By design, the Yankees and Dodgers are assembled differently than they once were.
The gargantuans that once relied on raiding the free-agent market and struggling teams burdened by one or two large contracts have modernized to be sleek, intelligent franchises proficient at accumulating and developing players before they reach their peaks. There is still plenty of money thrown around, of course, but that is no longer where their souls reside.
Despite those shifts, they have not evolved into the smartest or best organizations in baseball. They are instead second-tier chasers of the Astros, now the clear model of contemporary success and the ability to strike the ideal balance between internal maximization of young talent and acquisition of expensive, win-now contributors.
Houston, historically far from baseball royalty, is everything New York and Los Angeles wish they were. A third straight ALCS appearance and second World Series showing (clinched by a walk-off 6-4 win over the Yankees on Saturday) in three years underlines that point, as do the recent failures of its top rivals.
MORE: Altuve walks off Yankees
The Astros have struck at the right moments in recent years to stack the deck in their favor come October, while the Yankees and Dodgers have repeatedly disappointed in that regard.
New York has not signed or traded for a Tier 1 starting pitcher during its current contention window with several being available — including Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, each of whom Houston pounced on when others hesitated. Brian Cashman in the process has neglected to sell high on prospects such as Clint Frazier, Chance Adams and Estevan Florial. He is now feeling the fallout of his hoarding, the team receiving subpar starts in Game 2 and Game 3 of the ALCS against an opponent loaded with front-end starters, and more importantly, its tired bullpen being forced to stretch itself to the max in Game 6. Even if the Yankees had somehow managed to pull out that elimination contest, they would have been completely gassed for Game 7.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, did not add an elite relief pitcher before this year’s trade deadline despite its bullpen being an obvious flaw given the decline of Kenley Jansen. It had plenty of prospect ammo from which to deal. It did nothing. In Game 5 of the NLDS, its bullpen melted down, sending it out of the postseason two rounds earlier than in 2017 and 2018.
In addition to acquiring its trio of aces, Houston traded for right-hander Ryan Pressly last July and signed outfielder Michael Brantley this past offseason. Pressly was huge in the clutch against the Yankees, while Brantley consistently put together solid at-bats and made one of the defensive plays of the postseason in Game 6.
The Astros have received widespread praise for the trades and signings they did make, but they should also be lauded for the deals they walked away from. The White Sox reportedly asked for then-prospect Alex Bregman in exchange for Chris Sale in 2016, and Bregman’s name was reportedly also floated around in talks surrounding Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer. Houston held onto Bregman, now an MVP candidate, who at 25 is one of the game’s most prominent stars.
The Astros’ management and in-house development has ensured, at least to the greatest extent anything can be ensured in baseball, that correct moves spawn intended results.
There have not been stunning managerial mistakes like the ones Dave Roberts made in the NLDS this season. There have not been inexplicable mid-career declines such as Sonny Gray in New York that were made to look bad by success elsewhere. Rather, most players have improved upon joining the Astros.
The Yankees and Dodgers, given their esteemed histories, are expected to do what it takes to be a step ahead of the league. They are not at that level right now.
Instead, it's the Astros once again in the World Series and at the top of the sport, leaving more established names behind.