Yankees consider major factors to evaluate player risk: Part 2
Unlike past Yankees GMs, Brian Cashman has a lot of hard, time-series data and computer power to evaluate alternative cost-benefit scenarios before deciding whether it is worth making a particular trade or signing a specific free agent. Data collection and storage and computer technology have helped to reduce uncertainty significantly.
Sophisticated analytic personnel work for the Yankees to help identify significant factors when looking at prospective players. They can crunch the numbers for GM Brian Cashman involving the most important variables and identify the most cost-effective deal for the team to pursue.
Owners and GMs, like Cashman, must consider a number of variables before acquiring a new player, whether it be via trade or free agency. Clearly, a major consideration is cost, not only for small market teams who have restricted budgets but also for big market clubs like the Yanks. The luxury tax has, in particular, restricted spending by MLB teams.
The future success of players that become injured playing baseball is difficult to evaluate. This is probably why many clubs were not interested in signing starting pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu, especially given the amount of money that would be necessary to lock him up for several years.
When Ryu has pitched, he has thrown well. However, he also has been on and off the IL a number of times and for varying periods of time. The Toronto Blue Jays, now a formidable rival of New York in the American League East Division, clearly felt the risk was worth taking and signed Ryu for $80 million over four years.
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For the Bombers, Jacoby Ellsbury will forever be the team’s poster child on what can happen when a team signs a player for a great deal of money, the player does not perform well, and he ends up spending most of his time on the IL. Cashman was burned by this hire, and he is likely to avoid signing someone injury-prone Ellsbury like ever again.
Understandably, then, Cashman and the Yanks had similar concerns about inking Dellin Betances at a high price and for more than one year. Despite his severe injuries last year and his time on the IL in the past, the New York Mets signed Betances for $10.5 million with a player option for 2021. Obviously, unlike their cross-town rivals, this was a risk that Cashman and the Yanks were not willing to take. And who can blame them?
Naturally, talent and age are enormous considerations in determining whether to acquire a player.
GMs would instead sign a young player (under 30 years old) who is on an upper trajectory at a modest cost rather than pay a very high price necessarily for the past performance of a mature ballplayer (over 30). Here, too, data, computers, and expert staff can run the analytics and help GMs like Cashman decide whether the cost exceeds the return on investment.
In addition to injury concerns, Ryu will be 33 this May. The Yanks chose not to pursue him aggressively.
Finally, and something a great deal more challenging to quantify and measure is the ballplayer’s character and temperament. How will he fit in the clubhouse? In particular, will he be able to get along with his teammates, or will he be a disruptive force and a distraction?
If a team is going to shell out $200-300 million, or more, the individual should be a person of high integrity and superior character, as well as a potential Hall of Fame inductee.
Concerns about the character of Bryce Harper and, in particular, Manny Machado, may have decreased the value, and the dollar amount teams were willing to pay last offseason when both hit the free-agent market.
The Yanks and Cashman, in particular, may have been turned off by Harper’s occasional outbursts in the dugout and Machado’s lethargic behavior on the field. Such information could have been gathered by privately consulting those who have both managed and played with them.
While the pair of former free agents had excellent stats in 2019 and are still in their prime, it appears that few clubs were willing to pay what they were demanding last winter.
For $300 million, one would expect a player to at least set an example for the rest of the club and hustle when he runs to first base. Really, is that too much to ask?
This suggests that Harper and Machado were seen as somewhat risky acquisitions by many, if not most, owners and general managers, especially given the high salaries and length of time they would remain on the books.
While there are many things owners and GMs can do to avoid bad trades and the signing of free agents that do not pan out, a certain amount of risk will always exist. The human element will always be an uncertain factor, one that is impossible to measure with precision.
It is clear that Cashman always does his homework and is extremely thorough in his evaluations of possible acquisitions, thereby reducing risk as much as humanly possible and avoiding disappointing outcomes.