Brian Cashman
Danielle Parhizkaran | USA TODAY Sports

I get why people cannot get over the Houston Astros‘ cheating scandal. Their sins were infinitely more egregious and dangerous than anything the New England Patriots have ever done. Deflategate and Spygate were garden-variety sporting chicanery. A parade of All-Star squaring up breaking balls they know are coming? A pitcher can get killed.

I also understand the Yankees‘ recent efforts to relitigate the 2017 American League Championship Series. The organization is preemptively spinning the soon-to-be-unsealed MLB sign-stealing letter. They need to rehabilitate Carlos Beltran’s image before he starts broadcasting for YES. And, if you want to be cynical, for whenever they want him to replace Aaron Boone.

Most importantly, Brian Cashman needs an excuse to explain away the fact his team has not reached, much less won, a World Series in over a decade as it prepares for a season where it once again seems ill-equipped to win its 28th championship.

But do not forget another impactful reason the Yankees did not win a title: Hal Steinbrenner was too cheap to let Cashman trade for Justin Verlander that summer. And that inaction likely did more to cost the Yankees a championship than any sign the Astros stole.

Yes, you can argue the Verlander situation was not as clear-cut then as it seems now. He was having a relatively pedestrian season when the Astros landed him for a trio of prospects right before the August 31 postseason roster deadline. No one could have predicted he would deliver such a dominant October.


But these are the Yankees. You can’t have too much pitching. When landing a future Hall of Famer — and keeping him away from your top rivals — during a pennant race is as simple as opening the checkbook, you do it. Or at least you used to.

Instead, Steinbrenner was more concerned about resetting the team’s luxury tax threshold. Verlander’s remaining salary was declared a non-starter and the recently-acquired Sonny Gray was deemed enough of a rotation upgrade. Cashman’s hands were tied as Houston made the move. Verlander then held the Yankees to one run over 16 innings in the ALCS, winning Games 2 and 6. Simple as that.

There are no guarantees if Verlander ended up in pinstripes instead. But it is not hard to project. The Yankees likely overcome the cheating and beat the Astros, and there is a good chance they go on to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and win the World Series. There would have been a parade down the Canyon of Heroes instead of years of hand-wringing. Alas. At least the payroll was kept under control.

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.