In 2012, New York Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said, “I just feel that if you do well on the player-development side, and you have a good farm system, you don’t need a $220 million payroll.” Makes sense.
In August, Steinbrenner called a meeting with some of his executives to discuss the state of the Yankees’ farm system. He clearly was not happy with the lack of big-league-ready talent. Last week, the Yankees announced the hiring of new coaching and player development personnel, seemingly indicating an attempt to improve the development picture in New York.
Unfortunately, a new special assistant of major and minor league operations isn’t going to offset the purging of draft picks that has occurred this offseason. Not only did the Yankees give away close to $300 million to sign free agents Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, but free agent compensation rules forced them to forfeit their first three draft picks as well.
The departures of Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson should have left the Yankees with compensatory picks, but those were cancelled out by the team’s own free agent signings. This means the Yankees’ first draft pick next June will be somewhere in the mid-50s overall.
Did you know that since 2001, the Yankees have forgone seven first-round picks in order to sign free agents? In 2009, they surrendered their first-round pick to the Los Angeles Angels in order to sign Mark Teixeira. Anyone remember who the Angels took in the first round of that draft? It was just some young kid by the name of Mike Trout.
Since 1996, the Yankees have won five World Series Championships. Upon closer examination, it’s clear that four of those titles came via one route, and one came quite differently. The 1996-2000 teams had Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte. All of those guys were significant contributors to each title, and all came up through the Yankees’ system.
In 2009, the Yankees won largely due to the offseason free agent signings of Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. That was also the one year that Alex Rodriguez, acquired via trade in 2004, actually performed well in the postseason. That was it, though – just one title. Teixeira and Sabathia have been declining recently, Burnett turned out to be a New York bust, and A-Rod’s otherwise poor postseason performances have been well-documented.
For a team that generally makes its living on the long ball, the Yankees have produced exactly zero impact power hitters in the last two decades. In fact, the last time the Yankees drafted any type of bat that contributed to their long-term success was Jeter in 1992.
Since then, the player who was brought up with the Yankees with most home runs (and is still with the team) is Brett Gardner, hardly a power hitter. Gardner has racked up a whole 23 home runs in six years with the Yankees. Since 1997, the Yankees’ draft pick who has hit the most career home runs (total, not just with the Yankees) is Shelly Duncan (Shelley Duncan!?) with 43 long balls in seven big-league seasons.
The difference between the 1996-2000 teams and the 2009 team was player development. Free agent signings are how you win one championship at a time. Good player development is how you create dynasties.