The Yankees’ free agent inactivity could signal a new era in the Bronx

In the span of one holiday weekend, the entire tone of the MLB offseason shifted.

The lockout is about to burst through the door like Kramer, and in anticipation of that, general managers, players and agents answered one of the most compelling questions of the winter. Less than two weeks ago, Yankee general manager Brian Cashman said that he was under the impression that many free agents were ready to sign their deals now, rather than waiting for the labor issues that will necessitate a lockout to be resolved.

As soon as the Thanksgiving plates were cleared, we got a definitive answer on that. Free agents were ready to sign, but none of them were ready to sign with the Yankees.

Over a roughly 72-hour span, the top center fielder on the market went to New York’s other team, one of the best available starting pitchers went to the Yankees’ division rival in Toronto, and the Texas Rangers showed the type of aggressive spending habits that used to define the Yankees.

With Corey Seager going to Texas on Monday and Robbie Ray hitching his wagon to the Mariners, plus reports that the Yankees had also taken themselves out of the Max Scherzer sweepstakes before the ace reportedly agreed to terms with the crosstown Mets, Cashman looks like he’ll be returning to the lodge empty handed after his first hunt of the season. Scherzer’s $130 million, three-year offer from the Mets is downright Yankee-esque. Or, at least, that type of money used to be the Yankee calling card.

There is still plenty of time left in the offseason for Cashman to change this perception, but recent events signal a new age in the Bronx. The Yankees are no longer trying to outspend everyone. Rather, Cashman is in his “outthink everyone” era.

The big moves of the last four days may wind up as pre-lockout overpays, quick-trigger reactions to a fast-approaching deadline that will make this type of stuff impossible during a lockout. Still, the Yankees have been eerily quiet, and at least initially, uncharacteristically frugal compared to their competition.

Billy Eppler took his first big swing as Mets’ GM on Friday night, just one week after his hiring became official. In wrangling Starling Marte for four years and $78 million (as well versatile veterans Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha on smaller, savvy deals), Eppler and the Mets did what Cashman and the Yankees have either been unwilling or unable to do so far. Center fielder was one of the positions Cashman specifically noted as needing an upgrade, and the best one chose the perennially upside-down Mets over the formerly imperial Yankees, who may not have even been involved at all.

The four-year length of the contract may have curbed the Yankees’ interest — as well as other teams that aren’t interested in paying an outfielder whose game relies heavily on speed until he’s 36 — but the Marte move and the subsequent ones that broke over the weekend show a surprising hesitancy on the Yankees’ end. They were never going to give Marcus Semien the seven years of financial opulence that he and agent Scott Boras finessed from the Rangers. But Marte and pitchers Jon Gray (who went to Texas for four years and $56 million) and Kevin Gausman (five years, $110 million from the Blue Jays) signing elsewhere removes three winsome players at positions that Cashman said he was circling.

Now, it’s possible that guys just don’t want to be a Yankee like they used to, which is another conversation entirely. The Yankees have not won a championship while most of the players on the free agent circuit have been active MLB players. Several of them were in high school during the 2009 World Series run. The appeal of the Yankees isn’t what it used to be, especially with social media multiplying their spotlight to the thousandth degree. Or if you’re Marcus Stroman, who has never abstained from social media’s instigating abilities, it’s the club’s antiquated appearance policies that make the Yankees a no.

Again, there is still ample time for the Yankees to pounce, but there’s no getting around the fact that players like Marte, Gray and Gausman would have been excellent fits. The free agent silence could mean the Yankees are gearing up for a trade, which could be their subtle way of acknowledging that they don’t want to throw money around like it’s the early 2000s again, or that players aren’t drawn to the Yankees’ specific magnetism anymore, or both. In Luke Voit and Gleyber Torres, the team has two players with multiple years of club control that could definitely kickstart a trade discussion. Rumors that they’re dangling Joey Gallo have already made their way across the MLB cafeteria as well.

Whatever ends up happening, whether it’s in a frenzied Hail Mary to beat the lockout or a trade that’ll end up being months in the making, the Yankees cannot sit on their hands and do nothing. From a baseball standpoint, the go-for-broke squads in Toronto and Texas have already propped up their playoff chances. Seattle, a fellow American League playoff hopeful, got Adam Frazier in a prospects for polarizing All-Star type of trade that might be the Yankees’ only path to improvement should the checkbook remain glued shut.

From a fan-facing perspective, the Yankees have to at least get a B-lister out of this offseason to keep their throngs of angry supporters from calling for a mutiny. News flash: that will mean either breaking off a big block of the Steinbrenners’ money vault or trying to swindle another team in a trade.

That used to be the Yankee way. Now it’s something that they seem content to let other teams try as they attempt to be the smartest team in the room, something that has left them out of the World Series party since before Jon Gray was old enough to vote.

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