Yankees and Astros Are on Inevitable Collision Course for Control of MLB

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 24, 2018

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18:  Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees looks on with Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros after a double during the third inning in Game Five of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 18, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

In this slowest-moving of baseball winters, one big hitter and one big pitcher have changed teams. Giancarlo Stanton went to the New York Yankees. Gerrit Cole went to the Houston Astros.

That fits.

It's always a little dangerous to declare in January which team will be on top in October. But whether Scott Boras is right when he says free agents will eventually get big paydays, the super agent was half right when he told Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports: "Ironically, in our game, Houston may be the only team that doesn't have a problem."

The Astros don't seem to have any major problems, even if they could stand to boost a bullpen that needed help from starters Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton in October and November. They've added Cole to a rotation that already includes Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, they kept the lineup that won a championship and they traded for Cole without giving up the prospects who could help them win for years to come.

The Yankees lost out on Cole, but they added Stanton, the National League Most Valuable Player who hit 59 home runs. They've kept their rotation and bullpen together, their best players are young, and when Baseball America announced its ranking Monday of the top 100 prospects, six of them were Yankees.

The Astros and Yankees both showed interest in trading for Gerrit Cole, and by getting him, the Astros may have pushed a bit ahead.
The Astros and Yankees both showed interest in trading for Gerrit Cole, and by getting him, the Astros may have pushed a bit ahead.Justin Berl/Getty Images

Oh, and two of the top 15 were Astros—right-hander Forrest Whitley and outfielder Kyle Tucker.

The Astros have young stars with more on the way. The Yankees have young stars with more on the way.

The Astros have money to spend, and winning a World Series will no doubt help them generate even more of it. The Yankees always have money to spend, and by (so far) staying under the luxury-tax threshold for 2018, they're setting themselves up to spend plenty of it on next winter's super free-agent class.

They're not the only two teams positioned well for the future. But if you watched their seven-game ALCS and thought, "I wouldn't mind seeing more of this," you should have plenty to look forward to.

This is never going to be a repeat of Yankees-Red Sox from the early 2000s. The history isn't there. They don't play in the same division. But just as the Yankees of that era measured every move against the Sox, and vice versa, they now take note of the team that edged past them on the way to the World Series.

Sure enough, when the Astros traded for Cole, MLB Network Radio's Casey Stern tweeted that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had recently referred to the Astros as a "beast."

Maybe the Yankees find a way to fit Yu Darvish into their budget (Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggested a way to make it happen). Maybe they give themselves better cover on the infield in case touted prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar aren't quite ready.

There's still time, and given the way this winter has gone, there are plenty of players available.

With all those free agents, there's of course time for other teams to step up, too. Maybe the Red Sox finally do sign J.D. Martinez, the home run threat they were missing last year (when they still topped the Yankees in the American League East). Maybe the Chicago Cubs finally add to an uncertain rotation with Jake Arrieta still a free agent.

There will be challengers, no matter how Boras made it sound when he told Heyman, "Houston is now Goliath. The other teams are going to need to tell their fans, 'Our club is not seriously a World Series contender.'"

The Astros are a Goliath. They won last year, they look good now and they have the talent and resources to be great for quite a while to come. Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman are still just 23. Jose Altuve and George Springer are on the right side of 30.

But the Yankees are a Goliath, too. They had a breakout year last year, they look good now and they have the talent and resources to be great for quite a while to come. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are 25, Luis Severino is 23 and Stanton and Didi Gregorius have yet to turn 30.

The Yankees made the first big move of the winter when they traded for Giancarlo Stanton.
The Yankees made the first big move of the winter when they traded for Giancarlo Stanton.Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins/Getty Images

It's been more than a decade since the same two teams met in the ALCS in back-to-back years (Yankees-Red Sox in 2003-04). It's been even longer since a team won the World Series two straight seasons (Yankees from 1998-2000). Things change from one year to the next. The offseason feels too short for the team that just won. Injuries get in the way. The magic of the previous season seems hard to recreate. And other teams get better.

The Yankees did when they added Stanton, enough so that sports books in Las Vegas made them the World Series favorite. The Astros got better when they added Cole.

Either one is good enough to win—for now and quite a few years thereafter.

      

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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