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The Cubs, the Yankees, and Spiderman

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The Cubs and Yankees are headed in the same direction, apparently, and not a place either would want to be. The game is changing.

Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Since 2016, the Cubs and Yankees have been linked, rightly or wrongly. The Aroldis Chapman trade, and what has happened since, has been grist for on-line chatter ever since. Who won the trade? Was the Yankees’ methodology proper in trading then resigning Chapman? Over the last few days, both fanbases have taken to a degree of hand-wringing. It's very similar hand-wringing, with ownership being the primary perceived villain. Since I enjoy symmetry, I'm going to look a bit closer at their situations.

I still love the Spiderman memes. Two people, or groups of people, pointing at each other in the similar Spiderman suits. "Hey, you look like we do." Which is exactly the point. Cubs fans and Yankees fans both had expected more from the last seven or eight years. EACH in their own way, fans contemplate what might have been, and how to approach the future.

You know the story with the Cubs. The Yankees have generally been a good team the last dozen years. Something, or someone, has gotten in their way, every time. Sometimes, the Astros. Or the Red Sox. Or injuries. Ownership is always a fun stabbing-board. "If only Hal Steinbrenner were willing to go over the limit and pay the very small financial cost, all would be fixed."

Any symmetry there?

The reality is, the Yankees did go over the luxury tax limit quite recently. And went over in a very public fashion. They added elite starting pitcher Gerrit Cole. Cole was added before the 2020 season. By adding Cole after having "been over," a few things happened. They lost a million in international spending for the current cycle. They could/can.only spend a bit over $4.2 million internationally this cycle, after signing wunderkind Jasson Dominguez in the previous cycle. Theirs is the second-lowest available pool.

Similarly, their already shortened 2020 draft class was shortened even further. The Yankees, for having drafted Cole, lost their second and fifth round draft choices. Whether you're looking forward to Sunday's first round of the draft or not, that the Yankees chose three while the Rays drafted six is a bit jarring.

Meanwhile, with the Spider Tack crackdown, Cole has begun to look a bit more ordinary recently.

While looking at the Yankees as a possible trade partner, the lost picks hurt in the realistic discussions. With Dominguez off-limits, not many 2019 or 2020 draft pieces resonated. With teams being limited to 180 players stateside, the Yankees lost two affiliates, and their identity of throwing a quantity of prospects at the problem.

The Yankees aren't in exactly the same situation as the Cubs, but working back to regular excellence will be tricky. Spending doesn't cure all ills, and they have a few ugly contracts on the books. Similarly, they don't have anything close to "two league minimum All-Stars."

Other owners aren't making the Chapman trade, anymore. Craig Kimbrel will draw quality on trade, but on the same somewhat depressed level as the Darvish trade. The Dodgers can afford free agency signings like Trevor Bauer (about that....), but things are getting different. And not just with Tom Ricketts' team.

Owners seem to want to be (as much as possible) phasing out the "win through free agency angle" out of the game. The draft, international free agency, development, and astute trading seem the difference makers now. The Red Sox have sling-shotted from the embarrassment of the loss of Mookie Betts in a give-up trade, to being much better positioned for the future than the Yankees. The Reds’ horrible bullpen is now useful five weeks later over a few waIver wire additions. Life comes at you fast in baseball.

And few Cubs fans or Yankees fans realize they're going through similar tumult. Free agency can put a team over the top, with a solid pipeline (see the Cubs in 2015 and 2016). It can send a team adrift, as appears to be happening with the Yankees now. Or, with the Cubs from 2017 to present, over-reliance on free agency can do a bit of both. The Cubs and Yankees are in similar Spiderman suits, pointing at each other, and unaware how they got there, in many cases, with neither having likely All-Star options at league minimum salaries for a while, or much of a way to get there.