I Have Figured Out The Yankees’ Plan!
by Paul Semendinger
December 3, 2021
Yes, I can write (and write and write) about how disappointed I am that the Yankees were completely silent during the free agent frenzy that came right before the lockout.
There was a time when it was great fun to be a Yankees fan. For decades they were in on every big player. They always showed that they cared passionately about being the team that was always in on every player and that winning was what mattered most. That’s no longer the case. If they do care about winning, they have found an interesting way of showing it. The Yankees no longer shop at the expensive stores, they often look to the discount racks. For me, that’s just not as much fun.
And yes, I know the arguments, I see them coming already in the comments:
“With some big free agents available you can’t say that the Yankees aren’t going to spend.”
“Watch, once the lockout ends, the Yankees will make some big trades.”
Yeah, yeah, I get it. I hope they do. I really do. But in my heart, and I suspect even in the hearts of the people who write those comments, those words are more hopes and wishful thinking than a true feeling that that is the course the Yankees will take. When was the last time the Yankees went completely all-in?
That was a lifetime ago. It really was.
I, for one, am tired of the same old song and dance. “We only care about winning.” And then watching the richest franchise in the sport going looking for bargains. It’s an old, tired, and boring act. It’s a bad look for baseball’s most storied franchise.
It just is.
And, I do get it. Yes, Yankees fans are spoiled. Yes, the Yankees have had winning seasons every year since 1993. I know the argument, “Any team would give anything for that.” Sure. I get it. But that doesn’t completely satisfy Yankees fans – fans who are drummed over the head continually with the idea that “THE YANKEES ARE THE SPORT’S MOST SUCCESSFUL FRANCHISE!”
It’s not “are”. It’s “were.”
I love Yankees history, but I’m tired of the Yankees telling us about the 27 World Championships. It’s old news.
The Yankees haven’t been baseball’s greatest team since 2009… and really that great era in the late 1990s was more than two decades ago. As I have said, many times, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are as relevant to the newest generation of adult Yankees fans as Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio or Babe Ruth. These are just guys from the past. Sure, they were great, but they have no connection and relevance to today.
If this new more frugal approach is the direction of the franchise and their current approach, then the Yankees should own it, completely. The mixed messages the team sends is much of what frustrates me. If they’re going to be, primarily, a “moneyball” type franchise, then own it. I’m tired of hearing that the Yankees are “in on” Robbie Ray or Corey Seager or whomever. It’s a tired, false, and very frustrating narrative. I’m tired of the pronouncements that they’ll do whatever it takes to win and then seeing the team taking half-measures.
I won’t stop rooting for the Yankees. I love the team. I think fans often love the team more than the owners, executives, and players. That’s a part of fanhood. I get it. It’s also what leads to this type of frustration.
But here is the amazing thing, in all of this, though, the Yankees aren’t being stupid or poorly managed… I have discovered their plan. I understand their thinking. The Yankees aren’t going to go “all in” because they don’t have to. They have figured out that good enough will be good enough just often enough to keep the fans happy. The Yankees have figured out that there is no real incentive to be great.
In and among this horrible lockout and impasse between the owners and the players is the key to the Yankees’ thinking. If one looks at the core issues, one can see that what the Yankees are doing makes sense, from a business standpoint and from a competitive standpoint because their current approach assures more money for the franchise and owners and it should still lead to an occasional championship.
As they say, “Follow the money…”
The Yankees are a business entity. The bottom line for a business entity is to make money. The more, the better. The Yankees have a gigantic loyal fanbase. For the Yankees to maintain this fanbase, they don’t have to make a big splash, they just have to be good enough.
Just good enough.
They just have to be good enough to get into the sweepstakes – the post season. The post season, as we have seen many times is where the hottest or the most fortunate or lucky team often wins, not necessarily the best team.
The old Yankees model was to be the best team – to win the division, to win the pennant, and to win the World Series. Winning the division is no longer a necessity and has become less important – and will be even less important going forward.
Look at the (stalled) negotiations. Look at one of the biggest issues and then extrapolate what will come. Here’s a take from MLBTR:
In response to the league’s most recent proposal of a 14-team playoff field, the MLBPA has responded with a new proposal of its own, according to ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers. The union’s latest offer would increase the playoff field to 10 to 12 teams, and also involve a huge overhaul of the current three-division alignment in the AL and NL.
Do you see it?
No matter how this all ends up being settled, there will be more playoff teams. The Yankees see this, they know that they always have the resources to be good, and they don’t have to be great. They just have to get into an expanded post season. If they do this consistently, and they will, the law of averages is that from time to time, they’ll get hot, things will fall into place, and championship flags will fly over the stadium in the Bronx.
Because baseball will be entering a new era, an era that won’t necessarily favor greatness, just “real goodness” (and sometimes even goodness), a team doesn’t have to get the best talent. 92 wins in a season will do it. Often times it won’t even take that many wins.
This approach won’t lead to dynasties like the Yankees fans loved or remember and now just read about, but it will lead to the eventual World Championships. In fact, by baseball’s own design, this approach will almost assure that dynasties won’t happen again. The Yankees realize this. They know that anything can happen in the playoffs.
Teams just have to get in. Once they’re in, anything can happen. Superstar teams are rewarded when anything can happen in a short series.
This will be great for smaller market teams that only taste post season glory from time to time, but for a team with a rich tradition of greatness, like the Yankees, it’ll lead to a more boring product. Even Brian Cashman said the 2021 Yankees were unwatchable at times. They still will be. There is no incentive to be exceptionally great. Teams just need to be good.
Good enough never is… or so they said.
Good enough never was, but now it will be.
The Yankees are working under this model. They’ll be good enough. These just over .500 seasons will, at times, lead to championships. It has to happen. And it will.
The Yankees know that they have the resources and financial might to address big problems when they occur. They can cut costs by staying away from the big contracts like the teams of old and address concerns as they occur From time to time, if they desperately need a pitcher, they’ll spend big on a guy like Gerrit Cole. But they don’t have to do that year-in and year-out because the model doesn’t require super teams. The model requires good enough teams. The Yankees can cut costs and be, always, as they have been, good enough.
The Yankees can begin each season with longshot hopes. If those hopes don’t pan out, they can do as they did this year – get a few cost-controlled players who could make an impact mid-season. It’s a financially sound way to do it. It’s not fun. It’s not the “Yankee Way,” but it has worked and it will work, most years, going forward.
That’s the new Yankee design.
To get there will be somewhat less fun. The Yankees that so many of us are used to are no longer and will be no longer. The goal won’t be to be great. The goal will be to just get to the dance. And with the current model, the Yankees will most often be good enough to get to the dance.
The Yankees don’t need Corey Seager at $300m to get there. They can get there with Andrelton Simmons at $20m. The Yankees don’t need a team that can win 100 or more games. They just need to get to about 92. That’s the model…just be good enough.
This won’t lead to the type of Yankees baseball that so many of us are used to or remember, but it’s the brand of ball we’ll see. This is the Yankees approach. The Yankees refusal to go all in just before the lockout wasn’t a bad strategy, it just isn’t the strategy so many of us would like them to follow. But from a business perspective, it is smart – and it is a model that will lead to just enough Championship Series and World Series and World Championships to keep the fans tuned in.
I wish it weren’t so, but it is.