Over the first three and a half months of a season, baseball teams will absolutely show their general managers whether or not they are worthy of trade-deadline support for October. Even though the 2021 Yankees all but shouted from a mountaintop that they did not deserve that support, Brian Cashman tried to bail them out anyway.
He made moves last summer for Anthony Rizzo, Joey Gallo, Clay Holmes, and Andrew Heaney. Well, two out of four ain’t bad.
The Yankees lost a one-and-done, wild-card playoff game at Boston, and returned this year meaner, leaner and, manager Aaron Boone said, more willing and able to master the minutiae of the game that separates victory from defeat. Despite the disheartening doubleheader sweep at Houston and losses in seven of their 10 games preceding Friday night and a costly 7-6 victory over Baltimore, the 2022 Yankees have shown Cashman they are most worthy of a helping hand.
At 65-30, they have informed the GM that they could win the franchise’s first World Series title since 2009 … if only he finds them a player or two over the next 11 days who could help them beat the Astros in the ALCS.
Cashman might need yet another move after Michael King left the mound in the eighth Friday night with an elbow injury that The Post’s Joel Sherman reported is likely a season-ending fracture. That brutal development could cost the Yankees another invaluable reliever in the long term and it forced Holmes to nail down a five-out save in the short term.
Meanwhile, Aaron Judge blasted two homers that traveled a combined 901 feet, keeping him on track (with 36 homers) to challenge Roger Maris’ magic number of 61, and helping the offense produce just enough to allow for the predicable Aroldis Chapman implosion in the seventh.
But Judge won’t beat Houston in the postseason without more help, making Cashman the most important player for the Yankees between now and the trade deadline of 6 pm on Aug. 2.
That’s a good thing, if you happen to be scoring at home.
First, Cashman has 25 years of experience running the most important franchise in the sport, which has to count for something.
Second, he knows what a championship team looks like. Chapman and Rizzo won their historic rings with the Cubs, and Marwin Gonzalez helped Houston win it all in 2017. But the vast majority of core Yankees likely to determine whether they win the World Series — Judge, Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton, Holmes, DJ LeMahieu, Nestor Cortes, Gleyber Torres, Josh Donaldson, you name it — have never won one. Boone delivered about as magical a Game 7 moment as a ballplayer can fathom in his wildest dreams in the 2003 ALCS, but he’s never won a title either.
Cashman has won four as a GM (five as a front-office man), though yes, it feels like the last pinstriped parade was booked when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House. The difference between this year and last year is that Cashman knows these Yankees have a genuine shot to win a championship. He was merely trying and failing to will it into existence with that seriously flawed group in 2021.
No matter how the Yankees replace King, or what the GM and Boone decide about the bullpen and Chapman’s role (or lack thereof) in it, it’s all about the Astros now. In the last seven seasons, Houston has faced the Yankees three times in the playoffs and survived all three encounters, beating Joe Girardi’s team in the 2015 wild-card round and 2017 ALCS and Boone’s team in the 2019 ALCS. For all New Yorkers who rightfully screamed about the Astros’ cheating ways, hey, they beat the Yankees when they play fair and square, too.
Remember, the Astros were in the World Series last year, and the Yankees most certainly weren’t.
If the regular-season series this year were a best-of-seven postseason duel, Houston would have won it in six before doing an end-zone dance Thursday in the nightcap to make the final score five games to two. The Yankees played 64 innings against the Astros this year, and held the lead after two of them — the ninth and 10th innings on June 23 and June 26 in The Bronx.
Cashman understands that he while has the best record in the sport, he doesn’t have the best team in the American League. That’s a problem, and he has 11 days to solve it. Everyone knows the type of people available, including Juan Soto, Luis Castillo, and Andrew Benintendi.
Soto is in a league of his own as a 23-year-old slugger, World Series champ, and on-base-percentage machine. It seems Cashman’s best move would be to give the Nationals the prospects they want, and then persuade Hal Steinbrenner to remain open to the idea of signing Judge in the offseason and signing Soto after 2024, monstrous luxury-tax issues be damned.
But if the GM believes the smarter play would be the addition of, say, Castillo and a non-Soto player, so be it. Either way, Cashman must lean on his experience like never before, and make the difference-making moves to advance his team past the Astros, who have effectively been to today’s Yankees what Michael Jordan’s Bulls were to yesterday’s Knicks.
Between now and Aug. 2, Cashman has to be what he’s been at times in the past — baseball’s best GM. Despite being damaged by injury Friday night, these Yankees have shown they are worthy of his help.