This last season the Yankees were a peculiar club to watch. While injuries to key well paid players certainly played a key factor in the roster of retreads and also rans that they ran out on the field for most of the season there was also something else hanging over that Yankee club that was very shall we say… “un-Yankee like.” While I’m sure winning was still the first goal for the Yankee organization, getting under the luxury tax threshold seemed to be a close second on the list of priorities.
Yes it seemed the first American professional sports team to be valued over a billion dollars seemed to be trying to run things on the “cheap” in a manner of speaking. So as the Yankees tried to navigate their way under the luxury tax threshold to avoid the harsh taxes levied against repeat offenders, there was some schadenfreude for fans of the teams who had bore the brunt of the damage from the Yankees flexing their financial muscles in the past. As pretty much any non Yankee fan will tell you it felt good to see the Yankees being outbid for one of their own players by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And I hope it felt really good for you all because this year the free spending Yankees are back in full force. Weather the Steinbrenner brothers found their missing wallet, or they realized that their attempts to get under the tax was costing them more than it would save, such as $60 million in gate revenues alone as was discussed at Getting Blanked last week. Even though the team decided to play chicken with Robinson Cano and rookie agent Jay-Z it seems their thrifty ways died there, maybe it was being losing their own players two years in a row that made them finally willing to bust out the big bucks but this offseason the list of Yankees signing seems never ending. They spent big money in the outfield bringing in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. They also spent big at catcher inking catcher Brian McCann to an $85 million dollar deal to replace the circus of
barely replacement level catchers. Not only did they lay out those big money deals they also retained the services of Hiroki Kuroda who was the teams best pitcher in 2013, and brought in role players Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson. And then they landed the biggest fish of them all with their acquiring Japanese pitching prodigy Masahiro Tanaka.
With that outlay of cash the Yankees are blowing far past the $189 million cap needed to avoid the punitive luxury tax, and that is without even having to pay Alex Rodriguez for the 2014 season.
Not since missing the playoffs in 2008 have the Yankees gone on a spree of this magnitude. Back then the prized acquisitions were pitchers C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett. That spending spree helped the Yankees seize the 2009 World Series. With the luxury tax something that the Yankees seem to no longer fear is there anyway to stop the evil empire from rising again?
If history teaches us anything the answer to that question is yes! Even though the Yankees have the financial flexibility to give more money to any player that they desire on the free agent market, they have yet been able to find a way for their immense wealth to translate into consistent player development. The last star to come through the Yankees farm system was Robinson Cano, it can be debated that Ian Kennedy is a viable option as well but since he is plying his trade elsewhere and on the inconsistent side of things. If the Yankees hope to return to their glory days of the late 90′s and early 2000′s they will need a pipeline of homegrown talent which they could then supplement with top free agents.
However it is the acquisition of these free agents that is likely to keep the impact prospects out of the reaches of the Yankees. With the draft pick compensation that is tied to top free agents the Yankees have to pay with more than just money for their hired guns. While losing draft picks might not seem like such a terrible thing when you delve deep into the attrition/flameout rate of top prospects in MLB, with the draft you never know what you’re giving up until after the fact.
Sure the 2009 championship and the few seasons of a healthy and effective Mark Texeira were nice, but how nice would Mike Trout, drafted by the Angels with one of the picks the Yankees forfeited when they signed big Tex. With the new draft spending limits imposed by the latest CBA the loss of picks will hurt the Yankees even more as they must also forfeit the bonus pool money associated with the pick they give up, meaning they can no longer offer big money to a player who plummeted over concerns if they would sign.
When looking at the Yankees shopping spree this off-season they are giving up three picks for the signings of Beltran, Ellsbury and McCann. While that will be offset slightly by receiving picks for the departures of Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano. Luckily Tanaka cost the team nothing but greenbacks, but the true impact of the Yankees return to their free spending ways will not truly be felt for several seasons until people are able to see what their farm system does or doesn’t produce.