It was the winter after the 2008 season. The Yankees had just missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994. The Yankee Universe was in full-on panic mode. Not only had the Yankees not made the playoffs, the rival Red Sox were a year removed from their second World Series title in four years.
The Yankees looked old and mediocre. The pitching staff was average, with no dominant starter. There was no pop in the lineup besides Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. The Yanks had holes all over the field. The had no top-tier starters, much less an ace. There was no one to play first base. All three outfield spots were question marks. As has been the story with the Yankees for the last decade plus, there was no relief coming from the farm any time soon. So in true Yankee form, it was time to look to free agency to right the ship.
There were plenty of big name players to choose from. C.C. Sabathia was the biggest fish in the pond. He was coming off an unbelievable second half with the Brewers and had won the 2007 Cy Young with the Indians. A.J. Burnett was coming off an 18-win season for the Blue Jays. Mark Teixeira was the biggest offensive name available. He was young, could hit for power and average as a switch hitter, and was a two-time Gold Glove winner.
I don’t need to get into detail about how the Yankees signed all three of these guys, but they did -for a combined $423.5 million dollars. All three players had solid seasons and paced the Yankees to the twenty-seventh World Series championship in team history.
Fast forward five years. It is the winter following the 2013 baseball season. The New York Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since -you guessed it- 2008. The team looks old. The rotation has a ton of question marks. The lineup has a lot of holes, and there are plenty of big name free agents out there. Catcher was the first area to address. Brian Cashman and company go get the best catcher available in Brian McCann. With Curtis Granderson becoming an unrestricted free agent, Brett Gardner was the only sure thing in the outfield. The brass goes out and signs two of the three best free agent outfielders on the market-Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury. Beltran, although having never won a World Series, is the all-time leader in postseason OPS. Ellsbury has two championship rings with the Boston Red Sox.
The Yankees have now solidified the offense. Now what about the pitching staff? There was really one prized pitcher this offseason. The Yankees and everyone else was waiting to find out if they won the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. No free agent starter mattered until everyone knew where the 25-year-old Japanese phenom would pitch in 2014. It came down to the Yankees, Cubs and Dodgers. Eventually the Bombers would hit the jackpot, with Tanaka being quoted as saying the Yankees “…gave him the highest evaluation, and wanted him the most.” Want or need? I’ll let you be the judge. Whether or not the Yankees wooed him more or outbid the other suitors, they again did what they needed to do to become relevant again – just like in 2008.
The stories are similar. In 2008-09 the Yankees spent $423.5 million on the three best free agents available. In 2013-14 the Yankees spent about $438 million on four of the top five free agents. Now all we can do is wait and hope the results follow suit. One thing is certain. When the New York Yankees have a problem, you can always count on them to throw money at it.