As has been documented on, written about, spoken about, and argued about constantly for the past few months, the New York Yankees are changing their philosophy fairly drastically this offseason. They are cutting their budget, being “fiscally responsible” (whatever that means), and signing veteran, non-elite players to one-year deals rather than handing out monster long-term contracts to superstars.
The Blue Jays have made themselves into a powerhouse, the Rays are a strong contender, the Red Sox have rebuilt after a fire-sale last year, and the Orioles are coming off a fantastic 93-win season. That leaves the Yankees with a lot of competition, and an aging, injured, depleted lineup. Cashman has done his best to fill the holes, but with a strict budget, the Yankees are not in a strong position to win the division in 2013.
This is an intentional act by the Yankees’ ownership. After years of overspending and steep luxury tax bills (they had to pay $18.9 million in luxury tax in 2012), the Steinbrenners said “enough is enough”, and imposed strict orders to get under the luxury tax limit of $189 million in 2014 (or, as we like to call it, the MADCap). While that is not a small number, and should be more than enough to field a competitive team, the Yankees just have too much money invested in a few players that are not as productive as they used to be. With so much money tied up in so few players, it is nearly impossible for the Yankees to field a championship-caliber team with $189 million.
However, let me clarify what I mean by “championship-caliber team”. What I do not mean is a team that can make the playoffs and win the World Series. There are a lot of teams that can win the World Series, but they are not “championship-caliber” teams. The 2012 Orioles could have won the World Series — however, at the beginning of the season, no one would have called them a championship-caliber team. They seemingly did not have the talent or depth, at the beginning of the season, to even come close to the playoffs.
But baseball is weird, and because it is weird, many teams that don’t seem like they are good are, in actuality, good. Or, at the very least, teams that don’t seem like they are good talent-wise can win games and make the playoffs based on factors such as luck, run distribution, division difficulty, etc. I’m not saying that this is what happened to the Orioles, but it has happened to many teams in the past, and will happen again in 2013 and beyond.
So the Yankees do not have a championship-caliber team, especially right now, with the catcher and designated hitter spots yet to be filled. My current thought is that they will win somewhere between 88 and 92 games. That’s good, but not good enough for the division, and maybe not good enough for the wild card either.
However, this does not mean that the Yankees will not win the wild card or the division or the ALDS or the ALCS or even the World Series. They are a good-but-not-great-team, and the thing about baseball is that good-but-not-great teams have success all the time. I think the Orioles and the Tigers and the Cardinals were all good-but-not-great teams last year, yet they all had success, and they all could have easily won the World Series had things gone a little bit differently.
What I’m trying to say is this: don’t mistake “rebuilding” for “giving up”. The Yankees are rebuilding in that they are cutting their budget, waiting out their large contracts, and only buying short-term, cheap, small pieces to fill their holes. It’s not quite the standard rebuilding strategy, but it is rebuilding nonetheless. However, they are not – I repeat, not - giving up on making the playoffs. If they were giving up on the playoffs, they wouldn’t have signed Hiroki Kuroda or Andy Pettitte or Ichiro Suzuki or Kevin Youkilis. Those signings were made to ensure that the Yankees would compete in 2013, and have a chance at a championship, despite their new budget-friendly philosophy.
This is a new feeling for Yankees fans — not signing the big-name free agents, not being favored to make the playoffs and not doing everything in their power to win in the short term. But this isn’t the time to panic; to feel as though the Yankees are giving up on the next few years. Baseball is weird and unpredictable. When I say that I think the Yankees will win 88-92 games next year, what that really means is that the Yankees could win between 80 and 96 games next year, and maybe even that is too small of a range. There are so many variables of which we are not aware, so many factors that go into baseball, that it’s never a smart move to expect failure, especially with a team as talented as the Yankees. Don’t expect the playoffs next year, but don’t expect failure either.