Jan. 24, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner talks to the media after Jorge Posada announces his retirement after 17 years during a press conference at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Rhetorical Question: Does Ownership Still Care About Winning?

It has been a relatively quiet offseason for the New York Yankees. Actually, it’s been a relatively quiet couple of years for the New York Yankees. Though they have made some excellent free agent moves such as Hiroki Kuroda and Raul Ibanez, and big trades for Curtis Granderson and Ichiro Suzuki, the Yankees haven’t made a marquee free agent splash since (gasp!) 2009 with the mega-signings of Mark Teixeira, AJ Burnett and CC Sabathia. For better or worse, that also corresponds with the last time the Yankees won a championship. Combined with “slashing” the payroll to “only” $189 million dollars, and a team that has under-performed, at least according to the lofty expectations of Yankees fans in accordance with the Steinbrenner Doctrine, it can give the impression that ownership isn’t necessarily concerned about winning as under The Boss.

Just because he doesn’t want to spend like crazy, trade away talent, and frequently fire coaches, doesn’t mean that Hal Steinbrenner is any less committed to winning than his dad. (Image: Debby Wong, US Presswire)

As most fans are quick to point out, the team hasn’t gone after a big free agent in years. That’s a fair point, but it is also fair to suggest that there have been no players worthy of that kind of payout on the market the last few years. (One could argue that Teixeira wasn’t worth the money he got from the Yankees, despite his numbers when the deal was signed.) The Yankees haven’t spent, but who would they spend on: Josh Hamilton? The left-handed swing might play in Yankee Stadium, but he’s oft-injured, and the Yankees would like to improve on defense in the outfield. That doesn’t happen with Hamilton in right. Zach Greinke? Good for him that he was able to secure such a huge payday, but 1) the starting pitching depth is necessarily a concern, with Sabathia/Hughes/Pettitte/Kuroda/Nova/Phelps vying for the rotation, and Warren and Betances in Triple-A for insurance. The big money spending hasn’t happened, because there isn’t anyone worth of such a payday. Kuroda wasn’t the most sought-after free agent on the market in 2011, but I defy any Yankee fan to say that they’d rather have two, one-year deals with Kuroda, after all that production from last year, in exchange for Greinke- a bloated, ace-like contract for a somewhat decent pitcher in a market bereft of pitching. I’ll pass, thanks.

Disgruntled fans are also quick to point out that even in the face of such a brutal series like the 2012 ALCS, there was not a mass firing of all the coaches to somehow justify the awful performance. That was an offensive offensive series. (Zing!) But what would be the sense in firing the manager or the hitting coach? Joe Girardi shuffled the lineup, and it didn’t work. For reference, that was the same lineup that won more than 100 games during the regular season, despite a brutal August/September. That would be reactionary, and the epitome of an “If the Boss was alive….” move. Continuity is key among coaching staffs. And further, who would suggest that Kevin Long should get fired? The same hitting coach who got Curtis Granderson hitting 40 homers a year? Whom Alex Rodriguez credits with helping with his swing? Who maximized Robinson Cano’s power? Not firing a coach for a team’s collective failure to hit in a four game set is like firing a head coach in the NFL for a bad series in one game. It’s reactionary and silly. And doing so, despite the fact that it might make fans feel better, doesn’t make the team better — in fact, it might be worse.

“Why can’t we make a big trade?!” cry the fans who claim that ownership hasn’t done so in years. Take a look at this team. They are aging, some more rapidly than others. It is an old team — a good team, but an old team. And as incomprehensible it may be for some people to understand, players don’t get better as they get older, despite glaring evidence to the contrary in Mariano Rivera. Why would it make sense for a team, who is trying to shed payroll, to send away all of its cheap, young talent? For who? Another bloated contract? Or a player who is young, but is still relatively close to that free-agency period, and remains unlikely to be signed under the $189 million threshold? It doesn’t. If this year’s injuries were any indication, those players were necessary depth, and could be huge contributors — David Phelps, Eduardo Nunez, etc. There’s an outside chance some of them, like Slade Heathcott, could see time in the Bronx in 2013, and could be the younger, less expensive versions of players Yankee fans salivate over.

Think about it this way: say your car has 40,000 miles on it. Perfectly good. Nothing wrong with it. It just happens to be a non-name brand car. Now, you trade it for a very expensive, name brand car, with 80,000 miles on it, simply because you can. Would you do it? No. Why? Because it doesn’t make sense financially. You wouldn’t give away your future, even if it means a sacrifice in the short-term. Neither are the Yankees. If you wouldn’t do it, why would you ask that your team do it and risk sacrificing the future along the way?

I don’t think ownership doesn’t care about winning. The Yankees brand has largely been built around it, in fact. Any deviation from winning — say, a couple of seasons of missing the playoffs entirely, very poor regular seasons –would hurt that brand tremendously. Unlike all of us, this is the business of the Steinbrenner family, and it behooves them to keep that brand strong. That said, they have gotten the business to this point by being smart, not stupid, with this team and their money.

If I told you a business spent like crazy, traded away good talent for bad talent, and fired personnel all the time, does that sound like a stable environment committed to success? Of course not. Why is it any different with the Yankees? Why do fans demand such things in order to perceive that ownership is committed to winning?  Remember the last time this team started making moves for the sake of making moves? It was from 2002-2007, when the team was losing pieces from the dynasty years. And they went out and got Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens Part II, Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield. How’d all that work out?

The chances that this team is better by not trading away young prospects, not signing a mediocre free agent to a huge deal simply because that is the “Yankee way”, not making rash decisions are much, much greater than the popular opinion. Just because ownership isn’t acting rashly, doesn’t mean they don’t care about winning. Far from it — in fact, acting reasonably shows just how much they care, by soundly fixing problems from the ground up, rather than applying a band aid and hoping for the best. Things are different than they were under The Boss, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing. And it doesn’t mean ownership is less committed to bringing No. 28, 29, 30, etc. to the Bronx. It means they are more committed to winning than ever.

Tags: New York Yankees

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