Yesterday on WFAN radio in New York, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that the team would not necessarily look to a youth movement if there are better and yes older players available in the market or via trade. Cashman’s stance is that the team needs to worry about wins and if the average age of the team hovers in the mid-30′s instead the late 20′s he doesn’t care. I tend to agree with him.
I’m a firm believer in trying to develop as much talent in the farm system and sign as many of the best players internationally possible under the new rules, but that doesn’t mean that the Yankees should worry about how many of those players will end up in the Bronx or not.
The Yankees have the ability to spend on free agents, and despite the notion that they’ll bring the payroll below the competitive balance tax in 2014 of $189 million, that doesn’t mean they don’t have money to spend. The threshold still allows for some serious spending. This puts the Yankees in a unique situation.
The Yankees can build a steady farm system (which I believe they are doing) and pick and choose which players may have the chance to play in New York and which players they’ll develop with the sole intention of using in a trade for an older (and this could be a 28-year-old mind you) player who has begun to or has already established himself as a bonafide professional ballplayer. The Yankees have some very good talent at the lower levels of the minors that Cashman rightly feels is not major league ready.
The Yankees continue to have solid drafts and this past season signed a few of the top international players available before the restrictions set in which were a part of the collective bargaining agreement. There is no reason for the Yankees to up and all of the sudden not go after a player who will cost them more than home-grown talent. The team will invariably have to include some of these up and coming players into their plans at the major league level because they simply cannot sign or trade for all of the best players. That never really was an option.
One thing the Yankees will do with some of their just-not-ready minor league stars (Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, Gary Sanchez and Slade Heathcott were mentioned in Cashman’s interview) is use them to get players who are already making a name for themselves in the majors and are beginning to cost their respective teams more than they can afford in arbitration or at the time of free-agency. These players are typically in their middle to late 20′s and have established themselves in the Bigs. When opportunities arise when the Yankees can pounce on arbitration eligible stars they better or else they’ll find themselves in the situation of paying for players at the height of their maximum salary potential. Getting the player while still his arbitration period and extending his contract will provide the Yankees with someone entering his prime years, rather than the beginning stages of decline, where they’ll be in line for their second or third multi-year contract which would undoubtedly be high-priced.
However, the Yankees over recent years have not been opposed to using home-grown talent like the players mentioned above as integral pieces to their puzzle. Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, David Phelps, David Robertson, Ivan Nova and Eduardo Nunez have all found their way onto the Yankees roster through the team’s system. Where they’ll have to make decisions with some of these players (Hughes, Chamberlain and Nova in particular) is if they’ll help the Yankees in New York or if they’ve produced enough value to utilize for grabbing other prospects or as pieces to land a player that fills a void elsewhere on the field. They’ll also have to be ready to buy out arbitration years if the player in their system is deemed worthy.
The Yankees have operated differently from perception for some time now. Yes, they have some players with undeniably over-the-top salaries, but they have been able to win by utilizing younger talent in the system as well. They’ve stuck with some players like Cano, Gardner, Hughes and even Chamberlain to an extent. Cano ended up being a superstar and the Yankees will need to decide how much he is worth in the grand scheme of winning. But they don’t throw their money around quite as much as many think. The Yankees try to make decisions they feel will create a roster with the best chance of winning.
If that means for example signing Eric Chavez again because he has proven to be able to play sparingly and produce, instead of having a young player waste away on the bench, than that is the route the Yankees will take. The time will come when either Williams, Austin, Sanchez or Heathcott among others may roam Yankee Stadium. But the likelihood that all of them will wear pinstripes in the Majors is minimal so long as the Yankees are willing to spend close to the luxury tax threshold.
It’s the best of both worlds really. The Yankees can develop talent in areas of need and positions which are not rich in talent (like catcher, where the Yankees remain very deep) then pick and choose which players are worth the risk to fill a void, or are borderline players who can be accessories to receiving a proven talent. It’s about putting the best team together and if some of those players are in their late-20′s, mid-30′s or even late-30′s and provide the best chance of winning then so be it.