New York Yankees-The 'Win Later' organization

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you know by now that Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez has been traded to the Cleveland Indians for a package of 4 players. They traded two of their best pitching prospects, one of whom is in AA and has ace potential and the other a MLB ready talent with a lower ceiling. According to Joel Sherman an equivalent Yankee package would have been Dellin Betances and Ivan Nova, which is a far cry from the “Herschel Walker type deal” the Rockies initially had asked for. When the Cleveland Indians GM is more bold than the New York Yankee GM, something is wrong with that picture. Maybe its a rookie mistake by 1st year GM Chris Antonetti, where the health concerns are very real and he will regret this trade in the coming years. Maybe the Indians are more motivated to get where the Yankees live on the win curve, since they’ve been down for so long. Or maybe the Yankee GM values his prospects too much, and has lost sight of who the Yankees are and their place in baseball.

We’re 6 years into the Brian Cashman youth movement, which was much needed when it began back in 2005. Back then, the Yanks had an aging, overpaid, under performing group that annually seemed to get off to slow starts and would cram their way to the playoffs in the dog days of August and Septembers filled with rookies, only to run out of gas once they got to the dance. The clubhouse was stodgy and joyless, the manager preferred veteran retreads over rookies, who he often accused of being intimidated by playing on the big stage that is the Bronx Bombers. Something had to change, so Brian Cashman seized control of baseball ops from a fading George Steinbrenner when he re-upped with the team in 05 and set out to rebuild the farm system.

The crown jewel of the system was a fellow who was actually drafted in early 2005 before Brian took over, selected with the compensation pick the Astros gave up for Andy Pettitte, one Phil Hughes. He dominated the minors and became so highly touted Hughes became the #1 pitching prospect in baseball by BA on their midseason list. He was destined for success at the MLB level, and would be the exemplar for the next wave of players Brian hoped to develop. But Phil’s career, which now spans the better parts of 5 seasons, tells a different story. He struggled in 07 and 08 to find his way in the majors, became a dominant middle reliever in 09 and had an above average in 2010, enjoying tremendous run support. 2011 has been a disaster, start to finish. All totaled, over the 5 seasons he has spent with the team he has amassed a grand total of (net) 3.0 WAR. Not this year, not last year, for his career. He currently falls into the Edwin Jackson category of #1 pitching prospects who have been big disappointments on the MLB level, and frankly he has a long way to go to match Jackson’s production (10.8 WAR 07-11). Joba Chamberlain was equally highly touted by BA, enjoyed similar success as a middle reliever in 2007 and as a starter in 08. His total contribution to the Yankees over the course of his 5 season career has been 5.4 WAR, and is currently recuperating from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees have been playoff contenders annually from 2007-present, but largely not from the contributions of these two players.

There have been many opportunities to trade Hughes and Chamberlain over the past 5 seasons for proven MLB starters, some of them elite. In retrospect, can anyone argue that the Yankees as an organization wouldn’t have been better off dealing away the prospect for the sure thing? When you’re talking about proven #1 or 2 MLB starters, those are too rare, too precious and become available too infrequently to pass us for the uncertainty of prospects. This is why prospect hugging doesn’t make sense for a team like the Yanks, who they are financially  and where they are annually on the win curve. Joba and Hughes may have cost little, but they’ve contributed little as well. The Yankees traditionally care less about cost and more about getting elite production. To be sure, Hughes and Chamberlain’s careers are far from over. They may yet find the success the scouts all projected them to have. But the Yankees, with the pressure to perform and their annual expectations is not the place for those wet behind the ears to learn their craft. Even veteran free agents often struggle in their first year with the team. You can’t be in win-now mode and be waiting for prospects to develop at the same time. We saw that clearly in 2008, with the rookie troika fronting the rotation out of camp and the disastrous April that followed, culminating with the team  missing the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

Brian Cashman correctly understands that young pitching is the most precious commodity in baseball. All too often, by the time they hit free agency their best days are behind them. What he doesn’t seem to understand is what economists call an ‘opportunity cost’ where you wasted a spot on your roster that could have be utilized more productively. When you’re a team like the Yankees that tries to win it all annually, that’s a very real cost. Part of the process when dealing with young pitchers is getting lousy production out of them early on while they figure things out. In the meantime, you cost your team wins, while you wait for a train that may very well never arrive.

There’s something to be said for the win-now mentality, and while that approach can also have its limits (see Steinbrenner, George. 1980s) there’s a balance to be struck between the two. When it comes to young pitchers, I don’t think Brian strikes the correct balance. The Yankees sell their fans on being a team that is always in win-now mode, that always goes the extra mile to win championships. Anything less than a World Series title is considered to be a failed season. That doesn’t mesh with Brian Cashman’s prospect hugging approach toward midseason deals. When young, high end pitchers do hit the market, he finds some reason not to make the deal. He wouldn’t add Nunez to the Cliff Lee deal last year, and now he wouldn’t trade any of his prospects for someone who is 27, averages 94 MPH with his fastball, is grossly underpaid and was the best pitcher on the planet this time last year. There has to be a middle ground somewhere on when to hold onto a pitching prospect and when not to, but Brian Cashman doesn’t seem to know where it is. When it comes to keeping prospects in perspective, the Yankee GM has clearly lost his way.

0 thoughts on “New York Yankees-The 'Win Later' organization

  1. 28 this year

    It is because of people like you that those ideas continue to get spread. Not even a mention of how Jack Z probably wanted Smoak more than Montero and was holding out just waiting for the Rangers to blink. Adams was agreed to and also known to be having an injured ankle yet it wasn’t till the end that Jack Z asked for Nunez.

    Also, about Jimenez, don’t you think its worth mentioning how the Rockies told the Yankees, they can’t take a physical of Jimenez. Doesn’t that worry you to trade top prospects for a guy who lost 2-3 mph on his fastball at age 27 and you can’t take physical? Or does that not fit your narrative?

    • Even as a one year deal, I make the Betances-Nova trade. That puts the Yanks in the mix for the WS this year, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in all likelihood don’t. If you want to argue why the Yanks are good enough as is and are equal to or better than BOS, PHI or SF, I’d love to hear it.

      You can dismiss what I wrote as a “narrative” all you like, what you’re engaged in is pure fantasy. The notion that all top prospects reach their ceilings and go on to have successful, elite MLB careers. That’s true in roughly 1/3 of the BA top 20. The rest are either average players or busts, so odds are 2-1 against the model you and Brian embrace.

      • 28 this year

        what one year deal?

        • They’re on the hook for 20 mil spread out over 3 years, and the prospect cost was modest. Even if Jimenez blows out his arm next spring, it was worth the cost to try to compete this year. The Yankee business model only turns a profit when they go all the way, they spent more dollars acquiring Berkman Wood and Kearns last year, none of whom were the difference makers Ubaldo can be. This was worth the risk financially and talent wise.

          • 28 this year

            But on top of that, you’re assuming that Betances-Nova gets it done. I don’t think you get it done without Montero and while pitching busts frequently, hitting generally is a little safer. While we may think Betances-Nova is similar to the Indian’s prospect, the only opinion that matters is the Rockies. Sometimes, saying you took an organization’s two best prospects is better than saying you took their 3rd and 4th even if the value is the same. I know its not the smartest thing, but who knows with these GMs.

          • I agree, Montero-Nova would be a far better deal than the one they settled for. O’Dowd would have to be foolish not to accept that over the CLE offer. And if that’s what it took I’d make a Montero-Nova deal as well, in a heartbeat.

      • 28 this year

        Your overall premise isn’t something I object to, thats an opinion everyone has. I disagree with the examples you use to back it up, namely Cliff Lee and Jimenez. We don’t know what went on behind the scenes but we do know that Jack Z coveted Smoak more than Montero and thats not Cashman’s fault. On Jimenez, Cash suspected something wrong when he was told he couldn’t get a physical. You don’t buy a used car without being allowed to get it checked out yourself, because otherwise, you end up with a lemon.

        • That’s fair, my main point is the Brian values his pitching prospects too highly, and by their nature pitching prospects are highly speculative.

          • 28 this year

            To some degree yes. Nova especially. He is a back end starter and should be readily dealt. I just don’t see who he should have traded for. I don’t know what happened with Haren but thats the one trade where I wish I knew more because the red flags that have existed in all these other trades seem to be nonexistent there. I think if we could point to one mistake, its that one. The others had red flags but Haren was a jewel. Too bad we will never know what happened behind the scenes.

          • Sabr King

            From the reports I read, Haren wanted to stay go back to California.

  2. I want to clarify something about the title. Obviously, the Yanks are a winning team and in playoff contention. I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. But the Yankee standard, the one they themselves promote to their fan base, is to make every effort to win the World Series every year. Obviously its an unattainable goal, but that’s the star they supposedly chase. Getting crappy production annually from prospects in the hope that they turn into something in the future doesn’t mesh with what they sell themselves as to the public.

    • 28 this year

      But you need some balance of prospect in order to keep yourself from falling apart. Without giving Gardner chances, the Yanks would end up with a 140 million dollars of Crawford in their lap. Not necessarily a good situation. And Cash has made trades like the Granderson one trading in chips who wouldn’t succeed in NY and getting one of the better players in the league. When the deal is right, he strikes, but both your examples, something fishy was going on. There’s a another half to those stories that you and I don’t know and when it comes to negotiating, thats the key.

  3. rklanza

    Jimenez has a grand total of 10 wins in his last 36 starts- in the National league! Cash would be second guessed to hell today if he made this deal.

    • George

      I agree. I been saying the same thing

  4. deadrody

    Some exceptionally solid “hindsight is 20/20″ analysis here.

    By all means, let us know when you perfect your wayback machine and we’ll go back and trade Joba and Phil in 2008.

    Remember, TNSTAAPP

    • Way to miss the entire point of the piece, and contradict yourself by the end of your comment.

  5. classicsteve

    As alluded to by others, a typical reactionary and unsupported comment by the author of this piece. Consider these comments from the same individual on July 10, 2010 when writing for the previous incarnation of this blog about the potential acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Johan Santana, both of which he opposed at that time and now claims should have been made based on his post at 10:21 A.M.

    “I’m still not totally convinced the Yankee interest was 100% legit. While Lee is certainly an upgrade, there was no need on the Yanks for a starter. Many observers responded to this deal as “overkill” by the Yanks, and it was overpriced to boot. Overkill and overpriced were trademarks of the Steinbrenner years, not Brian Cashman’s term. This was a very expensive deal and Brian typically steers clear of those trades. Brian Cashman has also long been against giving up top flight prospects for rentals that he can simply sign a few months later. By dangling Montero, they got Texas to give up Smoak (which they resisted prior) and a good AA starter. That hurts the Rangers long term, and Texas may very well be a playoff opponent for the Yanks both this year and in the future. The Rangers are also no threat whatsoever to sign Lee to an extension, given their financial woes. When a trade is “imminent” and doesn’t happen, I smell a rat and sometimes both teams in the rumor are playing along. How many times were the Red Sox “very close” to landing Johan Santana? About every two weeks back in 07. Johan (Lefty fly ball pitcher) never made as much sense for the Sox as he did for the Yanks if you assume they would be paying a fair market price for him in terms of prospects. I always thought those rumors were designed to make the Yanks panic, which thankfully they didn’t.”

    • Yep, I opposed those deals at the time and I changed my mind. That’s what rational people do when new facts are presented or context is added. Ideologues never change their minds, and take their one size fits all philosophies straight off the cliff with them. If life teaches us anything, it’s the limitations of all the ideologies, all the ‘big ideas’ and to be a pragmatist. Frankly, your comment is just a cheap attempt to make a substantive rebuttal.

      And I substantiated my criticisms of Joba and Phil in this piece with links to BR. There is a counter argument to be made, but you haven’t made it.

      • Sabr King

        It does affect your credibility though. Its like reading a blog on the Economist who favoured mortgaged backed securities and collateral debt obligations in 2005, then is preaching financial regulation in 2011.

        • I don’t agree with Steve here, but I will say that sometimes you can learn the same way a GM might. I’m certainly more amenable to trading prospects than I was 2-3 years ago.

        • Steve S.

          If you think opinions should stay the same no matter what the context, I wish you well with your ideology.

          Also, I addressed in the post how different the situation was in 2005-08. That was an aging team that badly needed an injection of youth. This isn’t. The folks who are bringing up things I posted in an entirely different context make a weak attempt at a worthless point.

  6. Steve

    It’s hard to find your way in the majors when you are hurt – I don’t think Phil is very good, but he missed most of 2007 and 2008 due to injuries and time spent rehabbing.

    Also, the trade would NOT have been Nova and Betances. The Rockies were asking for Montero, Nova, Betances……..and also Hughes.

    • Had the GM been engaged, he would have known what the final cost was, not the one 4 days ago.

      The market for Ubaldo changed drastically when the Tigers acquired Fister. A major bidder was out and the Rockies had no choice but to lower their demands. At that point, O’Dowd saw the market for his pitcher collapsing and moved to strike a deal quickly. Brian was smart to wait to the market to develop, but should have stayed engaged all along. He didn’t, the leaks coming from the Yankee side all knocked Ubaldo and reports had the two sides furious at each other over the medicals. That’s where Brian screwed up. Had he kept the door open and kept his cool, he would have been there at the end when the price dropped.

  7. Jake H

    I think you should move prospects if you can get a proven thing. One thing thou that people forget is that Lee isn’t young and he was more then likely going to be a rental.

  8. Tim

    You might have a point if the Yankees didn’t ship Zach McAllister to the Indians for Austin Kearns.

    Or Mark Melancon to Houston for another rental to get to the promised land in Lance Berkman.

    And the rumors they would go after none other then Tyler Clippard for pen depth.

    How about the pile of young talent they sent to Pirates who were bilked of Xavier Nady and Demasco Marte?

    How many of these moves do you think the Yankees will continue to make until the light comes on? I think finally it has.

    • I don’t blame him on Melancon or Tabata, in both cases they stated after the trades that they were unhappy here. I’m also not sure I miss either of them all that much. MM’s a nice middle reliever, Tabata’s a RF with no pop. Meh.

  9. Faiaz

    Cashman works like a ninja. Real Yankee fans know this. I can ALMOST guarantee with his track record, that we get someone that makes our team better before 4PM today.

    • I hope you’re right, and (though you couldn’t tell by this piece) I’ve been a big Cashman supporter over the years. But this one, on top of the Lee non-deal from last year, is making me reconsider things. He’s been more good than bad, but I think needs a reality check on what prospects are actually worth, and what team he works for.

      • Faiaz

        Don’t worry bro, I know Cash can be frustrating at times. But, he is one of ours so we have to trust that he knows what he’s doing and support his decisions even if they don’t make sense at times.

  10. bklyn

    You are a huge idiot. Never reading this blog again.

  11. Peter

    River Ave was saying that the player to be named later is george pomeranz, if that is true that the package would definitely be better than Montero+Nova, it would likely be Betances, Nova and Montero at least. Not sure I would do that

    • I think you’re another person who’s confusing the cost 4 days ago with the final cost. Again, when the Tigers acquired Fister a major bidder was out, and O’Dowd moved quickly to strike a deal. The price dropped substantially over the past 3 days, and the final cost is what it is. Sherman looked at the finished deal, and said Nova/Betances plus filler was the Yankee equivalent.

      • Peter

        I am not confusing it, if someone is it is River Ave Blues, because they had that in their post today.Maybe Sherman wasn’t taking into consideration who the player to be named later was. Or River ave is confused.. I am just saying what I read

      • Antonetti is the GM of the Indians, I believe.

        • Thanks, its been fixed. I’ve been doing that all morning.

          • Peter

            CNNSI also just posted an article saying it is their 3 top pitching prospects which includes their 2010 first round pick Pomeranz, maybe Sherman was confused. He has to be listed a PTBNL until he is eligible to be traded.

            I just think this makes the yankees look a little better than Sherman saying Nova + Betances.. the equivalent is much more than that

          • Could you link that for me? I’d like to see when it was posted. I saw reports like that early last night, but later reports were adjusted downward. Even the final player they added at the last minute was a fringy groundball pitcher (Gardner) last I saw.

          • Peter

            Yeah no problem it is on Riveraveblues.com the 1st article says they asked for Hughes, Betances, Montero and Nova. The third article says what the indians got.

            http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/cliff_corcoran/07/31/jimenez-trade/index.html?sct=mlb_t11_a0

            this article also says what the indians got and it says their top 3 prospects. Sounds like Pomeranz is a huge upside guy, tall lefty tons of strikeouts first rounder.

          • Thanks, but that’s the deal everyone else has. Again, reports were that the Yanks and Rockies hadn’t talked in 4 days, so when you hear “They asked for players X,Y and Z” that was before the market collapsed when the Tigers backed out. So my initial point stands.

  12. Peter

    If I am reading it let me know, depending which reports are right though: Hughes, Montero, Betances, Nova is a lot more than Nova and Betances

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  14. Duh, Innings!

    I think the Yanks’/Cashman’s mentality is this:

    They will win Game 1 of the ALDS with CC and find a way to take two of the next three or split the next four if they don’t sweep.

    The key to the Yanks winning the ALDS is win Game 1 without using Mo. If they can do that, they can bring in Mo for the 8th and 9th of Game 2 Yanks ahead or tied because he didn’t pitch Game 1 and the Yanks are off the day after Game 2, besides the rest before the ALDS. This also means they need only 5 IP out of Colon (my pick for the Game 2 start – I start Garcia in Game 3 and either Burnett or Nova in Game 4) for they could use D-Rob and/or Sori for the 6th and 7th. If they can take the first two games like this, they are ALCS-bound cuz I can’t see them dropping the next three games with Sabathia on the mound for Game 5.

    My dream scenario:

    Game 1: Sabathia 8 IP, Soriano 9th for a 6-1 Yanks win

    Game 2: Colon 5 IP / D-Rob 6th / Sori 7th / Mo 8th and 9th for a 4-2 Yanks win

    Or Colon 6 IP / D-Rob 7th / Mo 8th and 9th (Sori fresh for Game 3)

    Or Colon 7 IP / Mo 8th and 9th (D-Rob and Sori fresh for Game 3, Mo available for the 9th Game 3)

    The Yanks play .333 ball at worst the next three games, still go to the ALCS. Five games would suck but I believe Sabathia could still start Game 3 thus Game 7 of the ALCS with at least two days off after Game 5 of the ALDS, no? Or is there just one day off between the ALDS and ALCS?

  15. Billy15

    I’m sorry Steve but you were blown up twice. First 28 this year!

    “But you need some balance of prospect in order to keep yourself from falling apart. Without giving Gardner chances, the Yanks would end up with a 140 million dollars of Crawford in their lap. Not necessarily a good situation. And Cash has made trades like the Granderson one trading in chips who wouldn’t succeed in NY and getting one of the better players in the league. When the deal is right, he strikes, but both your examples, something fishy was going on. There’s a another half to those stories that you and I don’t know and when it comes to negotiating, thats the key.”

    Than this beautiful post
    “As alluded to by others, a typical reactionary and unsupported comment by the author of this piece. Consider these comments from the same individual on July 10, 2010 when writing for the previous incarnation of this blog about the potential acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Johan Santana, both of which he opposed at that time and now claims should have been made based on his post at 10:21 A.M.

    “I’m still not totally convinced the Yankee interest was 100% legit. While Lee is certainly an upgrade, there was no need on the Yanks for a starter. Many observers responded to this deal as “overkill” by the Yanks, and it was overpriced to boot. Overkill and overpriced were trademarks of the Steinbrenner years, not Brian Cashman’s term. This was a very expensive deal and Brian typically steers clear of those trades. Brian Cashman has also long been against giving up top flight prospects for rentals that he can simply sign a few months later. By dangling Montero, they got Texas to give up Smoak (which they resisted prior) and a good AA starter. That hurts the Rangers long term, and Texas may very well be a playoff opponent for the Yanks both this year and in the future. The Rangers are also no threat whatsoever to sign Lee to an extension, given their financial woes. When a trade is “imminent” and doesn’t happen, I smell a rat and sometimes both teams in the rumor are playing along. How many times were the Red Sox “very close” to landing Johan Santana? About every two weeks back in 07. Johan (Lefty fly ball pitcher) never made as much sense for the Sox as he did for the Yanks if you assume they would be paying a fair market price for him in terms of prospects. I always thought those rumors were designed to make the Yanks panic, which thankfully they didn’t.”

    No offense but either your trying to get people to get aggravated and increase the number of posts or maybe your just clueless? Or maybe you really have a thing for Cashman based on the constant bashing?
    Either way when given a task as a writer and blogger you should consider being more credible and less attention grabbing especially when you continue to contradict yourself. That way maybe you won’t lose customers to other websites. Stop trying to be mike lupica!

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  17. […] show how important they can be. Brian also made a great call passing on Ubaldo Jiminez, which I was dead wrong about. Again, if I told you in April the Yanks were going start to finish with the roster they […]