I come to you as an increasingly disappointed Yankees fan.
For years, the New York Yankees have been a standard of excellence. They have had a team of selfless, team-first players, who would do anything to win the game. It was built from the ground up, and even after a good chunk of the cast left after 2001, they still kept succeeding. Even in the mid 2000’s, where they spent wildly on unnecessary free agents, they won division after division. In 2009, their spending spree worked, as they compiled yet another near complete team, and won their 27th world title. The majority of the group stayed together for the next couple of years, though it met with natural decline due to age and injury.
And then, it all started to fall apart in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS.
Derek Jeter, one of 3 Yankees left from the golden years, was running to his left to make a play, dove, and broke his ankle. Yankee fans collectively held their breath while he was helped off the field, something that never happens. Jeter was the beacon of light for the Yankees, always being there to keep the team somewhat even keel, and most of all, win games.
He didn’t play much the entire 2013 season. In fact, that 2013 season had many injuries that caused problems. Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez (plus the Biogenesis scandal that emerged the previous January), his replacement Kevin Youkilis, all spent the majority of the season either injured, or had their abilities hampered by those injuries when they finally found the field.
The pitching staff had it’s own problems. CC Sabathia, their ace and stalwart, looked nothing like an ace, bothered by occasional injury and a decline in his pitching. Phil Hughes couldn’t keep the ball in the park. Hiroki Kuroda hit a decline toward the end of the year. The fifth rotation spot became a rotation, true to it’s name.
Many of the players they signed to patch up some of those injuries didn’t quite help things along either. Vernon Wells started hot and hit a wall. Travis Hafner showed some life, then disappeared. Lyle Overbay found himself in the outfield for the first time in his career. The catcher position was manned by a few guys armed with toothpicks. Jayson Nix played everywhere, but couldn’t handle the bat most nights. They signed Mark Reynolds, which helped them in the occasional home run and rally kill. Alfonso Soriano did play some great ball, but was overshadowed by failure all around him.
The only player to have 100+ RBI as a Yankee, hit .300, play in 150+ games, hit 20 home runs, or get 150 hits, was Robinson Cano. He was set for free agency at the end of the season.
Now here is where I got really mad. The Yankees made it clear that they had 2 major priorities this off-season. Resign Cano, and keep the payroll under $189M, to avoid luxury tax. Another smaller task was to bring in players who can help in weaker positions.
Negotiations went relatively slow between the Yankees and Cano, with Cano wanting 10 years and upwards of $225M, and the Yankees saying that the best they can do is 8 years for $175M, channeling their inner Pawn Star. The Seattle Mariners swoop in and snag him for 10 years and $240M, and Cano didn’t think twice.
And if I’m Cano, I would do that over and over again with no regret.
During those negotiations, the Yankees signed former Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to 7 years and $153M, thus starting to crowd the outfield. Doing the math, that’s similar average annual value that they offered to Cano, the premium player in a premium position. Pile on top of that, that Cano didn’t like how manager Joe Girardi was using him. The Mariners offered him the contract he wanted. Game, set, match.
After that, the Yankees further overstuffed the outfield with Carlos Beltran, bringing them to 6 outfielders, albeit 4 worth playing time. While that is happening, their rotation is in shambles, with CC, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova as normal starters, and no one in sight who can step up with any certainty to take the 4 or 5 spots. Their bullpen is even more a wreck, with the only recognizable pitcher being new closer David Robertson. Their remaining infielders include 2 players on their way back from injury in Jeter and Teixeira, neither with any certainty on returning to form, Alex Rodriguez, who we still don’t know how many games he’ll be allowed to play, or how productive he would be in those games, Kelly Johnson, jack of all trades, and Brendan Ryan, who can’t handle a bat.
None of that actually bothers me much anymore, I’ve kinda gotten used to it.
What bothers me is that the way that the Yankees build their team. Think of it as a car, metaphorically. You drive your car, and it eventually gets worn down, the body gets banged up, and the engine stops functioning properly. What people should think first to do, is fix the engine, considering that the car can drive, even if the body is a little beat up. But a car with a pristine body and an dysfunctional engine won’t get you anywhere.
The Yankees are fixing their body first. The major league roster, or at least the big names, are the metaphoric body. It’s important to have a good bunch of big name guys, just as it’s important to have a good body of a car. But it’s even more important to have a functional engine, which compares to role players and young up-and-comers. The Yankees have never truly been about team building, just polishing the look of the team, to make it seem like they are doing the right thing. Their metaphoric car may look great and muscular, but it wouldn’t beat a souped up sedan in a drag race.
It’s been like that for a while in the Bronx, but it’s gotten significantly worse this year, as they move further away from true rebuilding, and further the patch job that free agency offers. They won’t go anywhere until they get some decent young guys who they can build a team around, just like the Core 4 back in the old days, the only group of 4 teammates to have played together for 15+ years, of Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. The Yankees were tremendously successful building around those guys in their early careers. I think it’s time to find a new core bunch who will help them do something similar, as hard as it is, and ditch the dependence on free agents, who are just rejects from their old teams.
Until then, I will be sitting at home trying to find some real baseball teams to watch.