Clint Frazier celebrates with Gleyber Torres and Aaron Hicks

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Keidel: 2019 Success Showing Yankees Didn't Need Harper Or Machado

Jason Keidel
May 24, 2019 - 1:29 pm
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As the Yankees keep winning with stars and subs, with rich and (baseball) poor players, it's time for all their fans to be thankful for two players not on the roster.

For all the fans who wanted Bryce Harper in the Bronx - even yours truly mused over it two years ago - it's almost offensive to think of the slugger swathed in pinstripes today. Harper is in first place with his new Phillies comrades, but he's hardly blasting the cover off the ball and still has 12 more years on his deal.

Likewise, it's an equal relief to know that Manny Machado - AKA Johnny Hustle - got no more than a dinner from the Bombers. Despite his sky-high ceiling, Machado's motivation has often been questioned and he’d bristled at the idea of busting it down the first base line right before he hit the free agent market.

Both are 26 years old, with a combined 21 years left on their contracts, which were signed for a total of $630 million. These were two perfect players for the old Evil Empire, two pricey bodies stored in their epic war chest whose egos may have eclipsed the conga line of young talent the Yanks keep unearthing this spring.

The Phillies are 29-21 and 1.5 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. Not necessarily because of Harper, who's batting .235 with nine home runs and 32 RBIs, while leading the NL in strikeouts, with 66 in just 50 games.  

The Padres are also faring well, going 26-24, which is good enough for second place in the NL West. San Diego has been on a three-game winning streak to nudge their noses over the .500 waters. They may be six games behind the Dodgers, but they are much better than they have been in recent years. Though you have to wonder how much Machado has meant to their moderate success while batting .267 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs, with 43 strikeouts in 49 games.

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Neither player is on a club with a 32-17 record, the Yankees' mark right now, having won nine of their last ten games, while leapfrogging the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the AL East. Only the Minnesota Twins (33-16) have a better record, by one game.  

After the Yankees cleaned house in 2016 and let Brian Cashman kickstart this youth movement that yielded Aaron Judge, Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez, the team has a mid-'90s mien, a stew of youth seasoned by the right kind of veterans. Their rotation may not be October-strong quite yet, but it's tough to find flaws anywhere else. Also chief among the Yankees' checklist is chemistry. The Yankees play hard and play for each other, with that esprit de corps that we often find with championship clubs. It's hard to imagine Harper or Machado adding to a selfless, team-first culture.

No one is confusing the Phillies or Padres for the best team in MLB. But the Yankees are in the same orbit with the Astros and Dodgers as playoff chalk. All this despite a bulging IL that kept growing from 10 to 11 to 12 to 13 players, many of them household names and vital cogs in this pinstriped machine. It's almost become laughable to see the Yankees win with players shoveled from the minors. They beat the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday by benching their two hottest hitters - Sanchez and Torres - in a case of warped analytics.

So if Gary Sanchez gets grilled for his occasional lapses in effort, imagine Machado in the Bronx pulling a Robinson Cano on a ball chopped in front of home plate. Imagine Harper's oxygen-draining ego in a Yankees clubhouse known for its refreshing dearth of them.

The Yankees keep winning on the diamond because they keep winning away from it. While anyone would drool over the stratospheric talents of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, they aren't just young bats and big stats for a big check (Harper and Machado are actually younger than Aaron Judge, if you can believe it.) They bring their stardom with them, the altitude and attitude that comes with being bigger than the team.

The Phillies needed to make a splash after years of decay following the Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard era. The Padres wanted to be relevant because, well, they're the Padres, perhaps the least serious club in California - behind the A's, Angels, Giants, and Dodgers - not to mention the only team in our most populated state sans a World Series title.

The Yankees won't buy a World Series title because they finally got financial religion. With the exception of 2009, none of their spending splurges yielded any lasting success. They no longer lap the sport in yearly payroll (the Cubs and Red Sox have bigger budgets in 2019). They don't buy players because they have plenty of their own, at a fraction of the price, and with half the headaches.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonKeidel