It’s mind-boggling to be a Yankees fan and to watch the sport as a whole closely. Being a Yankees’ fan is like nobody ever being happy for you even though you work hard everyday because your Dad had a major connection for you when you graduated from college. Sure, you work as many hours as your co-workers, you’re ambitious, you have goals and your bosses love your work ethic, but your friends all hold a grudge and despite everyone’s flaws, they all choose to look at yours because you were given an opportunity they don’t have.
That’s life rooting for the most successful, most despised, most popular and wealthiest baseball team. So let’s set a few ground rules when we discuss the Yankees’ organization and philosophies and let’s distinguish the differences between them and the mini-Yankees, the “Kendall Jenner” of the wealthy teams, the Boston Red Sox.
It should obviously start with this: What the Sox did last offseason simply from a financial standpoint, is still something only a handful of teams are capable of. The amount of money they sent to the Dodgers in bloated contracts, was something only a handful of teams could have had in the first place.
For starters, when discussing how much money New York spends in an offseason, like you should do with any of the 30 major league teams, it’s important to look at how that impacts payroll year over year. For instance, on paper, the Yankees have handed out the following contracts this offseason: 7 years, $153 million to Jacoby Ellsbury (with an option), 5 years, $85 million to Brian McCann (with an option), three years, $45 million to Carlos Beltran, one year, $16 million to Hiroki Kuroda, two years, $5 million to Brendan Ryan and one year, $3 million to Kelly Johnson. All in all, that’s about $75 million added to next year’s payroll and the Yankees still want a second baseman, at least one reliever and a starter. Keep in mind, they’ve gone about four years without a spending spree, so even for the Yankees, the stars aligned for this to take place.
It’s understandable this would be confusing for the majority of baseball fans. After all, eight teams have entire payrolls under $76 million and for all but the five most spoiled owners in baseball, that’s at least half the team’s payroll paid out to six players. Add in: Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia, the three former long-term contracts on the team before this offseason, and it’s another $75 million or so. The Yankees have the payroll of all but four teams tied into nine players.
So excuse me if we can skip over the part where I can see why most fans hate the Yankees. Trust me, I get it. You know how I sleep at night? I tell myself I don’t root for anything Jeffrey Loria has ever touched. I would take owners who spend like they will die tomorrow over owners who humor fans once a decade any day of the week. Quite frankly, I don’t know how Marlins’ fans sleep supporting someone who may not even be an actual human. Humans have hearts and Loria proved he never had one last offseason.
But besides all that, the Yankees spend a lot of money. That’s the sticking point for a lot of fans. But let’s recognize nothing they do is illegal and other teams, to a degree, can come close to duplicating it and move on. The rest? they get higher draft picks every year and can take risks like rebuilding. Now we have to recognize the part nobody seems to take into account.
When you spend money, those contracts eventually do expire and you run into offseasons like 2009 when the Yankees had over $80 million come off the books (and reinvested it and won the World Series) and like this year, when: Kevin Youkilis, Curtis Granderson, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Boone Logan, Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay all became free agents. That’s 11 players and about $95 million gone the second the World Series ended with the Red Sox acquiring its third trophy in a decade.
Had you not actually watched the Yankees every day, you may just have caught the headlines where they committed $75 million into payroll and missed the part where they have so far lowered it by over $20 million regardless. So while Sox fans should admittedly be excited about the third title in their lifetime (I had four by the time I was 13 and it IS very exciting), they should probably avoid getting super excited because Jacoby Ellsbury gets in collisions and his contract might be an overpay in 2018. You know why?
Because the Yankees very likely calculated, Jacoby Ellsbury, at the age of 35-years-old will probably not be a 50 stolen base, defensive wizard at a premium position who gets on base and draws a lot of pitches threat like he will be in 2014. They also probably are aware if he hits 20 home runs next season because he’s going from a right-handed heaven to the best left-handed hitting ballpark in the AL, he’s probably not hitting that many in five years either.
When you commit to free agency, you almost always overpay.
Except if you’re Ben Cherington in 2013. Why?
It’s not because he figured out the secret to winning, only an idiot would think after over 100 years, one person figured out how to win every season. It’s because Cherington had a bunch of players who had run into some bad luck and his core was a lot better than most teams. It’s also because he became ridiculously lucky both last offseason and the August before it when the Red Sox flat out failed at knowing how to spend money in long-term deals. The Sox were a better team than they showed and in a rare instance, it took some off the field attention to improve the on-the-field product.
Had Cherington’s payroll been about $40 million higher, he may have been able to make all of his signings and not been given a once in a history of baseball “get out of jail free card” for his organization’s mistakes. He also had healthy or improved seasons from: Jacoby Ellsbury (mostly), Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Koji Uehara all at once all in the same year. The players who regressed? You let me know when you figure it out.
And while I’m extremely impressed David Ortiz is going to go down as the first player to ever rely on milkshakes to improve his game with age despite being out of shape and nearly out of a job a couple of short seasons ago, I would have to assume at some point he does regress and Koji Uehara does not have another once in a generation season in his late thirties.
Because as much as Sox fans want to make you believe their team is all players on short deals in their prime, they actually relied quite heavily on two of the older players in the league last year to help them win a series and they’re relying on Will Middlebrooks (who couldn’t last an entire season in the majors) and Jackie Bradley (same thing) who are impossibly young to be carrying a defending champ.
So when we evaluate the fact Ellsbury probably got two years too many, Brian McCann may not catch more than 120 games per season and Carlos Beltran, despite signing for below market value (the D backs offered more), is old, we should concentrate on what actually matters. The Yankees, before the winter meetings, improved at catcher because they signed a new one (and have younger catching prospects highly touted who now have time to either develop or become trade bait).
They also improved at left field because, for the moment, Brett Gardner will go from an above average center fielder to arguably the best defensive left fielder in the game and he won’t strike out or fail to get on base to historic levels like Curtis Granderson, who by the way, missed most of last season anyway. They also improved in center field because Ellsbury, despite a one year sample size for two players who have been in the league for more than half a decade, is better than Gardner offensively and defensively.
They improved in right field because Carlos Beltran is better than an Ichiro/Wells platoon that never quite worked out and improved at DH because Alfonso Soriano‘s bat was in its prime down the stretch for the Yankees last year and the Yankees’ plans for DH: Youkilis and Hafner, were both injured in the blink of an eye.
And they even have a solid backup option for Derek Jeter‘s inevitable days off with Brendan Ryan here from day one. They improve at first base because their first baseman, who ran into injuries for the first time in his career (mainly through fluke) is going to be healthy again and they should improve at the aforementioned shortstop because you have to assume, even at an old age, Derek Jeter, is likely going to play more than he did last year.
So for Sox fans to be excited the Yankees improved at six positions and declined in one (second base) and for Sox fans to be excited the Yankees didn’t sign Robinson Cano for 10 years, $240 million but in the same breath act like they’re relieved they got Ellsbury, McCann and Johnson for basically the same price, well, forgive me if I don’t believe a second of it. And you know what the scary part is? The Yankees arguably had better pitching even with an off year from CC Sabathia (who, by the way, was hit hard on his changeup and not on his fastball).
And this season? Michael Pineda may finally be healthy, Hiroki Kuroda will be closer monitored (we use sample size when we watch sports and I’m willing to forgive him for getting tired the final month of the season. Unless Sox fans are prepared to believe Clay Buchholz‘s career is also finished) and Sabathia is likely going to adjust to a lower velocity on his fastball, just like both Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte did in front of our very eyes when Red Sox fans wanted to say they were done in the past as well.
Do the Yankees have question marks? Of course, and Brian Cashman himself has said they have at least three more players to find, but guess who else had a ton of question marks before running into luck they can’t possibly sustain (like Mike Napoli‘s hip, which actually ended up making him more money over three years than his original offer from the Sox)? The 2013 Boston Red Sox.
If you want to sit and be giddy over the fact the Yankees, like they do now, may have one or two unmovable contracts on their roster no longer producing five years from now, be my guest, but the fact of the matter is New York under their front office game plan has been in the postseason in 17 of the past 19 years. You have to go all the way back to 2010 to find the last stretch of time the Sox missed the playoffs three times. For the Yankees, it would be a strike shortened, 1994 when they were in first place and the year ended.
The count is definitely 3-1 since 2004, much like how if you include the last time a fan base pretended they had the formula forever with Stick Michael, the count is 5-3 since 1996, but Red Sox fans don’t dwell on what happened a decade ago, so really, it’s 1-1 since 2009, right? And in the last five years, the Sox made the playoffs twice and went all the way once.
The Yankees made it four times and won one of them. In order to sustain 20 years of success, sometimes you have to be OK with having three extra picks one year and three free agents the next. Sometimes you want to improve a 16th ranked farm system according to Baseball America, but it takes time for your prospects to develop with low picks every year from being in the playoffs.
Sometimes you have to be willing to trade a prospect at the top of their value and not have them become the next Daniel Bard or Ryan Lavarnway. Sometimes you have to be willing to spend to send a message especially when you have as many weapons and expectations as the Yankees.
And it has to be a loud message that even when they fail, the Yankees will still be all in. And if they fail again, guess what? They’re not the Red Sox, they won’t need complete luck to start over, they will just need another winter.