For the better part of the past 20 years, the Steinbrenner family and the wealthiest sports franchise on the planet could flex their financial muscles and reload an injured or depleted roster at will. Draft picks, farm system, and prudent contracts be damned, if the Yankees wanted something, they flicked their check-writing wrist and it became a reality. This formula worked, in conjunction with “The Boss”, George Steinbrenner being banned from the game for a second time, allowing then-GM Gene “Stick” Michael and then-field manager Buck Showalter to rebuild a once-proud franchise.
During the early part of the 1990s, the Yankees signed, drafted, and grew the likes of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, and Ricky Ledee. Several of these players were the backbone and effort spent building the latest dynasty in Yankees’ history. As is the case in real life, players age, they retire, and their legendary spots on the roster are left vacant. Since Michael and Showalter left their posts, Joe Torre and a combination of Bob Watson and Brian Cashman, have enjoyed the fruits of their predecessor’s labors. Five World Series titles, seven American League pennants, a handful of Wild Card berths. After going from 1981-1995 without as much as a sniff of the postseason, Yankees’ fans became spoiled by the year-in and year-out success. The big name free agent contracts, dealing players for even better players, etc. Whatever the Yankees wanted, they got, and it worked…until now.
Since taking over as general manager, the few times Brian Cashman has found solid talent to select in the amateur draft, he’s either dealt them for quick fix pieces (Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Coke for Curtis Granderson), or he misplayed his hand and lost them (Robinson Cano). Regardless, the Yankees’ farm system is barren at the upper levels, with no immediate talent on the verge of making their presence felt in the Bronx any time soon. An 85-win, postseasonless 2013 could be a sign of things to come.
Players that formally would be hitting their free agency prime, ready to don the pinstripes and become the next generation of imported Bronx Bombers, are now remaining with their original organizations, trading dollars for long-security in the immediate present. Think Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and Mike Trout. The days of simply buying players are over. Well, that may be a little overdramatic. The Bombers did spend close to half a billion dollars this past off-season on some pretty darn good players. Unfortunately, unlike the spending spree of 2009, this Yankees’ team still has some massive roster holes, and aren’t getting any younger, other than the starting pitching rotation.
Derek Jeter will be 40 in June and is retiring. If the Yankees are lucky, they can dip into the free agent pool next winter and find his replacement. Alex Rodriguez is scheduled to return from suspension, and nobody knows if he will ever play another inning in the Bronx. As long as the Yankees are willing to spend, give up draft picks to sign free agents, pay an exorbitant amount of luxury tax, and pay overage fines for delving into the international market, they will continue to have a fighter’s chance. The day may come however, and perhaps sooner than anyone would like to admit, that when the quality free agents stop coming (think the 1980s), and the minor league system is empty, an 85-win season may seem like a blessing.