Wednesday, September 24, 2008

RIP Modern Era Yankees

I'd been saving this post for the day the Yankees were officially eliminated from playoff contention, and of course when that day came yesterday I forgot to post about it altogether. But here we go, the unofficial eulogy of the modern era Yankees.

I feel like we've all had a vested interest in this team soley because this was the dominant baseball team for my precocious youngster years. They kept going to the playoffs, and making deep runs once they got there (especially before 2001), that even if you hated them, you were familiar with names like Jeter, Pettite, Posada, Rivera, Tino, etc. But as we all know that started drying up once the Yanks' brass decided to go for broke every year in free agency and in the process completely alter their (to that point) minor league development machine. Buster Olney of ESPN, who used to cover the Yanks for the New York Times back in the day, explains it better than I do:

The Yankees' thirst for yearly success at the big league level has hurt the team's efforts to regenerate the organization's player development, of course. ...

The Yankees, who already had become a middle-aged team during the dynasty, began relying almost solely on free-agent spending to augment the team, to paper over weaknesses, and the Yankees sacrificed draft picks along the way. From the fall of 2001 through 2005, the Yankees sacrificed nine high draft picks to sign free agents Jason Giambi, Steve Karsay, Rondell White, Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, Kyle Farnsworth and Johnny Damon. In addition, the Yankees' consistent high finishes in the standings -- propped up by the free-agent signings -- naturally hurt their draft position.

Basicallt the desire to be this World Series contender every single year hurt them in the long run. Now the mighty Yanks are starting to feel the heat because even the limited amount of proven home grown talent like Jeter, Pettite and Posada are on the down turn, while supposed up-and-comers like Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, and Robinson Cano have on various levels shown themselves unworthy of being considered future stars just yet.

Which brings me to my next point: this upcoming offseason. We are all expecting the Yankees to be the Yankees of old now that they're about to have close to $90 million in payroll wiped off the slate. That means C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, maybe A.J. Burnett, and who knows what else the team may have up its sleeve.

Their days as Yankee stars are (or at least could) be numbered.

And while Brian Cashman has put a newfound emphasis on organizational strength (i.e. having a good minor league system and good drafting), the team still seriously lags behind the Red Sox and now the Rays in terms of developing its own players. And the way the AL East played out this year, I think the addition of Sabathia and Teixeira, while nice pickups, would still leave the Yanks on the outside looking in when the playoffs come around. And frankly, my opinion is that any team based around the talents of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez is likely to have a short shelf life. There's just no way a championship team consists of Jeter and ARod as focal points in the future. Jeter isn't the player he once was and it's only a matter of time before ARod, now 33 years old, starts to see some major slippage in his game.

If I'm Yankees management I go pick one or the other — Sabathia or Teixeira — sign him to one of those ridiculously large Yankee deals and then see if you can't just develop a second star. Build the team around either Sabathia or Teixeira, not build it with them and some other big money free agents. It may mean taking some lumps for a season or two, but the quality draft picks they might get from a season or two like this year could pay off in the long run. Look at the Rays, they sucked for years and years, subsequently some great picks in the top five of various MLB drafts, and now they have a juggernaut that could be a team to be reckoned with for the next decade.

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