In the days since the Yankees were eliminated by the Rays, one thing came more into focus: payroll factors notwithstanding, the Rays have a roster that is balanced and flexible, while the Yankees do not. The Rays have multiple players that play multiple positions, while the Yankees have multiple players that have a hard time playing one.
That’s not to say the Yankees don’t have talent, and that one hit in Game 5 wouldn’t have changed their fortunes. But as these recent Yankees teams continue to fall short of their ultimate goal, it becomes inevitable to compare them to their champion forefathers and wonder where the differences lie.
One factor is that the Yankees are very right-handed, and history has proven one thing to be true: the Yankees win championships with left-handed power and left-handed pitching, and if they don’t have enough of either they simply don’t win World Series titles. Seriously, peruse the championship rosters on baseball-reference.com and you will see what I mean.
And even more dangerous from a lineup standpoint, the Yankees have a long line of switch-hitters with power that have wrecked bullpens; besides Mickey Mantle back in the day, think Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher, among others.
Currently, Aaron Hicks is the Yankees’ only switch-hitter, and the only regular lefty bat is Brett Gardner.
So how big a deal is the lineup and roster makeup of this team going forward?
“I think in a perfect world you always have that balance where you have a switch-hitter or two or you have three or four lefties,” Aaron Boone said. “But it’s hard to have everything, right?
Maybe, but the lineup card is a product of what’s available, and that’s Brian Cashman’s department.
“Of course you’d like to have the balance if you can,” Cashman added. “But then when you’re faced with the decision, do I not try to re-sign DJ LeMahieu because he’s right-handed so I can get a left-handed bat in there?”
This is an interesting point, because LeMahieu was first signed two years ago with the idea that he could be extremely versatile at three infield positions. But then Miguel Andujar got hurt and Gio Urshela happened, and Luke Voit happened, and Gleyber Torres replaced Didi Gregorius, and just like that the Yankees had an all-righty hitting infield.
Now, can you imagine not having LeMahieu? Or how about Voit, who, besides leading the majors in home runs, has developed into the heart-on-your-sleeve type player fans have craved since Paul O’Neill smashed his last water cooler?
Cashman admitted there was talk last winter of moving Voit to get a lefty hitting first baseman, but those discussions, like all others, are met with two basic realities.
“To pull the trigger on making decisions like that, you have to come up with the ability to secure the alternative, and then feel like you’re actually better, this is going to make us better,” Cashman said. “Because ultimately, you’re subtracting from one area which is a strength and trying to improve an area some other way by gaining the balance. I don’t know if those choices manifest themselves as easily as maybe people would think, that it’s not just automatically wave a magic wand and that will disappear and this will reappear.
“In a vacuum, yes you’d like to get as much balance as you can…but if it happens to be predominantly more right-handed and the left-handed choices don’t really manifest itself, then you go with what you’ve got and you embrace it,” Cashman added.
So begins another winter of trying to find the right mix of talent and chemistry.
“Ultimately we have a championship contending roster,” Cashman concluded. “I believe that is a fact. We are not going to be able to call ourselves champions. That is also a fact.”
If I may mix movie metaphors, perhaps the answer lies in balance. It was Mr. Miyagi who taught us that the lesson about balance was the most important one, and while the Yankees have been busy building fully operational Death Stars, they have met the same fate as said Death Stars: blown up.
Follow Sweeny Murti on Twitter: @YankeesWFAN