The New York Yankees haven’t been a team that cultivates and grows talent as the main means of how they construct their lineup. Under George Steinbrenner, the team was often the highest bidder for free agents, while using their best minor league talent as trade bait. From 1995 to 2009, that worked and brought the team five World Series titles. However, the landscape has changed across the MLB as teams are beginning to lock up their younger talent and letting them go shortly after they turn age 30. The business model the club used for almost 30 years has now transformed, and this time the Yanks are behind the curve.
Is GM Brian Cashman at fault for the dearth of top-end talent in the minor leagues? (Image: William Perlman-The Star-Ledger via USA TODAY Sports)
According to an article from George A. King and Dan Martin, Hal Steinbrenner held a meeting to discuss the reasons there’s a dearth of talent in the upper levels of the minor league system. Besides Austin Romine, David Robertson, and Brett Gardner, the team hasn’t produced any mainstays within the last five years. Robinson Cano is the team’s superstar and he first appeared back in 2005, a full eight years ago. Not for nothing, but the club hasn’t produced a viable starter since Andy Pettitte rode into town back in the mid-90’s.
According to King and Martin, all the right people to discuss this issue were at the meeting:
"General manager Brian Cashman attended and the group more than likely included Tampa based minor league head Mark Newman, Damon Oppenheimer, who is in charge of the amateur draft, and Donny Rowland, the director of international scouting."
They bring up a valid point in that most teams use their minor leaguers to cover when an injury occurs, but the Yankees instead signed Ben Francisco (colossal failure in pinstripes) and Lyle Overbay (a decent fill-in for injured Mark Teixeira) and traded for Vernon Wells (just plain awful for more than half a season) among the plethora of sub-par players to fill-in during various points in the season. The fundamental underlying issue here is that the Yankees either don’t trust their own prospects or said prospects really aren’t that good. At some point, however, you have to see what you have and the Yankees have rarely followed that route since the Steinbrenners took over in the 70’s.
There’s something to be said about drafting near the bottom each year. That’s a tired narrative and one that really should be put to rest. While it’s not the norm, many major leaguers are not taken in the first round. Meanwhile, many first rounders fail, which is the Yankees problem right now. None of the team’s first-round picks panned out for the Yankees from 2000-2010, which includes Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. Each made it to the big club, but none of them developed into the player the Yankees thought they were getting. You might argue Kennedy made something of himself, and you’re right, but he did so with another team. You could also argue that they didn’t handle the Joba situation well, and you might be right, but we’ll never know. Meanwhile, Hughes, who dominated as a reliever, has struggled as a starter.
The Yankees haven’t been very aggressive going after big-name talent on the international market either. Yu Darvish, Yasiel Puig, and Yoenis Cespedes haven’t been subjected to an aggressive pursuit by the Yankees, much like Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras were. The Yankees have been burned lately by big-name international signings, with Kei Igawa at the forefront. Ownership might have stepped back and evaluated signing high-profile players as it’s not very cost-effective.
It’s nice there’s some internal in-season dialogue about the failures of the minor league system. In order for the team to stay viable in the years to come, they’ll need to produce homegrown talent to keep costs down. The team has a shortage of good to elite talent in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, Manny Banuelos, and Mason Williams are on their way, but they are all still at least a year away from sniffing the major leagues, and the mother club is not growing any younger.