Once upon a time, the New York Yankees thrived because they could never be outbid for top talent. But somewhere along the line, a cadre of small market, underdog teams built algorithms, theories, and player development strategies to topple the big boys, finding a way around free agent spending.
Then, the big boys coopted those strategies, chose to do the little guys' thing (with money!), and changed the game again. That's where the Yankees fell behind. Free agency fell out of style (and the Yanks decided to stop flexing their muscles to the fullest, but that's another story).
You want to win in modern baseball? You'd better have a dominant analytics department. You'd better know which players to chase when everyone is targeting the same 10 "darlings". You'd better have a cohesive player development strategy that can turn sixth-rounders into stars (and you'd better also know exactly who to target in the sixth round and late first). All winners use analytics these days. But whatever the Yankees have been using for the past 20 years has grown stale. Whether they have the right data and can't interpret it, or whether they only listen to the numbers when it's convenient for them is up for debate.
Bottom line? Once free agency became somewhat problematic, the Yankees needed to start using their money buckets to poach the best roster-building minds from small-market teams. They needed to become a different type of vampire.
Now, finally, Hal Steinbrenner seems prepared to evaluate his team's shortcomings in this department. Calling in an "outside company" (probably McKinsey, the efficiency firm whose stamp is all over the Astros) to evaluate the Yankees' processes is a good first step. As long as Brian Cashman still has final say and his philosophy remains muddied, though, it's just Step 1.
Yankees' Hal Steinbrenner wants outside company to look at team's analytics
McKinsey's reputation for playing fast-and-loose with loopholes did lead to the Astros convincing themselves that cheating was a good idea they'd get away with, but people with similar ties were behind the rise of the early-2010s Cardinals player development machine, the dynastic 'Stros, and the modern Orioles. If the Yankees want to start buying the best and brightest behind these scenes, these folks can definitely facilitate that path, as well as unclog the current mess in the front office.
But ... again ... if the Cashman-led portion of that mess remains, or if the team gets a thorough examination and retains mostly the same personnel, this analytics consult won't do much. Steinbrenner and the braintrust had better be dedicated to real, lasting change.
The league's smartest team -- the team that always gets the Yankees' goat in October from 2015-present -- has been on this train for nearly a decade. Whatever the Yankees do, they're already late. But hopefully, this helpful step leads to Step 2, and isn't just drafting-and-developing lip service. Because someday, Anthony Volpe's 3.4 bWAR in his rookie season can't be the third-highest career total for any position player selection under Cashman.