Monday, January 28, 2013

Yankees' Plan This Offseason Could Be Setting Them Up For Future Failure

(Courtesy of the AP)

One of the posts I read over the weekend that really stuck with me was Greg Corcoran's open letter to Brian Cashman over at Bronx Baseball Daily letting Cash know what he thinks of the Yankees' offseason plan.  The general theme of Greg's post was that while he can get on board with what the team has done this offseason to transition to the sub-$189 mil payroll in 2014, he didn't see their no-spending approach as a real plan for success after the payroll ceiling had been reached.  Specifically, he cited the Yankees' failure to sign or trade for useful players on multi-year deals and their perceived assumption that multiple prospects are going to come up and contribute as flaws in their logic, and that got me thinking.

As it is, the Yankees have seen their monetary advantage shrink over the past few seasons as teams started signing their own players to new deals before they hit free agency.  Now, with that spending already capped and more teams working to extend their big names, any plan to reload after reaching 189 could prove useless if there are no big free agent targets left.

As it stands, the biggest free agent available after the 2013 season is going to be Robinson Cano, and there have already been plenty of debates about what the Yankees should do about that situation.  With all the money they have coming off the books after this season, it's likely that they'll use a large chunk of that to nail down a new deal for Cano.  The leftover roster spots will be filled by another round of cheap, 1-year free agents and assorted prospects, constructing a club that Greg correctly described as one "getting closer and closer to a nonplayoff team."  The big free agent fish are supposed to be a part of the 2014-2015 free agent class, but that well could dry up on the Yankees before they even get to it.

That future free agent class, if nothing happens between now and then, would include position players like Elvis Andrus, Chase Headley, and Colby Rasmus, and pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Yovani Gallardo, Jon Lester, and Johnny Cueto.  Any of those players would be a welcome addition to what is sure to be a still older and less-talented Yankee roster after the 2014 season, and after resetting their luxury tax penalties the Yankees would be wise to open the checkbook back up for players of this caliber.  The only problem is that some, most, or possibly even all of them might not be around with the way the game has trended recently.

It wasn't that long ago that we were labeling guys like Ryan Braun, Evan Longoria, David Price, and Joey Votto "future Yankees."  And in the past year or so, all of them have received contract extensions from their current teams, some for only a few years and some for long enough to take the players right through the remainder of their peak years.  Looking back at the potential 2014-2015 class, there's already seeds of those type of extensions being sewn.  King Felix is in the early stages of negotiating a new deal with Seattle, as is Kershaw with the Dodgers.  The Tigers would be out of their minds to let Verlander go, and Andrus is going to end up with a long-term deal somewhere whether he gets traded by Texas or whether Jurickson Profar does.  By the time the Yankees have money to spend, this well could already be dried up.

And that's assuming they are even willing to spend after 2014.  Things said by Hal Steinbrenner recently indicate that at least he would like to see the Yankees maintain a payroll somewhere around the $189 luxury tax avoidance level even after the Yankees reset their penalties.  That, combined with the rest of MLB's newfound desire to keep their best players in their current uniforms, could leave the Yankees with few options to replace their lost production and an even bigger dependence on their farm system, which Greg was quick to remind us has a greater than 50% failure rate even among the best prospects.

The Yankees have put themselves in a tough spot this offseason, not just for 2013 but for the years to come in the near future.  They've shown their hand when it comes to involvement in big trade opportunities and big FA negotiations, and that hand isn't holding big-money contract offers.  It's not holding anything.  With other teams now seeing the benefit to locking their good young players up long-term before they hit the open market, another practice the Yankees continue to stubbornly not engage in, there are going to be much slimmer pickings for the Yankees whenever they do decide to open up their wallets again.  As Greg said, I certainly hope this is something the front office has considered and factored into their offseason plans for the next few years, but I'm not 100% convinced that it is.

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