Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Maybe Not Next Year

These are tough times for Yankee haters.

Coming into the 2013 season, there was abundant evidence that the Yankees glorious 18-year run was finally coming to a close. As all baseball fans know, from 1996 to 2012, the Bronx Bombers won 5 world championships, 7 AL titles, and made 17 playoff appearances.  How did they do this?

  1. The simultaneous appearance of 4 great farm product players: Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, and Posada.  That's two lock Hall of Famers and two perennial All-Stars, arguably the greatest crop of players ever produced by one team in one year.
  2. The greatest spending spree in American sports history.  From 1999 through 2009 the Yankees signed or traded for: Clemens, Mussina, Giambi, Brown, A-Rod, Randy Johnson, Texeira, and Sabathia.  They outspent everyone for the best international talent (Contreras, Matsui, El Duque).  They did this while keeping the 4 guys above (except for a brief Pettitte Houston trip). If there was an expensive available player, the Yankees got him, and their payroll was regularly $50 million or more higher than the 2nd highest paid team.
  3. The Wild Card era.  The Yankees run started in 95, the first year of the Wild Card era, so even when the Yankees weren't dominant, they still made the playoffs.   They had 7 playoff appearances during this period that would have been misses before 1994, and won the Series two of those times*.
* four Wild Cards, and three seasons in which the Indians, formerly of the AL East, had a better record.  In 1996 and 2000 the Yankees won the World Series with regular season records that would've missed the playoffs only a few years earlier.  

But that's all over right?  Even before the great injury avalanche of 2013, the Yankees had seemingly returned to the pack.  Posada had retired, Texeira was in decline, and three aging superstars - Jeter, A-Rod, and Mariano - were in various stages of return from 2012 injuries.

The Wild Card system isn't going anywhere, but in the 19 seasons since the Jeter/Mariano/Pettitte/Posada bounty (not to mention Bernie Williams a few years earlier), the Yankee farm system has produced one great player (Robinson Cano).  And the Steinbrenner boys have said they don't plan on quite outspending their competition as much as dear old Dad.  

Things were already looking bad when the Yankees got serious about putting together the Greatest Disabled List Ever. Texeira went down.  Jeter's backup and his backup's backup. Youkilis, Pettitte, Nova, Joba and Hughes.   Granderson got hurt in spring training, returned for a few days, and got hurt again.

And the uninjured guys were, you know, old.  Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Kuroda, Vernon Wells, and Mariano Rivera are between 35 and 43 years old.

Last night the Yankee starting lineup included David Adams, Reid Bringnac, and Chris Stewart.  If you knew who those people were before this year, you're a more devoted Fantasy baseball player than I am.

So naturally the Yankees have the 5th best record in major league baseball!

What does all this mean?  Part of me is tempted to make the regression to the mean argument.  I mean, you can't keep fielding a team of 39 year old pitchers, those three guys above, and Lyle Overbay and win 95 games, right?  A team that features Brett Gardner as its 2nd best hitter doesn't make the playoffs, right?  I mean, he's a good player, but this is the frickin' Yankees!

And Brian Cashman has quite a task ahead of him the next few years.  Over the next couple years he's going to need: a first baseman, shortstop, third baseman, catcher, right fielder, closer, and a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th starter.

Where he's going to find these people?  The Yankee farm system isn't producing the way it used to.  Other teams have caught up in international scouting.  And the free agent talent isn't there.  Many of the best players in baseball - Votto, Braun, Trout, Cabrera, Fielder, Wright, Tulowitzki, Harper, McCutcheon - are signed for years to come.

But I've been burned before.  The Yankees exist in an alternate universe where the normal laws of baseball don't apply.  I refuse to allow myself hope.

But then again, this happened last night...

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