The more things change, the more they stay the same. This sentiment enveloped Yankees fans for many years. A whirlwind of steroid scandals, advanced statistics, and Mark Wohlers‘ fastballs could always be calmed with Derek Jeter slapping a single to rightfield, an Andy Pettitte stare down over his glove, or a Mariano Rivera cutter shattering a bat to smithereens.
However, after inexplicably punting on free agency last offseason and spoiling Mariano Rivera’s and Andy Pettitte’s last season, the Yankees immediate future rests in the balance. Do they let Cano walk and start a full scale rebuild like the Houston Astros? Will they engage in the $300 million spending spree and go all in to win Derek Jeter another ring? Or is it some combination thereof? There are more questions than answers at this point, but the unfamiliar absence of pinstripes in the World Series creates the perfect opportunity to examine the State of the Yankees.
The team finished 85-77 in 2013 while scoring only 650 runs and giving up 671. Based on their runs scored/runs allowed they should have gone 79-83. They got lucky with sequencing and a solid bullpen that helped them play .652 ball in 1-run games. Based on their Pythagorean W/L (79-83) there is a 11 to 13 win gap between being competitive and finishing as also-rans. Of course, there is some variance around this number as they get some injured players back (Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter) but lose productive players for sure (Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte). Regardless, the number of wins they need to acquire this offseason is certainly substantial. As of now, they need a catcher, a 2nd baseman, insurance options for the left side of the infield, a corner outfielder, 3 starting pitchers, 2-3 bullpen arms (1 being a lefty), and a bench.
Some spots may be filled with resigns (Cano and Hiroki Kuroda) or through the promotion and usage of prospects (Cesar Cabral for the LOOGY role or Austin Romine as the backup catcher). However, making the team competitive again will mostly rely on help from outside the organization in the form of free agency.
Major trades are less likely as Cashman is probably risk-averse after the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero swap that may just be remembered as the Jose Campos trade in 10 years. Historically, the free agency avenue has always achieved the lowest return on investment of any acquisition strategy. It is even worse now as prices are skyrocketing (see Tim Lincecum) and the national T.V. deal which gives each team $25 million dollars a year and effectively keeps homegrown stars in their prime off the market.
Additionally, the caps on amateur draft spending and international spending has funneled the money to MLB free agents. Further restricting the Yankees ability to compete is their self-imposed mandate of staying under the $189 million luxury tax threshold for 2014 and their general inability to draft and develop prospects that produce for the big league club. The Yankees competitive advantage of flexing their financial muscle has severely diminished, making it extremely hard to compete with a barren farm system and oft-injured, highly paid players.
Regardless of what the Yankees do, change is undeniably happening: the core four is down to one, management will undergo some turnover, and the Yankees are no longer a shoo-in for the playoffs, a concept foreign to a whole generation of fans. This offseason will be a great litmus test for where the team believes it lies on the championship cycle/win curve and, of perhaps greater interest, ownership’s valuation of the fans’ desire for a competitive team. The Yankees milked every little ounce out of the late-90s dynasty and are now tasked with rebooting the system starting this offseason.