A very serious topic this time of year in Major League Baseball is free agency, and subsequent signings by teams. It doesn’t seem that long ago that the New York Yankees were active every off-season, looking to nail that big ticket name that would bolster their already impressive line up.
However, the Yankees have been curiously quiet the last few off-seasons, even as major names come and go through the turn-style is free agency. They may have had a hand in the discussion, but backed off when another team, willing to pay more, entered the fray with a giant contract. Although you can argue it’s a rough, drive-up-the-price-tag maneuver, they probably had genuine interest in these guys, but decided not to spend the big bucks, then repeated that decision many times over the last three years.
The Yankees are looking to get their yearly payroll under $189 million, an objective driven by consequences of the new CBA that was signed last year (I know it’s been that long, but still: kudos to MLB and the MLBPA for getting the agreement done without a work stoppage, the only one of the major four sports to do so). The $189 million mark is where luxury tax provisions start to kick in, which includes steep limitations on draft picks and certain compensation for losses of free agents, all up from the previous CBA. Case in point: the Yankees have paid nearly $200 million in luxury tax since the last CBA was implemented, and over $19 million for this past year’s payroll. Other clubs, such as the Angels and Red Sox, are expanding their payroll as the Yankees are waiting for many of their big contracts to expire; perhaps the other clubs see an opportunity to pounce while the Yankees begin rebuilding for their next dynastic run, or they just want to make a serious run for themselves; it’s probably both.
The fact is, though, that the Yankees are doubtless going to avoid long-term contracts. The recent signing of Kevin Youklis to fill in for Alex Rodriguez until A-Rod recovers from hip surgery, then to fill in for other infielders, is the rare Yankee signing to make major news. A-Rod’s contract is pricey, and has many wondering if the Yankees can squeeze out of it eventually; if A-Rod’s body gives out on him, then it’ll solve their problem, but you can’t count on that.
What is weird to see, though, is the Yankees rebooting their farm system, and not trading away key prospects for big names; in essence, they are trying to strike that balance between home grown talent, and augment it through the occasional free agent. It is something few teams manage; poor teams, like the Oakland A’s, are nearly wholly dependent on players on their way up through the farm system, and players on their way down that no one else wants anymore.
The fact is, though, that big names have not aided other contenders, such as the Angels, White Sox, Marlins, and Red Sox, all of whom watched as the Orioles, Braves, and especially the A’s marched into the postseason last year with largely home grown and developed talent; this isn’t to stop anybody, and case in point, the Braves gave their largest free agent contract ever this off-season, but it does show the power of teamwork. The Yankees are looking to regain that, and although A-Rod has gotten better at being, or at least presenting himself as, a team player, it will take time for that mentality to grow and develop.
The Yankees are not the team of the future, and quite frankly, I can never see them qualifying as such, but they’re not the 1990’s Yankees anymore; they are a team in transition from one mindset to another. They are the Hal and Hank Steinbrenner Yankees, not the George Steinbrenner Yankees. I hope they stay the course, because Derek Jeter’s long career with the Yankees has been their shining star since his arrival. Imagine six of those guys, and what that would mean to the City of New York. That’s what the Yankees need. That’s what they’re aiming for, and I’m willing to sacrifice a few years (preferably after Jeter and Rivera retire, though) to get there.