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The Problem in Pinstripes

While I was compiling some numbers for this piece, I began to notice something rather off putting; I know too much about the New York Yankees. It’s not because I now live in New York, it’s because I went to school in Upstate New York, and it’s not because my little brother loved Derek Jeter when he was 6, it’s because they lived in my goddamn nightmares.

Yankees Nostalgia Train by MTA is licensed under CC 2.0

The Problem in Pinstripes

Estimated Reading Time: 8 Minutes

While I was compiling some numbers for this piece, I began to notice something rather off putting; I know too much about the New York Yankees. It’s not because I now live in New York, it’s because I went to school in Upstate New York, and it’s not because my little brother loved Derek Jeter when he was 6, it’s because they lived in my goddamn nightmares. My entire childhood the New York Yankees… how shall I put this? The New York Yankees were My Daddy… Thanks Pedro. 

The Yankees were the dark cloud hanging over Boston. They were the more successful older brother, the prettier girl at the dance, the closer parking spot, just plain better every year. It took me a long time, but I have come to terms with the New York Yankees. Growing up a Boston Red Sox fan, you hate the Bronx Bombers with a fiery red-hot passion, but without the Yankees there is no Baseball. The glory days of the Murder’s Row and the Mantle Maris years, Joe DiMaggio, without them this sport is nowhere close to the level it’s at today. I fucking hate the Yankees, but goddamnit it I don’t tip my cap to what they’ve done for the game. 

Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are a perfect example of the juxtaposition of the Yankees for me.  Jeter, in my lifetime, has been one of if not the best baseball players I’ve ever seen play the game in my lifetime. A Career .310 hitter and 3,000 hit club member, Jeter was Nomar 2.0 and that just killed me as a Boston kid. You wanted Nomar to be better than Jeter, but he wasn’t, he could never be. Jeter was a hard-nosed ballplayer who put in 100000% on every ground ball, every swing and a miss, every breath he took. Derek Jeter was the definition of the perfect ballplayer. 

Alex Rodriguez was what I hated about the Yankees. He was glitz, glam and in it for the championships and the money. He played for Seattle where he grew into one of the best players in the league. After he was done in Seattle he signed with Texas and two years later he was in pinstripes. A-Rod wanted to play for New York, and when you want to play in New York, it means you don’t want to play for Boston and we take that personally. It’s not playing for the Yankees, it’s playing against the Red Sox. On a broader scale, it’s the same as Kevin Durant signing with Golden State this year. WE GET IT; YOU COULDN’T WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP WHERE YOU WERE SO NOW YOU WANNA GET PAID TO EASILY WIN ONE! It was easily playing in New York! It was easy! You got a huge payday and you’ll win championships. It seemed so easy, but it hasn’t been all that easy since 2003.

…Okay, so maybe that’s a little harsh, the Yankees have still been good, but not as dominant as they have been in the past. This seven year World Series drought is the 4th longest in team history. If you remember, the Yankees have the most frequent World Series return rate, going back every 2.375 years, so this seven year stretch might seem like a very long time. So what makes this Yankees team different than the Yankees teams in the Torre Era? It’s actually much simpler than you think.

In 1985, the Yankees would sign a Dominican Outfielder by the name of Bernie Williams. This would be the first of many moves to get the Yankees to a World Series. In 1992, the New York Yankees used the 6th pick of the June entry draft to snag a Shortstop out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, by the name of Derek Jeter. After all was said and done, through the Amateur Draft and Amateur Signings, The Yankees would add Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettite, Orlando Hernandez, and Ramiro Mendoza to the 1998 Roster.

From this point until the present, when the Yankees have 6 or more homegrown players in their top 12 WAR for that season, they’ve gone to the they have gone to the ALCS 75% of the time. What do I mean by homegrown player? Well, Derek Jeter was drafted into the organization, went through the farm system, developed and joined the big league club. His entire development in the big leagues was done in house. His line to the Majors went directly through the Yankees. So, getting back to the “Original Six”, in the three back-to-back-to-back World Series wins, all 6 of those players were within the top 12. Mariano Rivera won the 1999 World Series MVP, and Jeter followed suit in 2000. In 2001 the Yankees found their way back to the World Series for the fourth straight year, but failed to win a ring. The next two years would see defeat come again and again in the Bronx, losing to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and then going the distance against the Red Sox only to fall to the Florida Marlins.

The Organization made a shift at this point, a clear distinct shift in how they evaluated talent and worth. For the next 3 years, from ’04 to ’06, the Yankees went after as many big names as they could handle. 2005 saw the Yankees top $200 million dollars in payroll for the very first time in the history of the game. Their 2005 payroll was $84 million dollars more than that of the 2nd most expensive Boston Red Sox, and almost double the cost of their cross-town rival, the New York Mets. You start to look outside your system for answers to your problems. We need starting pitching! It’s easier to sign Mike Mussina than to develop a guy in our farm system. Let’s sign Kevin Brown, Rogers Clemens, Gary Sheffield, etc. It shrinks your talent pool until there really isn’t one. The Yankees traded away Mike Lowell, a great power hitting third basemen who would go on to beat the Yankees in 2003 with the Marlins and win a ring and MVP honors in the Red Sox 2007 World Series win. Why? They went with Scott Brosius for another three years and then signed Robin Ventura, totaling $40 million dollars over four seasons on two aging players. Mike Lowell would have been $35 million total over seven years, right on into his prime. 

This parade of wealth and talent from other teams did not necessarily translate to titles, the only ring they won coming in 2009. What this decadent payroll and free agent vetting did create was a culture of spending within the Yankees organization that would take years to unravel. To this point, Brian Cashman did an incredible job of putting together a dynasty in the Bronx, and at the trade deadline we saw him begin to slowly and methodically take it apart. It was masterful. Cashman managed to get three Top 100 prospects for a guy he really didn’t need in Andrew Miller, and a guy he’ll probably get back in Aroldis Chapman. Incredible. Did Brian Cashman need Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances at the same time? No, but he got them anyway.

Just to give you an idea of what I’m looking at for next year, let’s say the Yanks sit back and do nothing this offseason. Here’s what opening day roughly looks like:

  •  Catcher: Austin Romine
  • First Base: Greg Bird
  • Second Base: Starlin Castro
  • Third Base: Chase Headley
  • Shortstop: Didi Gregorious
  • Left Field: Brett Gardiner
  • Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury
  • Right Field: Aaron Judge (Why Not!?)
  • DH: Gary Sanchez

If those guys blow up and lead your top 12 in WAR, that’s 6 homegrown dudes right there, so that’s a playoff run. As I wrote that sentence I heard a couple of you say out loud, “That means NOTHING! Aaron Judge wouldn’t be in Right! It would be Hicks!” Great! Sure! Maybe! We’re spit balling here! But what I can tell you is this. In the months of August and September, this kind of lineup went 31-25 for the Bombers. It brought them back from the dead and into the Wild Card race. If they kept that record from April to September, they would have had home field advantage in the Wild Card Game. It can be done, you guys.

The reason I wanted to explore this idea further was seeing all of the posts and articles calling for the Yankees to trade their prospects for guys like Chris Sale, McCutchen, Todd Frazier, Sonny Gray, and my favorite of all, Mike Trout. The latest thing that made me puke was Jim Bowden saying the Yankees will get either Edwin Encarnacion or Yoenis Cespedes, or maybe even both…

Are you kidding me? Are you out of your mind? The Media has gone crazy with Yankee speculation. The New York Post reported that the Yankees wanted a lot for Brian McCann, too much according to some GMs. The Reality? They got a small return and will have to pay the man $11 million over the next two years. I’m sure they asked for that, though. You always ask to pay for a guy who’s playing on another team. Especially when you get two low-end prospects with it. Cashman is clearing space for a rebuild, an expedited rebuild. He gutted Cleveland and Chicago’s top tier prospects. The Yankees are set up for the future and you want them to throw that away? For what? A First Baseman? A Left Fielder? Come on.

The inner Red Sox fan in me wants the Yankees to make a big move and then force a lineup for a season, something they’ve done for the past few seasons, and watch it implode. So much of me wants that to be the case, but a VERY, VERY DARK voice in my head says that I want them to rebuild. If anything the Yankees should focus on getting a strong starting pitcher. That’s where things fell apart this year. Coming into the season with No Runs DMC, the Bombers were touted as a 6 inning baseball team, because there’s no way you can win in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. Except when your starter lets up 4 runs a start, and your offense in half comprised of veterans who can barely set into the box, it’s not going to matter what happens in the later innings. The Yankees need to support Tanaka and get a starting pitcher, not a high-end guy, but a solid starter who can win games. Edinson Volquez, Jason Hammel, Rich Hill, guys who have a low payroll impact, but can show up on the mound. This keeps all of your prospects intact, and allows them time to grow and develop.

Long story short, the Yankees are on the verge of a renaissance with these newly acquired prospects. Clint Frazier, their top prospect, is on the same trajectory as Mike Trout, albeit there’s no one like Mike Trout, Clint Frazier is CLOSE. Frazier has a cannon, has quick feet and swings quick through the zone with power. He’s got it all, and he’s young, but go on telling me about how having Mike Trout would better than having six future stars in pinstripes. The Yankees are going to have to do something they haven’t done in quite some time; they’re going to have to sit on their hands and wait. 

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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