Trost and Levine Take to the Air, Toe the Party Line

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).

Two of the most influential members of the Yankees’ front office took to the airwaves this morning to promote the upcoming Pinstripe Bowl, and not surprisingly, each interview touched on the team’s offseason plans. President Randy Levine, who was a guest on FOX 5’s Good Day New York, and COO Lonn Trost, who appeared on WFAN’s Boomer and Carton morning radio show (hosted by Kim Jones and Chris Carlin), each fielded several questions about what the Yankees are doing, or not doing, and their responses suggested the organization has a coherent party line.

Randy Levine (l) and Lonn Trost (r) flank Derek Jeter during a ceremony honoring his 3,000th hit. (Photo: Getty Images)

Responding to the question about whether the team’s spending philosophy has changed, Trost dismissed the idea that the Yankees were being more cautious, but stated that the team was trying to be smarter. According to Trost, the Yankees do not believe the dollars being spent in the current market are commensurate with the abilities of the players available, putting the organization in a position to depend on its minor league system. In particular, Trost cited Manny Banuelos, Dellin BetancesHector NoesiJesus Montero, and Austin Romine as prospects that could make an impact next season. He also suggested that because of the team’s high expectations for those players, there hasn’t been a need to overspend as in the past.

Levine’s segment on GDNY was much shorter than Trost’s appearance on WFAN, and the hosts didn’t have the same sports background as Jones and Carlin, but there were several pointed questions about the Yankees’ winter designs. When asked about the team’s need of pitching, Levine responded that the organization was always looking to get better and that if an opportunity presented itself, Brian Cashman would be on it. Levine also touched on the Yankees’ potential interest in Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, stating that it was in the best interest of the organization to keep their level of involvement a secret.

Although the substance of each interview was different, Trost’s and Levine’s tone suggested that team’s inactivity was more about waiting for the right target than not wanting to spend. However, in what appeared to be a throwaway line, Levine’s remark about secrecy regarding Cespedes may have been telling. Considering the propensity of agents to use the Yankees’ financial strength as leverage, often times against themselves, it’s easy to see why the team would promote the idea that its free spending days are a thing of the past. After all, if the Yankees really had no intention to spend this offseason, what advantage would be gained by letting everyone know? Not only might that disclosure save a competitor some money, but it could alienate some fans and tarnish the Yankees’ image.

No new ground was broken in either interview, but the sentiments expressed by both men suggest that the Yankees have a coherent game plan based on their evaluation of internal prospects and players available on both the free agent and trade markets. Granted, some fans will continue to read into these comments that the Yankees simply do not want to spend money, but in reality, it just seems like they haven’t found anyone they want to spend it on.

18 thoughts on “Trost and Levine Take to the Air, Toe the Party Line

  1. David in Cal

    There’s not much difference between the Yankees simply not wanting to spend money vs. not having found anyone they want to spend it on. Top free agents tend to be overpriced. So, not overpaying more-or-less equates to not signing the top free agents. The one I regret most is Yu Darvish.

    • There’s a big difference. For an illustration, just look at all the teams who really want a particular player, but can’t afford him. The Yankees have not become one of those teams.

      • Plank

        The end result is the same, though. Both teams don’t get the player they want.

        • Not sure how you come to that conclusion, unless you think the Yankees should pay an unlimited price for anyone they like, even if it’s only minor interest. This off season, I don’t think the Yankees had to restrain themselves from overspending. Based on the players available, I think they were very comfortable letting other teams take on the risk at what seems like inflated prices.

      • “Can’t afford” is sort of what we’re seeing here though, if the so-called austerity plan of 2014 is already in effect.

        We have no way of knowing what is the motivation or the driving force behind the Yankees’ reluctance to spend this winter (or at the 2010 deadline) but if it is a desire to curb payroll then that means they “can’t afford” to add new players because they’re up against a budget.

  2. Professor Longnose

    That thing about the Yankees not wanting to save competitors some money only works if the Yankees really don’t plan to do any free agent signing for a long time. If they let people know they’re not in the market, it could bring the market prices down, which would help the Yankees in the long run, if they really were only out of the market temporarily.

    • I don’t see how that could be true.

      First, there’s no way for the Yankees to “let people know they’re not in the market” other than by quite simply not bidding on players. That’s what this winter has been about and it hasn’t dampened prices any.

      Second, even if the Yankees were to remain out of the market for an indefinite period of time, I still don’t see how that would affect prices given how the Yankees are no longer the sole financial superpower in the game. The Yanks may be richer than Boston, Chicago, Anaheim, Texas et. al. but that doesn’t mean these teams lack the financial wherewithal to compete very heavily in the free agent market. Texas’s and Anaheim’s spending over the past two winters should prove that.

    • I could have explained it better, but what I meant is it’s in the Yankees interest to remain secretive about the players they like while floating the notion of operating under a budget. What doesn’t make sense is stating their full interest (unless, it’s obvious) or definitively signaling that they will not be bidding regardless.

  3. Again, I disagree. Can’t afford means I really want something, but don’t have the means to obtain it. On a budget means I have the wherewithal, but won’t overspend for something I don’t think justifies the price. Those two philosophies are not the same. If Cole Hamels was available, for example, I am confident the Yankees would spend the money. That they weren’t willing to spend $125 million on an unproven pitcher from Japan doesn’t indicate a reluctance to pay-up for a bonafide free agent.

    • You’re saying the Yanks have an unwillingness — but not an inability — to spend.

      I’m saying that budgetary constraints — if that’s what we’re seeing here as the motivation behind that unwillingness — essentially creates the inability.

      If you have a $200 budget, you’re already at $189 and you need something that costs you $15, you can’t afford anything beyond $11 to get that thing you need. There might be a cheap knock-off in the bargain bin for $5 that you can afford but you’re not willing to only leave yourself $6. Therefore, you can’t afford what you really need the most, especially if that $15 item goes on sale for $11 down the road.

      • Using your analogy, I think if the Yankees see something that will cost $20 million, and think the value will live up to the price, they’ll exceed the budget. What they won’t do, however, is break the budget for something that will not provide value commensurate with price.

        • I guess the problem I’m having with this conversation is that I’m perceiving certainty on your part that the Yankees will spend $20M (to use your example).

          Based on how the last few years and this offseason have gone, I am far less certain that this will be the case.

        • I am only stating my opinion, which is no more valid than your own. However, I would point to Cliff Lee as my exhibit A. The Yankees really wanted him and were willing to spend a boat load of money to get him. Until I see the Yankees back off a player who is not only a logical fit, but a definite value, I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  4. The players that have signed that the Yankees could’ve potentially used — Buehrle and Wilson — didn’t really sign at inflated prices. I’m not sure I see where you’re coming to that conclusion.

    I certainly don’t disagree with the decision to pass on those two arms but I don’t agree with the general point that the market has been so out-of-whack this winter. A lot of money has changed hands this offseason, yes. But I don’t think anyone got handed a real head-scratcher of a deal.

    Buehrle’s making $14.5M/year over four years. He’s been worth roughly 4 bWAR over the last four years. Seems like he’s getting paid pretty close to his most recent value.

    • CJ Wilson will be 31 and has two full seasons as a starter on his belt. Is that worth $75 million over five years? Maybe, but I could easily see an argument suggesting otherwise. According to FG, Buehrle signed for just below his value over the past 3 seasons, but now he entering the post-prime years of his career. Is he worth committing four years to? Again, maybe, but maybe not.

      In other words, neither pitcher is a slam dunk, especially if you have designs on much better options who could become available down the road.

      • You’re assuming the Yankees avoided Wilson/Buehrle for value-based reasons as opposed to financial ones.

        I’m not making any such assumption. I have no way of knowing if the Yankees wanted one of those guys but cringed at the price relative to their budget (can’t afford) or avoided those guys because they didn’t think it was worth it (unwillingness to invest). We simply don’t know what the case is and, as your original point said, the Yankees won’t tell us because it’s not really in their interest to let us know if they’re tightening their belt or getting smarter in how they spend.

  5. @William J.:

    1) “I am only stating my opinion, which is no more valid than your own.”

    I agree that your opinion is valid and never wanted to give you the impression that I was invalidating your opinion as that was not at all my intention. If you perceived my comments that way, I’m sorry because that’s not how they were intended.

    I merely meant to say that it wasn’t clear if you were offering an opinionated position or actually arguing as if your position were fact. If the former, that’s fine; we simply agree to disagree.

    2) Cliff Lee is a good example. However, since guys like Cliff Lee only come around once in awhile and there isn’t a single person of that caliber available next year in free agency — you cited Hamels as a previous example — I’m not sure the example is entirely instructive. If the Yankees are going to become so selective — overly selective, at a certain point — then our debate over what they can afford vs. where they choose to invest becomes moot.

    At a certain point the Yankees will have to fill a need from a lesser crop of players. If the Yankees want to (perhaps rightly) hold their noses at CJ Wilson/Mark Buehrle in favor of next year’s crop, that’s fine. But since no one in next year’s class is Cliff Lee, perhaps they’ll once again hold their noses.

    • No offense was taken at all. There’s definitely two valid sides this issue.

      As for Lee and Hamels, I think they are more similar than you think. In fact, Hamels may be better. Lee has a career ERA+ of 117; Hamels is at 126. Also, before last year, Lee had only year that was better than Hamels’ next four best seasons. Perhaps the biggest difference is Lee was 30 heading into free agency, while Hamels will only be 28.

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