Since Robinson Cano left New York for Seattle, Yankees haven’t been much better than the Mariners. But it’s what the Yankees can do about it that makes all the difference.
Over the four seasons prior to 2017, the New York Yankees have 340 wins, none in the playoffs. In the same period, the Mariners have 320 wins, none in the playoffs. As the teams begin a four-game series at Safeco field Thursday night, the Yankees are 48-45, the Mariners 48-48.
So the idea that Robinson Cano’s shocking decision in 2014 to abandon the fabled Yankee Stadium greensward for a quarter-billion of Seattle green was a serious drop in class has not been borne out by team results. In Cano’s absence, the Yankees have been a little better than the Mariners, but not so anyone would notice.
In fact, the Yankees have gone five years without a win in the playoffs (0h-for-five games), so it’s possible to suggest that while they trail the the Mariners in playoff-win droughts, 15 seasons to five, they are keeping pace.
A major difference between the clubs, however, is the capacity to do something about persistent, numbing mediocrity.
General manager Jerry Dipoto has publicly tamped down expectations that the Mariners will bust a large move before the July 31 trade deadline, suggesting that perhaps a veteran reliever might be a worthy expenditure of the few magic beans in the Mariners stash.
The Yankees, meanwhile, did their swagger thing Tuesday, acquiring from the Chicago White Flags 1B/3B Todd Frazier and two relievers, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle.
The Yankees gave up one veteran pitcher, struggling reliever Tyler Clippard, and two top prospects, OF Blake Rutherford, ranked No. 3 in the Yankees system, and LHP Ian Clarkin (No. 19), plus younger OF prospect Tito Polo.
It’s the kind of power move done by an alpha franchise that invests heavily in scouting so that the farm always has sufficient ordnance to make deals at midseason for immediate help from veterans.
Manager Joe Girardi was big on conveying a message for 2017.
“It should tell (current players), ‘Hey, we’re in this,’” he told reporters this week after the trade. “We need to continue to play hard and play better than what we’ve done. But it should be a pick me up in (the clubhouse), in a sense that, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of people who believe in this club.’
“Adding two power arms like this will really help us.”
Yes, it’s only July, and message games and moves have a shelf life of maybe a week. But the Yankees were 38-23 on June 14 and four games up in the American League East, so the subsequent fade has been as startling as it was unacceptable. Risk was mandatory.
A worry in New York is that closer Aroldis Chapman (10 saves) seems to have lost some of his wicked fastball. He’s already been on the disabled list for five weeks with shoulder inflammation (same as the Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma) and is in the first year of a five-year $86 million deal.
Acquiring Robertson, who spent seven years with the Yankees before leaving in free agency in 2014, and Kahnle was insurance against a bad outcome. The Yankees have blown 18 saves this season, after 16 all of the past year.
Frazier hit a career-high 40 homers last season in Chicago, and has 16 this year with 44 RBIs, although he was hitting .207 at the time of the trade. He’s another serious stick in a lineup loaded with them.
Meanwhile Chicago gets in Rutherford, 20, the 18th pick in the first round of the 2016 draft and Clarkin, 22, a first-rounder in 2013. The Yankees’ willingness to part with premium youngsters apparently thwarted the Boston Red Sox, who were in the hunt for the same players.
The Mariners can’t play that midseason game, not with star vets bearing untradeable contracts, and the first level of Dipoto’s youngsters (Ben Gamel, Mitch Haniger, Edwin Diaz) only now arriving and desperately needed to keep the club treading water.
Any time a team churns through 30 pitchers, including 13 starters, just to get to .500, it suggests that there is not much in the farm system capable of helping them, or any big-league club.
The recent run of six wins in seven games, including two of three in Houston against the dreadnought Astros, was for the Mariners a good sign. But they need to win three of four in the New York series to gain in the wild-card race on the Yankees, who have armored up for the second half.
It would be good for to Seattle perhaps to have prospects for trade such as CF Mallex Smith, INF Carlos Vargas and LHP Ryan Yarbrough. But they all play in the Tampa Bay system now, after the Jan. 11 trade for Drew Smyly.
He didn’t throw a regular-season ball for the Mariners and underwent Tommy John elbow surgery, meaning he’s likely gone for 2018 as well.
The injury couldn’t have been forecasted — except by you World Baseball Classic haters out there — but the the loss of prospects illustrates that even a single bout of bad luck is difficult for the Mariners to overcome, given the years of weak drafting/development that have been a franchise hallmark.
After Cano won the All-Star MVP for his game-winning homer, ESPN.com posted a story headlined: “Ex-Yankee Robinson Cano provides closing act at Aaron Judge’s All-Star party.” Naturally, offense was taken by many baseball fans here in the hinterlands.
But it’s a fact of life that where you’re from becomes more important than where you are, if where you are isn’t anywhere. Yet.