Three weeks ago, the Yankees stood by as the division rival Toronto Blue Jays and the cross-town New York Mets added tons of new talent at the trade deadline. Yankees fans were up-in-arms as their team passed on a wide array of aces, relievers and power hitters. But general manager Brian Cashman was adamant: He was not going to part ways with his top prospects.
That controversial decision is already paying off. Luis Severino, who was quickly called up to fill in for the injured Michael Pineda, is pitching to a 3.18 ERA and averaging 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Greg Bird, who is filling in for the ailing Mark Teixeira, instantly impressed with his key hits, natural power and professionalism.
This change in philosophy – away from a focus on big-name trades and free agent signings and more towards home-grown talent – has been well documented, but few are acknowledging how well it has served the Yankees, both in the present and for the long-term.
While it is purely speculative, it seems as though the Yankees learned from the pair of record-breaking contracts they awarded to Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia. Both players have undoubtedly had positive contributions over the years, but when the Yankees committed over $450 million to the combination of these two players, it’s fair to say they expected more than one championship, more than a 5.00 ERA from Sabathia over the past three seasons, and more than the constant headaches A-Rod has provided over the years.
Whether or not that reading of the Yankees’ intentions is true, they have certainly turned away from their prior strategy. They refused to give out another huge contract to Robinson Cano, a decision the organization was harshly criticized for, who went on to sign the fifth largest contract in MLB history. They similarly passed on David Robertson, who is now in the midst of a four-year, $46 million deal.
Those decisions have also paid off. Cano is already a headache-in-the-making for the Mariners, not performing anywhere near expectations in the first year of his ten-year deal, and the Yankees have managed to be the second highest-scoring team in the American League despite his absence. And although Robertson is having a great season for the White Sox, Cashman replaced him with Chasen Schreve, who is not only younger, cheaper, and locked up for several more years but also is having an even better season than Robertson.
It goes even further. When Derek Jeter retired, the Yankees were perhaps under more pressure than ever, tasked with replacing one of the most productive, popular players in the history of sports. But instead of trying to bring in a big-name, costly player like Troy Tulowitzki, the Yankees relied on their scouts and went with the young, cheap Didi Gregorious, a trade that is working out incredibly.
The strategy could soon pay-off even more, with highly-touted prospects like Aaron Judge right on the horizon, and others, such as Jorge Mateo, still developing. Not only is it a treat to have that kind of talent right at your fingertips, but the Yankees can tap into it whenever they want and will not have to inflate their payroll.
For all this hard work, the Yankees are a new kind of team. They are younger: The Yankees pitching staff is the third youngest in the league this season after being the third oldest last season (the average batter on the Yankees is also a full year younger this year). They are cheaper: Although still expensive because of old contracts, the Yankees have tons of money coming off the payroll in coming years while still maintaining a lot of young talent. And most importantly, they are better: They are poised to make the playoffs and win the division for the first time in three seasons.
Very quietly, Cashman has managed to rebuild this team and, consequently, get Yankees fans excited about the future again. He was right all along.