We often make fun of teams like the Rockies or the A's who seem relatively adrift and without a real plan. We crave direction and decisive action, in part because it allows us to more accurately analyze a team's moves in the context of their goals.
Do you like what the Reds or Brewers did this offseason? Well, how did it help them in their efforts to rebuild? (Answers: Little and A lot.) What about the Giants and the Twins? Did their offseason moves put them in a position to win in 2016? (Answers: Yes and Hell no while trying to stifle a laugh.)
When Jeff Passan looks at the Yankees' relative inactivity this winter and tries to figure out what's going on, he sees the Yankees playing the long game, gradually paring down their financial commitments so they can go after one target in particular:
"Nobody with the Yankees dared comment on Harper, even off the record, because their future marriage is considered so inevitable by most in the sport that the team dare not trifle with tampering charges. Considering the pains to which the Yankees are going to tighten finances, Harper as the endgame makes worlds of sense."
Now, see, that's interesting. Passan believes the Yankees, who he says have a relatively thin profit margin, are working to get under the luxury tax threshold now so that they can ramp back up later, saving themselves significant money (the tax resets from 50 percent to 20 percent if you drop under it). Then they can go after the bevy of free agents who will be available in either 2017 or 2018, but specifically set aside the money to go after Bryce Harper. Passan does a good job laying out and supporting his theory in detail, and I'm not doing it justice here, so go read it and then come back.
Anyway, if that's the case, the Yankees are playing a relatively dangerous game. For one thing, they're assuming the Nationals don't find a way to get an extension done with the second most dynamic young player in baseball. Given what we learned earlier this week about the Nats and their finances, maybe that's a safe bet. Still, it's hard to imagine Washington letting Harper leave without a fight. Also, it assumes that other clubs won't step into the bidding for what will be the biggest contract in baseball history. Yes, the Yankees have a built-in advantage because of their market, but we've seen the Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, and Diamondbacks willing to go above and beyond for elite free agents this offseason. They could be players in 2018, and so could a bevy of other clubs. Because literally everyone could use a Bryce Harper. The Yankees, and the front office execs who run them, can't risk just being left holding a bag of saved money.
Still, I'm sure Brian Cashman and the Bombers' brain trust are confident in themselves. And Harper, who will only be 26, is certainly a guy worth holding out for. The Yankees could even increase their odds of landing Harper if they do what they did with Alex Rodriguez, trading for him in the 2003-2004 offseason. Now Mike, you might say, A-Rod is a scurrilous villain and he's been a burden to the Yankees ever since. Sure, if you consider two MVP awards, and a World Championship a burden, I guess that's true. A-Rod was, by far, the best player in baseball when the Yankees acquired him, and they paid him like it for what will eventually be 13 seasons (with one year off for being a PED user).
If this is, indeed their strategy, the Yankees can and should do the same thing with Harper prior to when he becomes a free agent, working out a deal with the Nationals during the 2017-2018 offseason to acquire him on the condition he signs the kind of historic, crazy-money contract extension that the Yankees will be able to afford. Because if everything you've done and will do over the course of several seasons is moving in this direction and building to this one move? Well then, by God, you'd better make sure you reach your destination.