What the New York Yankees Can Learn from the Red Sox & Cardinals


For the last year, really all we have been hearing as Yankees fans is that ownership will be getting to the $189 million dollar threshold to avoid a luxury cap tax, despite shaving $90 million dollars off the payroll with the retirements of Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera; the free agencies of Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, Curtis Granderson and Kevin Youkilis; and the reduction of Derek Jeter‘s salary. Combined with a potential $31 million dollar gain to be had in 2014 if Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension is upheld (or even if it isn’t), the Yankees will have quite a bit of cash to spend this winter… all of which may be trumped by recent reports that the team plans to go on a $300 million dollar spending spree this offseason.

While this fits the bill for fans who have jumped on Brian Cashman for the last year for not spending copious amounts of dollars on free agents, it does beg two questions: 1) is it necessary to spend so much? and 2) didn’t we do this already?

(Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)

The St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox punched their tickets to the World Series this year with payrolls of $116 million dollars and $130 million dollars, respectively. In 2013, the Yankees had close to $230 million dollar payroll and didn’t sniff the playoffs for much of the season. Granted, much of the money sat on the disabled list, but the real problem was that the Yankees had to look outside of the organization for depth when that occurred, and that meant spending money. By contrast, the Red Sox and the Cards are a study in solid farm systems.

Yes, each has a token couple of high-cost free agents that are certainly pulling their share of the weight. But by and large, each team is comprised of high-value, reasonably priced talent (Koji Uehara, Mike Napoli) combined with solid home-grown players or young players acquired in a trade as a result of solid farm team (Michael Wacha, Allen Craig, Will Middlebrooks). They kept their payrolls manageable and invested heavily in the farm systems.

As a matter of fact, St. Louis walked away from their franchise player in Albert Pujols when his price tag got too high (take notes, Robinson Cano)… and immediately won a World Series the year after. As for Boston, they tried the high-priced player thing, but ended up jettisoning high-tag guys like Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers. One year after finishing last in their division, they head to the World Series with the best record in the American League.

Both franchises spend, as they should. With so much money in TV deals and base in general thanks to revenue sharing, it becomes more of a question of which teams don’t (or can’t) spend as opposed to how many do. The Yankees aren’t the only ones on the block who do so- the Angels, the Dodgers (holy cow, do they print money out there?!), the Tigers. Everyone spends. But where the Cards and Sox differ from the Yankees is that they adjusted their model to spend smarter: none of those long-term deals, well past what a player is worth and productive.

Instead, each team has a roster full of guys closer to their prime, reasonably priced- and more important, ready and in a contract position to walk away when the player becomes too much money or too old with the benefit of a farm system that is flush with great, young talent. While new CBA rules cap the ability to “spend” on the draft and in international signings, more attention should be focused on youth development.

How many times have we heard of the new “it” kid in the system only to see them flame out spectacularly in recent memory- Dellin Betances?  Hughes? Joba Chamberlain? Spending $300 million on players is nice, but wouldn’t it be better to not have to spend- to have the extra cash to lock up a key guy here or there because the rest of the roster of a reasonable payroll hit? Don’t say it can’t be done- it was done well from 1995-2003- but it would require some immediate sacrifice, and possibly a down period for the team, and as we know, that is not an option under the Steinbrenner Doctrine.

Moreover, we have seen this movie before, Yankees fans- that offseason spending spree that resulted in an immediate championship and years of futility afterwards. Remember after missing the playoffs in 2008, the Yankees spend about $420 million on A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia. In 2009, they christened the new stadium with a championship, but only four years later, the roster is a disappointment. Burnett was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates after an abysmal few seasons, Sabathia’s velocity has dropped and he got smacked around; Teixeira has steadily declined. Further, the last two have both had significant injuries in recent seasons. Yes, the Yankees won a championship, but they have faced significant problems as a consequence of such spending ways. It stands to reason that eventually, we will find ourselves in a similar situation when it comes to the Yankees and their pending free agents- retaining Robinson Cano, possibly Brian McCann, Masahiro Tanaka– we may find ourselves having this same discussion four or five years from now.

So, is it worth it? Does one championship justify several years of mediocre play? Can you live with  a couple of years of mediocrity for a championship? Will you remember that, and not complain about it, in the down years? Would you prefer to try a plan like the Cards or Red Sox? Sound off below.