If you’re a New York Yankees fan in denial, let me be the one to tell you that the team this year isn’t good. They’re not bad like the Minnesota Twins or the Atlanta Braves. However, you shouldn’t expect the Yankees to be able to hang with the Boston Red Sox at the top of the AL East. Last year, the team was able to overcome their faults and make it to the playoffs, but the devil’s magic only lasts for one season.
This year the Yankees are fourth in the AL East, but the aging roster has really shown its….age. The roster is old (it has been for a while) and that’s just something Yankees fans need to accept. Too often, I read Facebook comments from Yankees fans saying that we need to “fire Brian Cashman” because the team isn’t performing as well as those other younger teams. However, it’s not Cashman’s fault for players aging. It’s also not his fault for signing the players that helped us win a World Series back in 2009.
Here’s a write up I did about how pre-arbitration and arbitration works for players with less than 7 years of service time in the MLB. Essentially, the team has control over salary for the first four years of a player’s career, then that player is given a fair price for their talent during their arbitration years. When they become free agents, the team loses all the leverage they had to control salaries and it shifts to the player. This is why contracts can reach up to $200 million over a number of years. Teams compete for a player’s service and they have to “one up” each other by adding extra years to the end of the contract despite the team knowing the player won’t be playing at a high level when the contract ends. This is what the Yankees are dealing with and have been for the last few seasons.
We won a championship with the players the Yankees signed nearly a decade a ago (Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and AJ Burnett) which made the contracts worth their price when they were younger, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that they aren’t playing at that same level now. The blame isn’t on Cashman; technically it should be on the Steinbrenners for making the final decisions, but that’s the risk every team makes when they sign players to a long term deal. You want players to be worth the contract when they are in their prime and every year past that is essentially for the players’ retirement fund.
This is the Yankees’ current situation. Teixeira and Carlos Beltran are in their the finals years of their contract this season, totaling $37.5M. Sabathia and Rodriguez’s salaries come off the books at the end of 2017 at a total of $45M. This leaves more room for Yankees to sign free agents in a couple of years (maybe Bryce Harper?) or maybe extend some of the younger players the team has on the roster now. In two years, the Yankees can also finish unveiling the prospects they have been grooming for the past couple of years. They are in a good position to re-tool the team before the next decade.
I forgot which website I read it on, but they described the Yankees’ team-building philosophies as “Yankees don’t rebuild, they reload on the fly”. I think this is a great description of how the Yankees work. They aren’t as bad as the rebuilding teams that I mentioned before, but they aren’t the best either. Yankees fans should keep their expectations realistic for the rest of 2016, but most fans would agree that the first five years of all of those contracts were worth the price.