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  • Paul Semendinger

Perspectives: I Figured It Out

by Paul Semendinger,

January 15, 2013

***

I saw the following article on MLBTR yesterday, I then started thinking about it, writing about it, and on the millionth draft of where I wanted to go with my own article in response, I finally figured it all out.


But, let's start at the beginning:


The following comes from MLBTR:


"As Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports, the team’s preferred outcome would have been to retain Andrew Benintendi, but he wound up signing a five-year, $75MM deal with the White Sox. He reports that the Yankees would have gone to five years to get Benintendi were it not for the fact they’d signed starter Carlos Rodon to a six-year, $162MM pact."


Or, written a different way - The Yankees knew they needed an outfielder and a pitcher. They hoped to get them both, but when they paid top dollar for the pitcher, they didn't have enough money, or the willingness, to also address left field.


The luxury tax, for the Yankees, acts as a salary cap. This is as clear as day. It couldn't be more clear. At least to me.


"We wanted to address left field, but it was just too expensive." Instead, the Yankees will experiment with a collection of less-than-optimal choices.


This is the crux of the problem with the Yankees. I have tried (for years) to find the words to make it all make sense... and I believe I have finally figured it out.


The Yankees have an identity problem.


They do not know who they are.


They go big. Then they go small.


They get themselves all confused and then they find half-measures to try to solve the huge dilemma they find themselves in.


The Yankees want to be the big team in the big market: They like to flex their muscles:

"We won't be outbid on Aaron Judge."

"Giancarlo Stanton is available - yeah we'll get him."

"We needed an ace - so we got Cole."

"Donaldson's contract is big, yes, but the overall package makes sense because of what this deal does for us..."

"Yeah, we got Carlos Rodon!"


But then, almost immediately after they make the bid deal, as if they have buyer's regret, they start talking about the luxury tax. The Yankees then start to behave like a small market club.


This winter the Yankees signed a host of replacement-level guys to audition for left field in 2023. They did this, not because that's the best plan, but because it's the best plan to fit within their budget - a budget all out of sorts because the team does not know its own identity.


They're a big market team one day and a small market team the next day. This scattered approach is what is keeping this team from being as successful as they can be. They don't know who they are, so they act in ways that are counter-productive.


The big spending on some days prevents them from addressing other positions in the best manner on the next days.


Overall there doesn't seem to be a plan in play. It's one way one day - another way the next day.


And, if the goal is to win a World Series, if that is actually the goal, it isn't working.


This is just is not a efficient way to run a baseball team that is supposed to be playing for a World Championship. It's scattered. It's dysfunctional.


They go big. Then they go small. They talk big ("We're not done yet!"), then they talk small, ("We would have gotten him, but we paid a lot for Rodon...").


This is the problem. It's as if they Yankees have two minds working against each other always.


They find themselves working against themselves.


I am glad the Yankees brought back Aaron Judge, but as I have written, for a long time, my worry is that Judge's contract is going to get in the way of the team winning. Judge's contract eats up a large part of the luxury tax space.


In a sense, if the Yankees remain focused on the luxury tax, Aaron Judge's contract will act no differently for the Yankees than Alex Rodriguez's contract did for the Texas Rangers all those years ago. Because of A-Rod's contract, the Rangers were not able to acquire other necessary pieces for winning. The exact same dynamic seems to be holding true for the Yankees with Judge's contract.


If this is the case going forward, then the Judge deal was a bad deal for them. As Judge ages and his production declines, the contract will, more and more, get in the way of the Yankees being able to win. That just a fact.


Yes, the Yankees spend. But they do not spend wisely. Their spending puts them into a land of confusing contradictions.


For example, the Yankees are paying Josh Donaldson a ton of money. That money is now part of the equation that is preventing them from properly addressing left field. We can debate the Donaldson trade from last year in many ways. We can see which players performed the best, who had the better WAR, and etc... but there is one part of the trade that also needs to be addressed - and it's the most critical part of the equation. Because the Yankees are paying Josh Donaldson $21 million dollars this year, they don't have enough money left in the coffers to address left field. The cost of having Josh Donaldson isn't just his salary, it's how that salary prevents the Yankees from addressing other positional needs on the diamond.


This then requires them to seek low-budget long-shot alternatives.


We love to remember when long-shot players like Matt Carpenter amaze with their ability to be Superman for a period of time, but we tend to forget about the players like Kendrys Morales or Troy Tulowitzki who also came in on low-budget deals and who didn't produce and who made the Yankees a worse team. Remember Jay Bruce? How about Chris Carter? Chris Gittens? Travis Hafner?


When the players like Carpenter come through, we tend to forget the other failures that preceded them. We praise the Yankees for finding such a player. "They're brilliant!" we say.

But we forget to remember that it was that approach that brought the Yankees Neil Walker and so many others.


Baseball seems to be awash in money. The Yankees seem to be awash in money. The new Forbes valuations come out in March, but as of last year, the Yankees were worth 6 billion dollars. The Dodgers are second on that list, at slightly over 4 billion dollars. The Yankees have a two billion dollar advantage over their next closest valued team. That's basically the difference between the Dodgers and baseball's 12th most valuable club - the Washington Nationals (at least as of last year). That is a gigantic difference.


The Yankees have a tremendous financial edge over the other teams in the sport, yet they refuse to utilize that advantage in the best way possible. They do to a point. Then their personality changes.


They play big. Then they play small.


I keep reading about how the Yankees should get Shohei Ohtani. I'd love that, but it won't happen. It's a dream. It's nothing more than a dream. I do not believe it is going to happen because the Yankees have not demonstrated that they will spend the necessary money to have him in pinstripes. That's just not part of their business plan and business strategy. There isn't enough room under the "cap" for the team to be able to afford Shohei Ohtani and pay Aron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, D.J. LeMahieu, Gerrit Cole, and Carlos Rodon.


The Yankees will pass on Ohtani (I believe) because they have passed on so many other difference-making players: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Francisco Lindor, Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, on and on and on... The Yankees passed on them, not because they wouldn't help them win, but because of their costs.


That's the model the Yankees work under. It seems they would rather pass on the greatest players in the game, than pay them if paying them means they'll cross certain luxury tax thresholds.


Steve Cohen of the Mets gets criticized a lot because he's willing to spend big. (I do find it interesting when long-time Yankees fans, fans who celebrate the World Championships of the past, criticize Cohen for doing exactly as the Yankees used to.) Cohen doesn't seem to be intimidated by the luxury tax. He understands what fans want - they want to see their team win. He wants his team to win. It is clear that that is his first priority. (That used to be the way the Yankees operated.)


We're about to head into a season where the Yankees are saying the plan for left field will be using Oswaldo Cabrera (an infielder), Aaron Hicks (an oft-injured fading player), Giancarlo Stanton (a designated hitter who is also frequently injured), and/or Estevan Florial (a player who they have never given regular playing time to) in left field. It will be one of them or one of the long-shot replacement-level players they signed a few weeks ago. Every single fan knows this is not the best plan to address the position. The Yankees know this as well. But it's the cost-effective solution and the Yankees hope that it works.


This is the problem. The Yankees don't know who they are as a franchise. They want to be the big spender, but then they also want to be the small-market club.


The Yankees have an identity problem.


Until the Yankees figure out who they are, this cycle will continue. They will be good, sometimes very good, but never quite good enough.

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