Organization, Not Payroll – Key to Winning?
By Alan Levy
When the Yankees allowed Robinson Cano to walk cross-country to Seattle (although for the contract size I’m sure he bought his own jet), it was the first time in recent memory that they employed any kind of fiscal sense. Of course, they had offered Cano a deal worth $175 million, so it wasn’t completely responsible, but still, the team decided not to be held hostage to the situation. As Joel Sherman reviews in his New York Post article, diversifying the money may be a better payroll strategy.
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When you look at the four teams left in the playoffs, their payroll ranking is practically in the middle of MLB’s 30 teams. The Giants lead the way in sixth place, and the remaining teams are all bunched at 13 (Cardinals), 14 (Orioles) and 18 (Royals). Each of these teams serves as a different payroll model:
- The Cardinals, willing to let Albert Pujols walk rather than break the bank (and payroll structure), invested the money not spent on Pujols on current stalwarts (Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina) and a new shortstop/clean-up hitter (Jhonny Peralta).
- The Royals, patient as their young, home-grown talent developed, moved one of their prized assets (Wil Myers) for a steady, big game pitcher (James Shields) who stabilized the pitching staff.
- The Giants have paid their leaders (Buster Posey and injured pitcher Matt Cain); brought in talented, but not spectacular players (Hunter Pence, Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy); and invested in future star Madison Bumgarner with a contract that takes him through his arbitration years.
- The Orioles gambled on a short-term contract with a former PED user (MLB home run leader Nelson Cruz), and developed enough depth to survive season ending injuries to catcher Matt Wieters, 3B Manny Machado and a PED suspension to 1B/DH Chris Davis.
When you look at the Yankees organization model, youth only seems to be served in an emergency case (see Shane Greene, Dellin Betances, and in prior years, Francisco Cervelli). They have consistently applied high-priced band-aids such as Carlos Beltran or Jacoby Ellsbury to fix the failures of their farm system. They have re-invested in aging propositions (Alex Rodriguez (in 2007) and CC Sabathia (in 2012)) to stay competitive without a long-term view.
In order to compete against deeper teams (and in the Dodgers case, deeper pockets), the Yankees will need to make several existential decisions this off-season. They have the opportunity to get younger at two key positions (shortstop and 2B) and potentially become sellers on the trade market for future talent (1B, 3B and a corner outfielder) if someone is willing to take a rehabilitated Sabathia or A-Rod (as long as the Yanks will eat most of the contract). They can get deeper by re-signing Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley as opposed to going “all-in” on Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or Shields. At risk is a long-term error that leads to a third consecutive year out of the playoffs, which will start to hit the organization in the wallet as the stadium becomes empty and YES subscribers dwindle down.