How the Yankees Broke Championship Dry Spells
by Cary Greene
January 24, 2022
Winter is always a time when baseball writers have too much time on their hands. We often perform our day jobs and, when given a free minute, our thoughts drift away to the dog-days of summer, when baseball is in the air and pennant races begin to take shape. Right now is the time of year when most baseball fans get around to wondering just how far their favorite teams will go. They wonder what has to go right and contemplate what could also go wrong.
Thoughts like these eventually cross all Yankee fans’ minds, because we’re quite frankly very spoiled by our team having produced 27 World Series championships. Well, it’s been 12 years and counting since the last Yankees parade in New York City. Yankee fans don’t just hope for World Series championships, we expect them to happen
The Current Championship Drought:
Contemplating the 12 year Championship drought that the Yankees are presently mired in gave me the idea to do a piece about the methods the Yankees used to end past Championship droughts and restore order in the baseball universe by reigning supreme once again. My main reason for writing about this topic is because, like many of you, I’m wondering how many more years it will take for the Yankees to win their 28th World Series Championship. Will it be this coming season? Perhaps two years from now? Or three? Or will it take longer? Perhaps the drought will last twenty years? Or thirty-plus?
Spanning a period of 107 years, the Chicago Cubs set the record for the longest period of time between championships – from 1909 to 2016. Winning a World Series is not an easy feat. We as Yankee fans could never endure an epically long championship drought, could we? Imagine what it must have been like for Cubs fans to go that long without experiencing the nirvana of actually winning the whole shebang? I want to believe that the Yankees will win a World Series some time in the next few years and I don’t want to even think about perpetual failure. Yet here we are. It’s been twelve long years since the last Yankees parade in Manhattan.
Do we as Yankee fans believe the right leadership group is in place?
Is Hal Steinbrenner the man to break the current twelve year drought for the most storied franchise in the history of sports, or is he going to go down in history as a poor leader who never did what it took to win?
Is GM Brian Cashman the proper architect to deliver a championship by sculpting a roster that simply can’t be denied? Or is Cashman going to be known as the guy who built competitive teams that really just weren’t quite good enough?
Is Aaron Boone even the right manager? Is he capable of pushing the correct buttons in the biggest of in-game-moments? Or will Boone be remembered as a manager with no big-league management experience who was hired mainly to talk to the media and execute whatever plans were handed down to him from the analytics department on a daily basis?
Hal Steinbrenner certainly seems resolute that he’s on the right path and that he has the right people in place, with the right skill sets to get the job done. However, I’m not entirely convinced. Hal is not a proven winner after all, is he?
Let’s put Steinbrenners belief to the test shall we? Let’s examine how the Yankees broke championship droughts in the past and ushered in periods of greatness. Then we might be able to form answers to the questions I’ve asked above.
The Creation of the “Yankee-Way”:
We’ll start at the beginning of the first Yankee age of glory. In the 1920s, the Yankees franchise began its rise to baseball dominance. On January 5, 1920, the Yankees purchased power-hitting outfielder George Herman “Babe” Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for $125,000! Of course, the dollar has “inflated” 1,394% since 1920 so we may think acquiring Ruth was an absolute steal, but in fairness to the time period, the cost of acquiring Ruth today would be about $1,74 million – still quite a bargain by modern standards!
In all, Ruth had played six seasons with the Red Sox, leading them to three World Series victories. On the mound, Ruth pitched a total of 29 2/3 scoreless World Series innings, setting a new league record that would stand for 43 years. Thankfully, then Red Sox owner Harry Frazee made the decision to sell Ruth to the Yankees for the aforementioned $125,000 in cash and some $300,000 in loans (which Frazee reportedly used to finance his Broadway production interests).
What kind of player did the Yankees get for the spend, considering Ruth was fresh off a sensational 1919 season during which he broke the home run record with 29 and led the American league with 114 RBI’s?
Well, as we know, Ruth promptly injected the Yankee offense with oodles of power by clubbing 54 home runs. He then connected for 59 homers in 1921, dominating the game as he became the premier attraction in baseball, usurping Ty Cobb in the process.
Simultaneously, Yankee revenues increased to the point that the team was able to leave the Polo Grounds (shared with the New York Giants baseball team) and build Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923 and became known as “the house that Ruth built.”
Not long after acquiring Ruth, the Yankees had built a team that won their first ever World Series title, the season was 1923.
The ‘23 Yankee team featured the switch hitting Wally Shang at catcher, who Shang hit .276/.360/.342. Shang was one of the best catchers in all of baseball over the first 50 years of recorded baseball history. Though Shang had a mediocre regular season by his lofty standards, he was a clutch postseason hitter, batting .318 for the Yankees as they finally broke through and beat the Giants.
Shang’s importance to the Yankees was very understated. He threw out a little more than half of all would-be base stealers. Imagine how valuable a catcher who could shut down running games like Shang did could be? Considering how much impact a good defensive catcher can make, imagine what today’s Yankees might achieve if they had a true two-way catcher – not to diminish how good Kyle Higashioka is defensively, but Higgy’s OPS was a dismal .635 last season. By contrast, Shang’s OPS was .702 in 1920 (in a down year) and was .794 over his career. Higgy’s career OPS to date is .619.
Anchoring the ‘23 Yankee team was left handed masher Babe Ruth, known by then as the “Big-Bopper” and the “Sultan of Swat.” The ‘23 Yankees also featured left-handed first baseman Wally Pipp, who slashed .304/.352/.397 while driving in 109 runs. Obviously, this left-handed tandem did a ton of damage for the first ever Yankee World Series champions.
Balancing the ‘23 Yankee lineup was right-hand hitting second baseman Aaron Ward, who slashed .284/.351/.422 while knocking in 81 runs and scoring 79.
The Eras of Glory:
My point in mentioning the ‘23 Yankees is that the lightbulb had gone on for the Yankee franchise year. It was obviously an LED floodlight with 20,000 lumens that was well ahead of its time in burn-hours and capable of massive illumination because over the course of the modern baseball era, the blueprint for success remained largely the same.
The Yankees had built a baseball stadium that actually gave an advantage to the type of team they had knowingly set about assembling every season. This point is supported stunningly by historical success. In the 1930s, the Yankees produced a whopping five more championships! The 1940s produced four more World Series titles. Then came the 1950s when the Yankees added six more championships. Next was the 1960s, when the Yankees won another two. (I am not even mentioning the times the Yankees reached the World Series and didn’t win.)
Looking at the last championship of the eras I’ve highlighted here, which was registered in 1962, we see striking similarities to all of the great previous Yankee teams that preceded them. The ‘62 team was anchored of course by both the switch-hitting Mickey Mantle and lefty power hitter Roger Maris. Superb defensive catcher Elston Howard provided the bulk of the Yankees catching and the switch-hitting Tom Tresh was the engine that made the team go, scoring 94 runs for the Yankees that year.
The First Championship Drought:
In 1963, which was first baseman Joe Pepitone’s first full season, the Yankees lost a tightly contested seven game World Series to the Dodgers who were led by untouchable lefty Sandy Koufax, who was the World Series MVP that year. The Yankees pitching staff only allowed 12 runs in the ‘63 series but the Dodgers only allowed four en route to sweeping the Yankees 4 games to nothing.
The following season, the Yankees lost to the upstart Cardinals four games to three in a tightly contested World Series. St. Louis was led by the ‘63 World Series MVP Bob Gibson.
Over the next 12 years, the first championship drought in Yankee history transpired. Including the two Series losses, the dry spell totaled 14 painful years until the vaunted Yankees would recapture World Series glory in 1977.
How the Yankees Set About Ending the Drought:
The Yankees ‘76 team that was swept by Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” featured a rotation led by right-handers Catfish Hunter, Dock Ellis, and Ed Figueroa. The lineup on that team was anchored by Thurman Munson, Chris Chambliss, Graig Nettles and Willie Randolph. The Yankees lacked left-handed starters and the lineup just didn’t have enough pop to handle a dominant team like the Reds.
During the ‘76 offseason, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s desire to win trumped all else and the Yankees added free agent Reggie Jackson to the mix. NY also acquired shortstop Bucky Dent from the White Sox, trading Oscar Gamble, LaMarr Hoyt, and minor league pitcher Bob Polinsky. Dent was a big upgrade over Fred Stanley, the starting shortstop from the previous year’s team that was swept by the Reds.
Louisiana Lightning himself, Ron Guidry, burst onto the scene in 1977, providing the Yankees with the dominant lefty starter they so badly needed. Along with free agent signing Don Gullett, who was also a lock down lefty, the Yankees ushered in a new dynasty. Clearly, the formula of the past, “the Yankee-Way” once again proved to be a huge advantage for the team with the short-porch in right field.
When we look at the ‘77 Yankees, we see that much of the team’s success can be attributed to Thurman Munson, one of the greatest Yankees catchers ever, who was smack dab in the middle of things. Munson was one of the best catchers the Yankees ever had and he slashed .308/.351/.462 for that team while driving in 100 runs, hitting 18 home runs and playing incredible defense in all phases of the game for the Yankees. As in past championship years, a great catcher held the line.
In stunning fashion, left-handed slugger Reggie Jackson drilled three home runs on three pitches as the Yankees dispatched the Dodgers in six games, effectively ending the championship drought that had lasted 14 years. The “Yankee-Way” had been rekindled. George Steinbrenner proved that if the Yankees returned to playing true Yankee baseball, a new championship era would be realized. It wasn’t easy for Steinbrenner to win that championship. The stress and effort that went on behind the scenes was nearly immeasurable.
Could a Return to the “Yankee Way” End the Current Championship Drought?
Which brings me to the point of this article. What needs to happen for the Yankees to end the present day championship drought, which is now the second longest championship period in modern Yankees history? Winning baseball is not simple, in fact, it’s far from it – especially so considering how analytics driven the modern game has become. Teams now feature vastly deeper bullpens. Starts throw harder and for less innings than ever before. Defenses deploy shifts. Cleanup hitters now bat first or second. The era of three outcome baseball is upon us.
What do the Yankees need to do, to end the championship drought though? Could a return to “the Yankee-Way” yield a championship? Could glory be restored that simply?
In order to understand these questions more clearly, we need to not only look at the formula that George Steinbrenner’s drought busting ‘77 championship team appropriated, but we should also look at how the most recent Yankee dynasty was built.
The Keys to the Most Recent Yankees Dynasty:
No doubt the Yankee dynasty of 1996 to 2000 was a true powerhouse. Many Yankee fans feel that the 1998 team was possibly the greatest baseball team of all time and that might be a question we’d have to defer to Dr. Semendinger about – for confirmation and proper analysis. I’m not here to debate that topic today.
I am here to note the core-five of that Yankee dynasty, which included strong left-handed starting pitching provided by Andy Pettitte, tremendous leadership and shortstop play from Derek Jeter, amazing defense and run production from Bernie Williams in centerfield, lock down relief pitching from Mariano Rivera and tremendous output from Jorge Posada, the team’s main catcher.
One thing is certain, the 1996 World Series was a dramatic spectacle as the Yankees were up against the Braves who were heavy favorites and who were also looking to repeat as World Series champions after having dispatched a potent Cleveland team to win it all the previous season. Atlanta featured one of the best rotations of all time, led by Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine.
In the first two games, the Braves outscored the Yankees 16-1. The Yankees never lost again. After taking three in row in Atlanta, the Yankees won the World Series – the team’s first in 18 years – in Yankees Stadium. The most memorable involved a comeback in Game 4, capped by catcher Jim Leyritz’s home run off Atlanta closer Mark Wohlers.
The ‘96 Yankees were built with adherence to the “Yankee Way” and the roster was very strong up the middle with Jorge Posada and Joe Girardi complementing each other’s abilities and providing the catching. Bernie Williams had matured into a terrific center fielder and his 102 RBI’s were a big key to the ‘96 team’s success. ‘96 was also Derek Jeter’s first full season at shortstop and his clutch play was the catalyst for the Yankees return to glory. Left-handed power hitting and strong corner defense was provided by Tino Martinez, who led the ‘96 team in RBI’s with 117 and who also hit 25 home runs. Wade Boggs anchored third base and batted .311 with a .389 OBP.
The Yankees lineup balance eventually was too much for even the vaunted Braves rotation and between Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Tino Martinez the Yankees were able to continually pressure the opposition. Meanwhile, the Yankee rotation relied heavily on lefty’s David Cone, Andy Pettitte and Jimmy Key and John Wetteland provided the dominant closing component needed to win in the modern era.
The Last Championship:
This late 90’s dynasty even had enough in the tank to produce one final championship, which happened in 2009 as the Yankees beat a capable Phillies team four games to two. Since then, baseball has been ruled by various teams including the Giants (who built a dynasty of their own), the Cardinals, the Red Sox (who also won multiple titles), the Royals, the Cubs, the cheating Astros, the Nationals and most recently, the Braves.
Each of these franchises used their own formulas that worked for them, but if we go back and look at that last Championship team in 2009, we make note of left-handed power hitting, high OBP at the many grinding at-bats that are characteristic of a lineup that often reaches base, tremendous lineup balance and the importance of a contributing farm system.
Providing the power hitting was 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui. Lineup balance was achieved with Matsui, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and many other role players like Nick Swisher, Melky Cabrera, and Brett Gardner. The Yankees were strong up the middle and on the corners. The front of the Yankee rotation was anchored by dominating lefty CC Sabathia and consistent lefty Andy Pettitte. “The Yankee-Way” formula produced the 2009 championship, the roster was undeniably built to win.
The Answer is Right Behind Us:
Ut est rerum omnium magister usus is a Latin phrase attributed to Julius Caesar in De Bello Civili. Roughly translated it means: “Experience is the teacher of all things.” Using history as our teacher, we’ve looked back in the rear-view-mirror and over the last half a century we’ve found irrefutable evidence of the “Yankee-Way” chiseled into every single one of the World Series championship teams.
There are two main lessons that Yankee history teaches us. The first is that there were no championship droughts during the era in which the “Yankee-Way” was created and subsequently deployed. Instead, the Yankees were a dominant franchise during this period and the way the Yankees built their teams worked.
From 1923 to 1962, the Yankee franchise experienced its true glory years as the Bombers won 20 World Series championships. Yankee rosters were constructed very specifically during this era.
The other main lesson is that the “Yankee-Way” was used by then team owner George Steinbrenner to break the first ever championship drought that the Yankee franchise had ever endured, which lasted from 1963 to 1977 and encompassed 14 years. The next championship drought lasted from 1979 to 1996 and once again, the “Yankee-Way ” was used to break this second 17-year period of bleakness.
The Key to the Most Recent Yankee Dynasty:
Notwithstanding, we Yankee fans as I mentioned are now enduring the third championship drought in franchise history, which has now reached 12 long years fraught with disappointment and as with each drought in franchise history, the Yankees have strayed pretty far from the “Yankee-Way.”
Thinking back to the most recent Yankee’s dynasty of the ‘90’s. Relentless and Stubborn would be good words to describe the Yankee lineup and its effect on opposing pitching. Was it Brian Cashman who orchestrated the building of these teams, or was it Bob Watson and Gene “Stick” Michael who really built them?
It was easy to lose track of how many times George Steinbrenner hired and then fired certain people and Gene Michael was certainly one Steinbrenner’s most often yanked around employees. In his second stint as the Yankees GM, from 1990 to 1995, during a period when George Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball operations by Commissioner Fay Vincent, Michael rebuilt the Yankees farm system, focusing on developing young talent rather than trading it away.
During Michael’s tenure as general manager, the Yankees drafted or signed players like Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams. He also made some other key moves, like trading for Paul O’Neill. The foundation Michael built paid off as the Yankees rattled off championships in 1996, and from 1998–2000.
The Importance of Stick Michael:
Much has been written about what a great GM Gene “Stick” Michael really was and as Buck Showalter recalled when he learned of Michael’s death in September of 2017, Showalter said, “Michael could never have survived decades as an employee of George Steinbrenner without a deep toughness,” which Showalter referred to as, “a stubbornness.”
Michael rebuilt the Yankees by emphasizing a lineup full of tough, stubborn hitters who ground out at bats and wore pitchers down, en route to posting very high OBP. Michael also put an emphasis on acquiring left-handed power hitters to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s dimensions and he tirelessly worked to rebuild and improve the Yankee farm system.
Cashman Has Not Adhered to the “Yankee-Way”:
Has Brian Cashman done any of these things? No, he really hasn’t. He’s allowed himself to be bullied by Michael Fishman’s analytics team, to the point where the Yankees even become easy for Division rivals to game plan against because the Yankee lineup was simply too right-handed.
Over the past few seasons, Kevin Cash and the Rays didn’t appear to be having too much trouble dismantling the unbalanced Yankee lineup and for quite some time, Brain Cashman was very slow to react to the trend that other teams were catching onto until finally, last July at the Trade Deadline, in an act of desperation, Cashman addressed the Yankees total lack of balance by trading for Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo. Aaron Boone finally could pencil in a lineup that prevented teams from stacking righty-relievers and mowing down large swaths of the Yankee lineup.
Prior to those trades, the Yankees actually had the worst left-handed hitting in all of baseball. Imagine that!
Cashman also made a few other secondary moves, giving Aaron Boone the ability to created some situational pitching matchups of his own by acquiring lefty specialist Joely Rodriguez and righty killer Clay Holmes and combined with the newfound lineup balance, the Yankees were able to squeak into the playoffs as a Wild-Card team last October. He also tried to add a lefty starter by acquiring Andrew Heaney from the Angels.
While it was nice to see Cashman make the moves, it felt a day late and a dollar short to me at the time, as I wondered why it took Cashman that many years to finally do something? My faith had been lost long before Cashman’s flurry of deadline deals were made.
Unfortunately, what Cashman did wasn’t nearly enough to overcome several years of poor roster building decisions and the Yankees went quietly spiraling into yet another season without a championship.
Cashman Has Never Understood Nor Respected the “Yankee Way”:
When the Yankees broke their 18 year championship drought that lasted from 1978 to 1996, Gene Michael was no longer employed by the Yankees, having been dismissed the previous season as a fallout from the strike shortened season of ‘95, but his fingerprints were all over the teams that captured four World Series titles in five years from 1996 to 2000, as well as the one that brought home another championship nearly a decade later in 2009. His impact is undeniable.
How Would Gene “Stick” Michael Fix Cashman’s Mess?
It’s true, Gene Michael was the last Yankee leader to truly understand the “Yankee-Way.” One has to wonder, if Gene Stick Michael was alive and well today and he were to take over as General Manager of the most storied franchise in Major League History, what moves would he make to create a World Series championship team?
Would having a GM who was also an accomplished scout, a former on-the-field manager and a former MLB player help? Would a real baseball person be a better candidate to restore the Yankees to glory?
If Stick Michael were here to rebuild the Yankees once again, his recipe would no doubt be entrenched in the “Yankee-way.” His first goal would be to build up and fortify the Yankee farm system, which is now rated by mlb.com as the worst overall system in the American League East and is now number 18 in MLB. Michael would realize the importance of succeeding in the Draft, something Brian Cashman’s Yankees rarely do these days, Aaron Judge and Jonathan Loasiga aside.
During his first few years at the helm, Stick Michael would gather draft picks and horde International Bonus Pool money. Then he’d do what great Yankee teams of the past have done. He’d build up the middle. He’d focus on acquiring catching, shortstop and centerfield prospects and no doubt, he’d rely heavily upon on-the-ground scouts to accomplish this.
Cashman’s current Yankees have certainly put a focus on drafting shortstops, but Michael would build a stable of up the middle players that would far exceed what the current Yankees are accomplishing, because in addition to a few shortstop prospects, the Yankee system would be stocked with high end catching and centerfield talent. One could argue that the presence of Anthony Volpe and Jasson Dominguez resonate that the “Yankee-Way” is still alive and well. But the current roster tells a vastly different story, doesn’t it?
Stick Michael would probably demand better scouting and he would lean much more on this scouting than the present day Yankees do. He’d still value analytics of course, but Michael Fishman’s team would not be the driving force in the organization when it comes to making decisions.
Instead, Michael would restore balance to the Yankee front office by creating an environment in which scouting played at least an equal role to analytics. This is said not to devalue the contributions that analytics make as Stick would definitely value them. Rather, he’d value the importance of scouting significantly more than the current Yankees appear to do and he’d be very stubborn about what he was looking to do and how he was going to go about it.
The Yankees would then start making decisions a bit differently and players wouldn’t be drafted, traded for or signed who didn’t fit the “Yankee way.” Michael would assemble a collection of left handed power hitters, sprinkled in with right handed hitters who would balance the lineup.
Michael would also emphasize the value of left-handed pitching and the Yankee rotation would absolutely be tweaked, along with the bullpen.
Lastly, it is likely that Michael would prefer to not only hang onto prospects more, but he wouldn’t be quick to give up on players he believed in either. This would create more internal stability for the Yankees. We likely wouldn’t see trades made for players like Sonny Gray unless Stick Michael signed off on it and it would be highly likely that the players Michael acquired would be players that fit the plan and he wouldn’t waste prospect collateral and then give up on who he had gone to such lengths to trade for.
Clearly, to implement a plan like this, Gene Michael would assemble the best, most knowledgeable coaching staff in the game and to do that, he might absolutely have to restructure most of the coaching staff as we presently know it.
What would Stick Michael’s Yankee roster look like?
He’d probably feature a very strong two-way catcher. The team might even be built around this player, kind of like the ‘77 World Series team was built around Thurman Munson. Munson was the Yankees number one pick in 1968, going fourth overall. Stick Michael would probably position the Yankees with a very high first round pick. Drafting 20th every year would not be his goal. I think he’d be looking to check the catching box first and foremost. The present roster has gone awry from the “Yankee-Way” here as the catching is in pretty sad overall shape. NY has two catchers with no offensive value to speak of and a starter whose defense is terrible.
The next piece Michael would look for is a strong defensive shortstop who hit enough to provide good overall value. It’s easy for a writer to suggest the Yankees should draft a player like Derek Jeter, but I think Michael might value someone more along the lines of Bucky Dent, he’d want a rock solid defensive shortstop who hit .250 or .260 – a player the Yankees could quietly count on. Michael’s anointed shortstop would quarterback the Yankee infield.
There is a chance that an Oswald Peraza or an Anthony Vope might eventually provide the type of middle infield play that the Yankees currently lack. Michael would no doubt be extremely high on both players and it’s unlikely that he’d be willing to trade either.
It’s also doubtful, if not completely inconceivable, that Stick Michael would look to start a season without a very solid answer at shortstop. The present roster has no such answer at this key position, does it? Cashman has Gio Urshela, a net negative offensive player, slated to start the season as his shortstop. Championship Yankees teams of the past were not built like the product Cashman has put on the field.
With the catcher and shortstop addressed, Michael would continue to build his roster. Next he’d focus 100% on developing a great defensive center fielder. The player would bat leadoff and like many of the players on Michael’s roster, he’d come up through the system. Stick’s center fielder would ignite the Yankee offense. Joe DiMaggio <gulp, did I just write that?> would be the mold and of course, yes – there will never be another Joltin’ Joe.
Michael would search the amateur ranks and find several players who fit the mold. The lower levels of the system would take shape and the Yankees would eventually focus on “finishing” the player who most fit the DiMaggio mold. Is he right-handed or left-handed? I don’t think Michael would care. Speed, defense, throwing arm, high OBP all would be Michael’s real priorities.
Now, with the top of the lineup set and with stellar defense at all three up the middle positions, catcher, shortstop and centerfield in place, Michael would continue building the team and the next priority would be a second baseman in the mold of Willie Randolph. A fast, good hitting, stellar defensive player would be needed and Michael’s focus in drafts wouldn’t necessarily produce a second baseman, though it is entirely possible that an ultra focused effort on drafting shortstops might yield a second baseman. I think Michael would be open to trading if necessary. Randolph had a lifetime WAR of 65.9! Therefore, Randolph would be the bar and acquiring a player of Randolph’s caliber wouldn’t be easy. Michael wouldn’t rest until he had his man.
Next, Michael would begin assembling the left handed power hitters on the corners. First base, third base and right field would be emphasized. The Yankees, under Gene Michael’s leadership, would use any means necessary to fill the roster in here. Free agents and trades would be the main avenues. The Yankees would prioritize players like Matt Olson, Jose Ramirez and Bryce Harper and Michael would bring players with these types of profiles in to provide run production, sculpting the middle of the lineup like so many Yankees championship teams of the past did.
The present day roster just doesn’t cut it. Where is the left-handed power output on the current Yankee roster? I don’t see a Reggie Jackson, a Tino Martinez, a Graig Nettles, or a Hideki Matsui on the modern day Yankee roster.
With the next order of business, Stick Michael would cover left field with a strong defensive player, probably a right-handed hitter, who could provide great contact hitting and gap power. There is a lot of ground to cover in left field in Yankee stadium.
A left fielder that Stick Michael might have been very interested in would have been Mookie Betts, but he’s off the table now so his basic profile would serve to form a very high bar. It’s likely that Michael might have to settle a bit, as players like Mookie Betts are few and far between.
Would Michael acquire his left fielder via a trade? Would he use free agency? Or would he fill the position as a result of one of the Yankees many center field prospects matriculating to left field? It’s hard to say. What we do know is that the present lineup doesn’t have a single player on it that fits the bill.
Finally, Stick would add the designated hitter component to his team. This player’s real purpose would be to protect his left-handed power hitters and plate some of his high OBP players that infest his lineup. I imagine Michael would turn to analytics to determine which candidates had the necessary plate discipline skills to advance baserunners.
Michael might also want a right-handed designated hitter for this purpose. I don’t think Michael would be interested in a hulking power hitter like Giancarlo Stanton who strikes out too much. He’d likely set to work scouring the baseball world with his trusted staff and he’d want a player capable of driving in runs, but also someone who is good at not hitting into double plays.
One such player who would represent a very high bar springs to mind and it’s 1997 Craig Biggio, who didn’t hit into a single double play, on the way to slashing .309/.415/.501 for a .401 wOBA and 148 wRC+. Biggio hit for average, for power and he ran. Granted Biggio is also a Hall of Fame player, so we’d have to scale back our expectations a bit, but Michael might look for a player with similar, more earthly offensive profile.
There actually haven’t been too many players ever who avoided hitting into a a single double play over the course of a full season. Mid-90’s Ray Lankford comes to mind but he was no Biggio. Lankford avoided hitting into double-plays and he put up solid but not spectacular numbers. Another player with a bit better profile was Dick McAuliffe, who played for the Tigers back in the mid 60’s but again, he just doesn’t have the needed profile.
Stick Michael would want a left fielder who could bring similar Biggio like skills to the table. He’d want 20 home run power with the ability to steal bases and run and most importantly, demonstrate a low strikeout rate.
A former Yankee that Michael might use as a realistic bar in lieu of Biggio might actually be Roy White. Over his career, White only struck out 9.2% of the time while posing a lifetime .360 OBP. White’s lifetime .987 fielding percentage would also catch Stick Michael’s attention so he’d look for a similar type of player, perhaps one the Yankee system could produce.
Currently, the Yankee system actually has a player that might fit the Roy White profile – 20 year old right-hand hitting Everson Pereira, if he doesn’t stick in center field, he might be an important piece on a team created in the Stick Michael mold.
Pereira has the tools. He has a plus-plus arm (scouts rave about it), he steals bases and is a plus-plus baserunner, he’s got some real, honest, translatable power, and he gets on base at a phenomenal clip. He’s going to need to cut down on his strikeouts and start using the whole field more as, like many younger players tend to be in Single-A, he’s a dead pull hitter presently.
Pereira will never be a Biggio type in terms of avoiding double plays. Not only does the shift make hitting into double plays infinitely more likely, but Pereira hits the ball on the ground 37% of the time. Biggio also hit a lot of grounders, of the hard-hit variety but a lot of them found holes that today’s shifts erase. There is a good chance Pereira winds up in left field for the Yankees and becomes that Roy White type that Sick Michael would want, so we won’t give up completely on the current Yankee farm system.
What Would Stick Michael’s Rotation Look Like?
Positionally, that pretty much completes the basic framework regarding the type of team Gene Michael might look to assemble. There is no question his starting rotation would feature at least three capable lefties, so he’d probably look to draft and develop as many of those types as he could, while also looking to sign leftys who fit the Yankee profile – which would be pitchers who allow weak to medium-hard contact fly balls and who have good strikeout numbers while minimizing walks. Think Nestor Cortes Jr. types, perhaps with a bit more pedigree.
Starting with last year’s MLB Draft, I doubt Stick Michael would have signed off on shortstop Trey Sweeney, especially with the Draft’s top lefty starter, Jordan Wicks still on the board. The Cubs would end up taking Wicks with the very next pick but I strongly doubt Michael would have never allowed that to happen.
If Michael were going to trade for lefty starters, I think he’d be interested in Oakland’s Sean Manaea, who could be had for a reasonable package price and who probably represents a solid lefty to slot in behind say Luis Severino. Presently the Yankee system doesn’t have a Top-10 lefty starter in its rank so Michael would absolutely look to change that and draft the next Andy Pettitte.
However, the Yankee system does feature Ken Waldichuk, who is the Yankees number nine overall prospect. Michael would want to focus on tapping into his potential for sure as well. Beyond the presence of Waldichuk, the Yankee system won’t be producing any left-handed starters any time soon, hence my belief that Michael would absolutely prioritize a trade for a Sean Manaea type starter.
Currently, Cashman’s Yankees have two left-handed starting pitchers. Jordan Montgomery and the aforementioned Cortes Jr. Brain Cashman has struggled mightily to create the kind of cohesive championship caliber starting rotation that Yankee championship teams of the past have featured.
Cashman does have one feather in his cap though that shows he’s not completely oblivious to the “Yankee-Way” as the 2009 championship would not have been possible if he hadn’t acquired CC Sabathia the prior offseason. Advising Cashman at the time were Joe Girardi and Reggie Jackson. Granted, Cashman spent a then significant portion of the Steinbrenner family’s disposable wealth to acquire Sabathia ($160 million), but the signing stands out amidst a sea of Cashman failures in the starting pitching department.
One of Cashman’s best signings ever was one of his first actually, as he also signed Cuban righty Orlando Hernandez back in 1998, but that was 24 years ago. Sadly, it’s a what have you done for me lately world and Cashman has been pathetic when it comes building a championship caliber rotation. He just hasn’t been able to get a group of starters capable of taking the championship hill. Cashman also signed fan favorite Masahiro Tanaka back in 2014 but the Yankee rotation lacked the front end lefty depth needed to best exploit Yankee stadiums advantages.
Mike Mussina was another great acquisition that Cashman gets credit for back in 2000, when he added the righty ace for $88.5 million.
The reason I’m bringing up Cashman’s successes is to give him some due credit while also pointing out an overarching general theme that shows a lack of strategic understanding of the importance of the “Yankee-Way” on Cashman’s part. Today’s Yankees encourage opposing lineups to stack left handed hitters to counter the predominantly right-handed Yankee rotation and that isn’t the best strategy, given Yankee stadium’s dimensions.
How is it that Hal Steinbrenner can condone fielding a starting rotation void of front end leftys? Gene Michael simply wouldn’t dream of doing that. Folks, I’m not sold on Hal Steinbrenner’s belief that he has the right people in place. I think Cashman’s roster construction is not just a bit off base, but I feel it’s way off base. In my book, other teams will pick him off again and again. He just doesn’t get it. I do think the championship drought will continue on indefinitely until things change.
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? (Where have you gone, Stick Michael.) Yankees nation turns its lonely eyes to you
Woo, woo, woo
What’s that you say, Mr. Cashman?
Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey
Now all we have is you.