The Demise of the Bronx Bombers?

Rays Yankees
CC Sabathia could see his career end prematurely, and the Yankees still owe him a lot of money. Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill

The bright lights and big dollars of New York may seem glamorous to many free agent players testing the open market searching for the top bidder. Many times, the Yankees are often in play for the marquee free agents on the market, leaving little hope for any smaller market looking to compete in a bidding war; they merely have no chance.

The Yankees spend a ton on free agents every four or five years with hope that they can buy another championship. It worked in 2009, and they tried to do it again this past off-season. But it will not work this time.

Back in 2009 when the Yankees spent a combined $423.5 million on CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, they had a core group of players that they developed and were still impactful. Derek Jeter was 35 but hit .334 and finished third in the AL MVP voting. They still had Mariano Rivera closing games, Robinson Cano emerged as one of the top players in the game and the three guys they signed played big factors for them down the stretch.

The players on this ball club were five years younger then, and that makes a tremendous difference. Not only has their previous homegrown group, which was intact throughout their “dynasty” of the 90’s and 2000’s moved on, but this team has one of the worst farm systems in all of baseball. There is virtually no blue-chip prospects that are on the verge of helping this team see the glory days again.

This team comes full circle; why does this team spend a ton in free agency? Because they lack homegrown talent. Why do they lack homegrown talent? Because they spend a ton in free agency. And therefore, forfeit draft picks that could help the team replenish their farm system.

This past off-season, the Yankees made a brilliant decision to let Robinson Cano walk. I applaud them for not being the team to give him an insane ten-year deal. However, turning around and giving Jacoby Ellsbury, a speed player who is on the wrong side of 30, a seven-year deal, is almost just as bad of a contract. He will undoubtedly slow down as he ages and the last three or four years of that deal will probably not look so good. Especially if the Yankees do not win a World Series during the contract’s span.

I thought Brian McCann was a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium, especially with his left-handed swing. I don’t think anyone envisioned him performing this poorly to this point. However, he is also on the wrong side of 30 and will be limited to DHing in a few years. They also signed Carlos Beltran, who is already DHing a lot and has had multiple stints on the disabled list. Not to mention he is 37 and his production is far from what the Yankees hoped it would be.

The worst part of all this though, is that the Yankees could have had four first-round picks in this year’s draft. They ended up with none.

The Yankees extended qualifying offers to three of their impending free agents last off-season; Hiroki Kuroda, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano. They had the 18th overall pick in the draft. They re-signed Kuroda, which is fine. But they lost Granderson to the Mets and Cano to the Mariners, which would have given them two more picks at the end of round one to go with their pick at 18. They had three first-round picks that really could have helped beef up the farm system. Instead, they signed the aforementioned three in McCann, Ellsbury and Beltran, all who turned down qualifying offers themselves, and the Yankees were left with no picks in round one.

Not only did they give up draft picks for players who are not performing to expectations in year one of their deals, but all three guys they signed back in 2009 are far from the players they used to be. Burnett has since been essentially ran out of town, Sabathia is far from an ace and could be facing a career-threatening knee injury, and Teixeira has had wrist problems that have seen him on and off the disabled list. The Yankees also owe Sabathia $73 million over the next three years ($53 million, which includes a $5 million buyout if his $25 million vesting option for 2017 – his age 36 season, does not vest) and they owe Teixeira $45 million through 2016 – his age 36 season. While these three were still in their primes when they signed their deals and helped them win a World Series, the Yankees may be worse this year than they were last year after spending over $500 million. Kind of comical when you get down to it. Yes they entered play tonight in Cleveland two games over .500, but their expectations coming into the season were surely much higher than that.

Meanwhile, the talent on the farm is barren, and as long as the Yankees continue to sign players that cost them to give up draft picks, it won’t be improving anytime soon. Conversely, this is the same reason why they continue to sign free agents; because their system lacks impact talent.

Adding a player through free agency to put a team over the top is understandable, but the Yankees are trying to build an entire team that way. They continue to come full circle, but now, the lack of impact talent in their system could hurt the most successful team in sports over the long term.

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