why the Yankees were so slept on heading into last season. Judge had hit only .179/.263/.345 with 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats after making his debut in August 2016. He wasn’t even considered a lock to make the Opening Day roster. Severino was still trying to figure out whether his future was in the rotation or bullpen. Nothing pointed to the Yankees being ready to bash their way back to within a game of the World Series.
Because the expectations were so low last year, the Yankees became a lovable underdog after they started bashing their way to the top of the American League. That’s over now. The Yankees may not be the defending World Series champions, but they must be considered the favorites entering 2018. The MLB single-season record for home runs is in serious jeopardy with Stanton joining Judge in a launching pad of a stadium.
What made the Yankees the Evil Empire in the late 1990s and early 2000s — the deep pockets, ability to snap their fingers and make a free agent come running, the quiet, collected arrogance of a cat playing with a mouse — never left during their brief hiatus from dominating the league. No, the Yankees just got smarter about how they worked their black magic. Freed of the overwhelming pressure to burn through piles of cash after the death of George Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman has pulled off win after win after win on the trade market.
Not only have the Yankees traded for Stanton, they’ve added Aroldis Chapman (and flipped him for Gleyber Torres), David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Sonny Gray. They have the best bullpen in baseball, with over five pitchers capable of striking out half the batters they face. Their lineup could score 1,000 runs and hit 300 out of the park next year. Severino is an ace with a 100-mph fastball, Gray is a solid number-two starter and Masahiro Tanaka pitched better than anyone in the postseason, save Justin Verlander. The Yankees are scary, and they could still get better.
Just like the Golden State Warriors, who were mostly beloved during their first two runs to the NBA Finals, the tide will quickly turn away from the Yankees with the addition of their version of Kevin Durant. All along, we knew the Evil Empire could only be kept down so long, but the rise was swifter than anyone could have imagined.