Yankees set to embark on unfamiliar territory
The New York Yankees are in a transition period.
It won't be easy. Teams arrive in Spring Training hoping to play in the World Series. The Yankees, however, expect it. Always have.
The late Hank Bauer used to tell the story of the annual spring meeting when "Mickey and Yogi would tell the new guys that the postseason shares are part of our salary. Don't mess it up."
The next couple of years promise to be challenging for the Yankees. The American League East is no longer the Yanks, Red Sox and everyone else.
Baltimore served notice a year ago, winning 90-plus games and advancing to the postseason for the first time since 1997. Tampa Bay has won at least 90 games in four of the last five years, making the playoffs three times. And Toronto was the mover and shaker in baseball's offseason, becoming a popular pick to end its 19-year postseason drought.
All of that is happening at a time when the Yankees are in a bit of an identity crisis of their own. The club is committed to making adjustments with payroll to avoid the 50 percent luxury tax that will be assessed on payrolls in excess of $189 million in 2014. There also is a caveat for big spenders: those who remain under the luxury tax threshold will receive a rebate on money they pay into revenue sharing. Keeping their payroll in line could mean up to $50 million to the Yanks.
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner confirmed last spring that he told club officials to pare the payroll by 2014. The Yankees' payroll will be close to $210 million on Opening Day this year, the ninth consecutive season it will be in excess of $189 million.
New York does have only four players under contract for next year, but Alex Rodriguez ($25 million), Mark Teixeira ($22.5 million), CC Sabathia ($23 million) and Ichiro Suzuki ($6.5 million) are guaranteed $77 million alone. Cutting the payroll and remaining a legitimate contender will be a challenge for the Yanks. They have been successful on the field, advancing to the postseason in 17 of the last 18 years, and have won five of their record 27 World Series championships.
That success, however, has come at a cost. In addition to outspending the rest of baseball, the Yankees have had a win-today, worry-about-tomorrow-later mentality that has not put a lot of value on Draft choices and bringing along homegrown players.
The Yankees' penchant for spending on free agents has impacted the Drafts. They lost their second-round pick in 2006, their first-, second- and third-round selections in '09 and their first-round pick in 2011.
In the last eight Drafts, the Yanks have had a selection among the top 50 picks only nine times. Only Detroit, with seven, has had fewer. By contrast, Boston has had 22 selections among the top 50, Toronto 19 and Arizona 18. What's more, the Yankees have had a top 20 pick in the Draft only once in those eight years. Washington, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Kansas City, meanwhile, have had eight apiece, and Miami, the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Toronto and Seattle have had seven each.
That's where the fiscal restraint will be a challenge, as the Yanks don't have big league ready impact players knocking on the door to Yankee Stadium.
Think about it: Since December 2007, they have traded homegrown talent that included right-handed pitchers Tyler Clippard, Ian Kennedy, George Kontos, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and Mark Melancon; left-handed relievers Phil Coke and Mike Dunn; outfielders Austin Jackson, Melky Cabrera and Jose Tabata; catcher Jesus Montero; and infielder Jimmy Paredes.
What do they have to show for those trades on their current 40-man roster? Outfielders Curtis Granderson and Ichiro, left-handed reliever Boone Logan, right-handed pitcher Michael Pineda and backup catcher Chris Stewart.
The farm system has talent, but not much that is ready to harvest. Left-handed pitcher Manny Banuelos, who underwent Tommy John surgery during the offseason, was ranked the fifth-best prospect in the Yanks' system by MLB.com. He and eighth-ranked Mark Montgomery, a right-handed pitcher, are the only players among the top 16 in the organization to play above Double-A last year, and Montgomery split his season between Double-A and Triple-A.
It is a challenge unlike any the Yankees have faced since George Steinbrenner purchased the franchise in 1973.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.