Let’s face it, folks: as Yankees fans, we are unbelievably and ridiculously spoiled. No other baseball team, let alone sports team in general, has had the kind of run that the Yankees have had in the last 15 years or so. The Yankees have defined big-market sports, spending and spending, often prompting criticisms from some that they have “bought” their championships. While there is certainly merit to the argument that the Yankees are at the forefront of sports when it comes to spending big on free agents (but, to be fair, this a sport with no salary cap), much of the Yankees’ success of late has been digging through the scrap heap or taking flyers on no-namers. And you know what? That’s not a bad thing.
Much snark was flowin’ earlier in the week when the Yankees claimed catcher Eli Whiteside, a player who our own Matt Hunter deemed, “Chris Stewart 2.0.” By no means is Eli Whiteside going to be the catcher version of Mike Trout. But think about it — it’s not like the guy is going to be starting, either. It is purely a depth move for the Yankees. Brian Cashman understands that in order to get through the grind of a 162-game season, there is going to be a need for fresh bodies.
For example, Freddy Garcia was slated to be the fifth man in the rotation in 2012. When that didn’t work out, he shifted to the bullpen for relief work. While he did excel in this role, and filled in admirably, his contribution to the club was more important — being a serviceable depth player who wouldn’t embarrass himself when CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte went down for the count. If Garcia, who is clearly passed the prime of his career, wasn’t on the depth chart, so to speak, who would have filled out the rotation with David Phelps?
Adam Warren, who, between Dellin Betances’ demotion and Manny Banuelos balky elbow was the only Triple-A starter available to the big league club? The same player who gave up six earned runs in his only major league appearance against the White Sox? Would the Yankees have wanted Warren to fill in for CC the entire month the big lefty was on the DL? I’m not signing up for that. Garcia struggled initially, and yes, Sweaty Freddy is a junk ball pitcher, but when the rotation wore thin in July and August he was able to step up and fill in giving the team a chance to win games. While $4 million seems like a lot in retrospect for a scrap-heap guy, every penny was worth it, because, up until Game 160, every contest for the Yankees mattered, and he positively helped that effort.
Another no-name fella who did his share of contributing for the Yankees was Cody Eppley, who was claimed off waivers from the Texas Rangers. While Eppley didn’t exactly light the league on fire, he did serve his role admirably. For a guy who might not have made such an impact were it not for the re-shuffling of the bullpen when Mariano Rivera went down, Eppley was a decent relief pitcher. He was able to give Joe Girardi a viable right-handed option on days when the bullpen was taxed. I am not saying that Eppley was the second coming of Aroldis Chapman, but while he was not a marquee pickup, his contribution was valuable nonetheless. He was inexpensive, kept the team in the game, and gave Girardi another able body. In no way did the fact that he wasn’t a big-name player that commanded a substantial contract hinder the team.
Perhaps one of the most important role players on this team that was another scrap heap addition was Raul Ibanez. I don’t believe that the Yankees were his only suitor last winter; some other team is sure to have wanted him on their rosters in some capacity, but he wound up here in New York. No one thought he’d make the kind of impact at 40-years-old that he did. In fact, he was downright Jeterian with his postseason production (in comparison to the rest of the team that doesn’t mean much, but those late-inning heroics are still impressive). During the season, he hit very well for power, and played a solid outfield given his age, and the fact that he wasn’t supposed to be an everyday player so much as a bench/DH guy. Overall, I think we can all agree that Brett Gardner is a better fielder, and that the more-than-anticipated use of Ibanez could have contributed to his decline toward August. That said, Ibanez was a solid addition to the team that filled in when necessary, aided the cause and didn’t break the bank.
At the end of the day, Yankees fans will always want a Felix Hernandez or a Josh Hamilton or any other marquee free agent because that has traditionally been the Yankee way — spend, spend and spend. But, as we have seen, spending doesn’t ensure championships — did San Francisco spend the way the Yankees did in 2009? Did the Cardinals in 2011? Did it work for the Tigers in 2012? Just because you spend doesn’t guarantee a championship (insert obligatory “Moneyball” reference here), and just because you spend doesn’t mean the player will produce (hello, Jason Bay). Just because Brian Cashman likely won’t spend a lot in free agency, it doesn’t mean he isn’t picking up valuable pieces that can help the Yankees in 2013.