Reliance on Free Agency Will Continue to Cripple New York Yankees
New York Yankees Must Put Greater Emphasis on Farm System
Championship teams cannot be reliant on mercenaries – a fact the New York Yankees are learning the hard way this season. Gone are the days of Gene Michael building the team through the farm system. Instead, hired bats like Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells have been replaced with more hired bats like Mark Reynolds and Alfonso Soriano.
As recently as 2009, the Yankees won a World Series with a solid foundation of homegrown talent. There was the “Core Four” of Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter. Younger players too, like Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera all came up with the Bombers, in addition to Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves and David Robertson – an arsenal of homegrown arms who joined Rivera to form one of the best bullpens in the league that year. True, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett were big free agent signings, but the 2009 Yankees were undeniably built from within.
Now, Posada is retired, Rivera is done after this year and Pettitte will likely follow. Jeter will be the only remaining link to the dynasty years, but even Captain Clutch seems to be heading for an expedited retirement, thanks to his recent slew of injuries. Coke was traded to theDetroit Tigers with Austin Jackson, Aceves went to the Boston Red Sox and Cabrera, a known PED user, is a bust with the Toronto Blue Jays.
If the Yankees are able to set their payroll under $189 million and reset the luxury tax, they must not fall into old habits. They cannot spend exorbitant sums of money for superstars, and trade away young prospects for veterans who have maybe two or three years left in their primes. The commitment to winning in the present cannot jeopardize the team in the future.
The evidence lies in the AL East standings.
Boston Red Sox
In 2011, the Boston Red Sox engaged in the same strategy as the Yankees: outbid everyone for the best player at whatever position is needed. It culminated with one of the worst collapses in baseball history in 2011, and a last place finish in the AL East in 2012. Luckily for Boston, the Los Angeles Dodgers wanted Adrian Gonzalez, and were willing to absorb the lurid contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to get him. This allowed Boston to basically press the reset button after last year.
Now, behind homegrown stars like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester (plus, Clay Buccholz, who was 9-0 before getting injured), the Red Sox are leading the division. Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes have been key free agent acquisitions, but the team was built on a deep farm system. They did trade away Jose Iglesias, who may very well win the AL Rookie of the Year Award, but in doing so they acquired Jake Peavy, who could end up being the final piece for a World Series-caliber team. Not to mention, Iglesias’ replacement, Will Middlebrooks (another homegrown player), has hit nine more homeruns (11) and has eight more RBIs (32) than Iglesias in 19 fewer games.
The Yankees need to follow this example of developing young talent and using trades/free agency to fill in the missing pieces, much like they did in the dynasty years in 2009.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays are currently in second place in the division. They have one of the best farm systems in baseball, which has allowed them to win 90 games or more in four of the last five seasons, despite having one of the lowest payrolls. They have produced two elite south paws in David Price and Matt Moore, as well as a perennial all-star third baseman in Evan Longoria. Furthermore, they traded James Shields to the Kansas City Royals for Wil Meyers. In doing so, they saved themselves the huge contract they would have had to give Shields and acquired a great young outfielder in Myers, who is competing with Iglesias for the Rookie of the Year Award.
The Rays have the organizational foundation, but, unfortunately, they are unwilling to spend the money to put them over the top. The Yankees are willing to spend, but they need a greater emphasis on player development, like the Rays have, in order to compete year in and year out.
The Baltimore Orioles were the biggest surprise of 2012, and their continued success has proven it was no fluke. All but three position players are a product of their farm system, most notably Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Manny Machado. Furthermore, three of their starting pitchers, including their ace, Chris Tillman, came up through the minors with Baltimore.
The O’s are right in the playoff mix. Chris Davis has been a tremendous addition to their roster, and they just got better by trading for a right-handed power bat in Mike Morse. With this crop of young players, Baltimore is going to compete in the AL East for long time. The Yankees need to follow their example.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays’ plans of winning this year blew up in their faces. Injuries to would-be stars like Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista have crippled their lineup all year; their desire to win now has greatly damaged their future. They traded 21-year-old Noah Syndergaard, an electric right handed pitcher currently in double A, and 24-year-old Travis d’Arnaud, arguably the best catching prospect in the game, for RA Dickey, a 38-year-old knuckleballer. Dickey did win the NL Cy Young last year, but this deal sent him from an outdoor stadium – 3.5 miles away from an airport which gusted winds around Citi Field – to a dome. This is a death sentence for any knuckleballer.
Their homegrown players Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and JP Arencibia are not enough to build a playoff-contending team around. Because of this, Toronto has been the AL East team most dependent on hired guns, and it has left them in last place in the division.
New York Yankees Outlook
There is nothing wrong with free agency, but it should not be abused. Yes, Brian Cashman is addressing holes in the Yankees lineup, and he works for an organization that demands a winning team on the field every year. But relying on free agency only fixes problems in the short term. The Yankees cannot expect to have long-term success with players who have already made their careers elsewhere.
The ability to produce ballplayers, rather than waiting for them to become available, is what makes the difference between a team and a professional organization. Should the Yankees re-sign Cano, he and Gardner will be bright spots in the team’s future, along with starting pitcher Ivan Nova and relievers like Robertson, Preston Claiborne and Shawn Kelley. Developing more players like them will be crucial to the Yankees' success in the coming years.