The Yankees Need To Get Younger, Right Now

I haven’t written about this in a long time, but the theme going around the internet right now is, “The Yankees need to get younger.”  I don’t think we’ve done a particularly good job articulating why this is the case. The Yankees are a team that is capable of buying the best free agents, and naturally will keep some of those free agents into old age.

Its okay for the Yankees to have a higher proportion of their roster filled with declining players than, say, the Rays. That’s going to be the nature of free agent contracts: you mostly pay for years outside of a guy’s prime. What is not okay is when the majority of the Yankee team is on the downslope. While the Yankees may be able to add players even with a starting lineup of high-salary guys, they have trouble subtracting them. Alex Rodriguez’s salary isn’t an all-debilitating albatross despite its enormous cost and poor return, and won’t prevent the Yankees from making big moves going forward. However, Alex Rodriguez’s salary does do one thing: it guarantees him a spot in the lineup at the beginning of the season.

This is a pretty important point. For the foreseeable future, the Yankees will have Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and Alex Rodriguez in the lineup every day, at least when they aren’t injured. They aren’t going to go out and sign a Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols or even Adam LaRoche to fill their first base spot. They may be able to hope for a backup like Eric Chavez to surface every year to pick up the slack, but if Mark Teixeira doesn’t hit well, they just won’t get good production out of 1st base.

The absolute worst case scenario for the Yankees would be what I like to call either, “Dutch Disease”, or more concretely, “New York Rangers/Knicks Disease.” Its the curse of having too much money to spend. When you spend a lot of money on a lot of free agent deals at once, you end up locked into playing a lot of the same players at the same age for a long period of time. And this is exactly what the Yankees are in danger of.

Go to Baseball Reference and look at the OPS+ numbers of the New York Yankees. The Yankees have seven players with an OPS+ over 110. We have a pretty good offense and are on top of a competitive division. Despite recent issues, it has on balance been a successful MLB season. But if you look again, you’ll see that no player other than Robinson Cano has been having a truly excellent season. Almost all of them are playing worse than their career averages. You’re looking at a group of really talented, highly-priced players on the wrong side of thirty (except for Cano) who are all declining at the same time.

This should be a great big red flag. The Yankees face some important decisions on Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, and Robinson Cano in the next two off-seasons. They will have to choose whether or not to commit to them as long term fixtures in the Yankee lineup, joining the other declining veterans. All would probably make the Yankees a better 2013-2014 team than the obvious alternatives, but could put them in a serious Rangers/Knicks Disease bind after that.

The Yankee farm system has some strong points, but is not offering any real immediate aid here. The organization is actually pretty well on its way to a fairly young, cheap starting rotation, assuming they manage to get Ivan Nova’s problems relatively straight, and Michael Pineda comes back effective. But on the lineup side, they need to seriously start to worry about the long term.

As a Yankee fan, I expect the team to be pretty good every season. I want them contending for the playoffs. However, I think the smart decision for 2013-2014 is to let two of the three (Granderson and Swisher) old guys walk away, while retaining Robinson Cano, the youngest of the group. If this means that they are not favored to win the division, then so be it. Wait for the younger free agents (Take out a full page newspaper add saying, ‘Seriously Mike Trout, do you want $300 million? Don’t sign an extension), and for the guys on the farm to become options. I’ll thank Cashman for his patience when a reloaded 2015 Yankees sets itself for another long term run at multiple World Series titles.

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

31 thoughts on “The Yankees Need To Get Younger, Right Now

  1. Eh, I think my argument was a little more nuanced than that. But let me be more clear:

    Resigning one free agent is one thing. Resigning two or three – or seeking out equivalents on the free agent market – is another entirely. If that means biting the harms of platoons a platoon in right field next year, so be it.

    • T.O. Chris

      I get the overall point, and agree with it really. I just don’t understand why everyone is so resigned to Cano being re-signed to an awful contract they don’t admit it’s a counterproductive idea. Just as the team will be better off in 2-3 years without Granderson, the same can be said about Cano. Only Cano will be around to between 2018 and 2020, probably not even at 2B after age 34 or 35.

      • But by that time, Cano will be the old guy on the roster instead of Rodriguez/Teixeira/Jeter/Sabathia. Its okay to have a few of those old guys (that’s the price you pay for signing free agents), just not too bad.

        Being 2 years younger than Granderson/Swisher is important there.

        • T.O. Chris

          But he’s not the young guy now. Second base has historically not been a position that ages well, I also don’t like his skill set on a player past age 33 or 34. His lack of walks and reliance on his bat speed for both average and LD power, to me, doesn’t seem like something that is going to hold up well.

          We all know average is a terrible way to judge a player, but with his lack of walks if he ends up a .270 hitter he’s down to a .320-.330 OBP. If you shift that to 3B and take away some power you’re looking at an average player making 25 million a year for another 4 years or so.

          I just think far too many people are taking the lazy way out saying “get rid of Granderson and Swisher and re-sign Cano”. If for no other reason than they think re-signing Cano is a forgone conclusion. When to be honest it’d be better long term to re-sign Swisher for 4 years than Cano for 8. The best case is to get rid of all 3 one way or the other, but re-signing Cano and letting the other two go isn’t the best option. Like I feel it’s being made out to be.

          • TWASP

            TO – Cano’s reliance on bat speed for both avg and LD power is not going to hold up?

            Where do you come up with this BS?

      • TWASP

        To…why can’t Cano play 2b after 35?

  2. Mark Finke

    I like your thinking and I think the Yankees should get creative with some trades in the offseason and try to get younger that.
    Maybe a platoon in RF with two young players and maybe you catch lightning in a bottle with someone.
    What Jones and Ibanez have done this year can also be done by some players in their mid 20s that could get better which normally doesnt happen to guys in their mid 30s

    • T.O. Chris

      The only thing that would scare me is if you end up with a platoon in RF, C, and 3B, because of Alex not being able to stay healthy and getting so many DH days.

      I’d like to see them prioritize Justin Upton as a RF trade target. If you can package Mason Williams, Banuelos, and maybe a Hughes or Phelps, with a lower tier 4th guy that’d be something you could live with for the potential and youth Upton brings.

      The Yankees won’t trade Cano, though they really should. Granderson however has got to go. Some contender is going to be willing to part with 2 good prospect for him, you might actually be able to use him in a 3 way trade for Upton.

      With the PED suspension all but killing his chances of a long term deal I’d look to see if Melky Cabrera is willing to take a 1 year deal. 1 year for 5-7 million and a chance to rebound for his multi year deal in 2014 might be enough to fill one of the corner spots. Justin Upton/Gardner/Melky wouldn’t be a terrible outfield.

      • I’m not totally opposed to a partial rebuild season. Trade Cano, Granderson, and maybe Soriano and then roll the dice. It depends on the return. I’ve said before that I have a lot of faith in a potential Adams/Joseph platoon.

      • bg90027

        Even with the PED suspension, I think someone will give Melky $8-10 million per year and multiple years. There is just too much television money floating around these days and not enough ways for teams to spend it. I think there is little chance that he ends up a Yankee.

        While I’m not opposed to going after Justin Upton, the risk in doing so is that it will take multiple high-end prospects/cost controlled players and the Yankees have an age/roster inflexibility problem. They’d be adding a young star with a good but still long term contract while seriously depleting organization depth. If they do that, they almost have to trade at least one of Granderson/Cano to replenish the depth if not both.

        I almost wish the Yankees had responded differently when the Dodgers approached them about Texeira. I’d love to move that contract, especially if it meant getting prospects back. That said, Tex would have almost certainly denied any trade so there might not have been much point in asking.

        • T.O. Chris

          I certainly think that’s possible, but we’ll have to see. Teams may be so afraid he’ll revert back to his Yankee, or even worse, his Atlanta days that they stay at one or two years. If I were the Yankees I’d hang around it though. Worst case he goes somewhere long term, best case you get a decent priced corner outfielder for a year.

          As I said I think Granderson HAS TO go no matter what. I think you can get at least 2 good prospects for him from a contender looking to add offense. He’s regressed in keeping Ks down, AVG, OBP, and SLG, but right now he’s a CFer coming off likely 38+ HR back to back seasons. You won’t be getting a supreme package, but you can find a decent package out there. Like I said you may even be able to use him in a 3 way deal to land Upton, which would limit our prospect toll. Trading Cano AND Granderson, while trading for Upton would to me be the ideal offseason. It won’t happen however.

          I think something like Banuelos, Williams, Phelps or Hughes, and a low tier 4th throw in prospect would be more than worth it from the Yankees perspective.

          It wasn’t just Teixeira though right? Everything I read said they weren’t taking Tex without Sabathia. There’s no way the Yankees could have explained that to the fan base, especially not where they were in the standings at the time. I would’ve understood it to some degree, especially if they had dumped Alex some way. But I doubt many would have. PR backlash would have been a nightmare.

          • bg90027

            I’d sign Melky for one year, but I don’t see it happening. Given Cashman’s comments about not being surprised about the PED test, I doubt that he has much interest in a Melky reunion in any case.

            I didn’t read anywhere that the Dodgers weren’t taking Tex without Sabathia. Sherman just said that the Dodgers inquired about both and the Yankees were interested in trading either, and it was Sherman who broke the story. If there was a subsequent article providing more detail including a Sabathia linkage, I can’t find it.

          • T.O. Chris

            I have no doubt he wouldn’t want Melky on a long term deal, but I think it goes a little too far to say he wouldn’t be interested for one year. From what I remember about those conversations he simply said the Yankees viewed him as a 3rd or 4th outfielder, not a number 1. If you can sign him for a 1 year at 3rd outfielder prices that’s right in line with his comments.

            If that’s the case then they really should have let the Dodgers claim Teixeira on waivers and just let him go. A prospect would’ve been nice, but just dumping that contract would have been worth it.

          • TWASP

            TO – Melky may prefer a one year deal? Have you lost your mind? No player wants to gamble on a one year contract…..they all want security.

  3. T.O. Chris

    Wouldn’t Trout not be a free agent until after the 2017 season? That’s not really now.

    It’s also kind of funny to call for not signing free agents entering the downslope of their primes, while wanting to re-sign Cano. Considering you’ll likely be signing Cano to a 7 or 8 year contract, none of which will encompass a single year of his 20’s.

    I understand that Cano is going to be re-signed, and he’s also the only elite player we have. However if you are already OK with not being the favorite in order to get younger, Cano should be one of the guys you want gone. Considering at best you’ll be getting 4 years of as close to this Cano as possible out of his next contract, which will be about double that in total length. You’d likely be able to trade him and Granderson to contenders and get back a young group of players to build towards a younger core with. Which makes a lot more sense than extending him through 2020 at 25 million or so per year.

  4. Part of this whole discussion is also recognizing how much harmful the Curtis Granderson trade really was. Granderson has been excellent in pinstripes, but we lost two strong young players because of it. The Yankees can’t afford to make a lot of those trades. This is what the free agent market is for.

    • roadrider

      Gee, I don’t know about that. Granderson’s provided plenty of value and I’m not a big believer in IPK. You might have an argument where Austin Jackson is concerned but there were plenty of question marks about him at the time and his success, at least last year, seemed to be fueled by an unusually high BABIP. I understand that he’s made progress this year and he has more future upside than Granderson but I’m not going to repudiate the deal on that basis.

    • bg90027

      I think I agree with you. If the Yankees had won the World Series once in the last two years, then you could justify it but since they didn’t wouldn’t you like to trade Granderson back for Jackson now? No one has a crystal ball though and there wasn’t a chance that the Yankees would field an outfield with both Gardner and Jackson as starting outfielders back in 2010.

      That mindset might have to change though and the Yankees would also be smart to consider some minor retools trading some established players to add depth to the system, get younger and more flexible, and give some of the kids a chance to perform even if it means a year or two where the team wins a lot of games but isn’t a serious world series contender. Easier said than done of course.

      • T.O. Chris

        Let’s also not forget that that trade was made in the old CBA. No one new there would be a 189 million dollar budget cap at that point, I imagine if they had that trade probably wouldn’t have looked the same. In fact it may not have gotten done at all.

        • bg90027

          That’s certainly a good point.

          As an aside, Granderson’s been killing us lately and I have to wonder how much trade value he even has in the offseason if he doesn’t turn things around soon. He’s batting .200 since the all star break with an OPS below .700 and has 64 Ks in 175 AB’s. Add in concerns about his defense, and he’s the CF equivalent of Mark Reynolds who Baltimore acquired for David Hernandez, a decent but not great bullpen arm. I think he’s better than that but he’s not showing it lately.

          • T.O. Chris

            Reynolds is a pretty bad comp IMO. Reynolds’ best season was a 3.5 fWAR/3.0 bWAR. Granderson’s best season with the Yankees was a 7.0 fWAR/5.3 bWAR. Also a poor defensive CF with Granderson’s power is much more valuable than a poor defensive 3B with Reynolds’. If things went wrong at 3rd with Reynolds you could only move him to 1B, Granderson moving to LF is still more valuable than Mark at 1B.

            In Reynolds final two years in Arizona he had a .284 and .234 ISO, Granderson has posted a .290 and .245 ISO in the past two seasons. So he’s actually shown more power than Reynolds, with more upside since Reynolds was never a top 10, let alone top 5 MVP finalist.

            So he should have quite a bit more value than Reynolds did coming off a .198/.320/.433, .328 wOBA season.

          • bg90027

            It’s far from a perfect comp and I’m mostly just venting. Granderson has been a far better player over his career than Reynolds. No one can argue otherwise.

            Granderson is the wrong side of 30 though, only has one year left on his contract, has been dreadful for the entire second half and will earn $15 million next year. Reynolds was 26 and cost controlled when traded and one year removed from a very good season. If Granderson continues his 2nd half swoon, his full year numbers probably won’t be much better than Reynolds were when he was traded.

            I really have no explanation for why Granderson has been as terrible as he has in the 2nd half. With the injury to Gardner, he hasn’t had much time off but that seems too easy. I’m hoping he turns it around and goes on a tear. If he doesn’t though, who is going to give up significant prospects for him when he makes $15 million?

          • T.O. Chris

            In a world where the Dodgers just gave up two good pitching prospects for Adrian Gonzalez, while taking Becket AND Crawford. I think we can find a contender to take on Granderson for 2 decent prospects, probably one good one and one more average one.

  5. roadrider

    I don’t mind trading a prospect, even two, for a guy like Upton but I’m really wary of the multiple player for one type trades unless only one of the guys going in the other direction is a top prospect and the rest are filler. Yes, I know, that probably doesn’t get the deal done but if Upton gets hurt or is a bust then where are you?

    • T.O. Chris

      All moves have risk. Keeping prospects carries the risk of those players busting, trading for players carries the risk of injury, signing free agents carries the risk of buy into a player too late, etc…

      Sometimes you just have to do the best research you can and take the plunge.

      These are Upton’s numbers from 09 to now.
      .300/.366/.532, .388 wOBA
      .273/.356/.442, .349 wOBA
      .289/.369/.529, .385 wOBA
      .271/.350/.403, .326 wOBA

      Now you’re buying low since he’s coming off a year in which his power is down. But he has all the talent in the world, at 25 he’s right around the corner from his physical prime, and putting him on a team with guys like Jeter, Arod, and probably Cano can only help his approach and preparation.

      Is there risk? Sure, his 2010 and 2012 seasons represent that. but I can’t think of a better player to take a risk on than Justin. Is Mason Williams really going to turn into a better player than Upton?

  6. bottom line

    I agree with the central point made in this post, though I think Yanks should be prepared to walk away from Cano if Boras tries to get more than five or six years (which, of course, he will).
    However, I’m more inclined to sacrifice a year of competitiveness to build a long-term winner. That might mean trading Granderson and/or Cano this winter.
    It also means recognizing that the top prospects the Yankees now have may be very hard to replace in future, as result of new CBA. Having three BA Top 50 position player prospects (as is now the case) is very unusual for a team picking as late as the Yankees do. It will be even harder to find such guys in future. So I would certainly not trade core prospects like Mason Williams, Tyler Austin or Gary Sanchez. Nor would I trade low on a potential lefty stalwart like Banuelos. I would be very wary of dealing prospects until we have built the core of a new Yankee contender.
    We do have a surplus of young up and come outfielders and catchers so perhaps a Heathcott or Murphy or Romine can be dealt — but only if their value is recognized. If not, let them cut their teeth in bigs and increase their value. But Yanks, I agree, do need to to begin promoting and playing young talent. Mustelier would have been a good start this year. And I think Adams can play ML ball right now. By 2014, new core can begin to take shape.

    • T.O. Chris

      They shouldn’t trade prospects for late 20’s or early 30’s players, but you’d have to consider a trade for a guy like Justin Upton who is only 25.

      You have to be wary of being so scared of trading away a prospect who may become great that you never trade away prospect period. Because most of the times the prospects you covet the most bust out, then you get nothing for them anyway.

      If I could turn Mason and Manny into Upton I’d do it, since I don’t believe in Banuelos as an ace, and I’m wary of his ability to hold up physically for the long term.

  7. bg90027

    He said that they internally viewed Melky as a below average regular or a very good 4th outfielder not as a NL MVP contender. So is $5-7 million market for that and are the Yankees happy with fielding someone that they believe is a below average regular to replace Swisher? Maybe, maybe not. In any case, I think someone out there thinks Melky’s improvement isn’t 100% explained by PEDs and would be willing to give him more than Cashman would.

  8. Professor Longnose

    What’s likely after 2014? Expanding the budget considerably, or always hanging close to $189?

    • T.O. Chris

      If they stay under 189 through 2016 they get more benefits besides just the one year salary tax reset. I would think after 2016 the payroll would increase for sure. It depends on how much they value the roughly 40 million in kick backs from revenue sharing they’ll get by staying under for 2015 and 2016 as to whether or not they go back over before then.

  9. T.O. Chris

    Well he said “low end” but that’s semantics. Yeah I would think 5-7 million is about right for a low end every day guy in RF, especially considering what Swisher is about to be paid as an average everyday player in RF. Especially when you consider Melky is 28 and the best outfield option not named Josh Hamilton on the free agent market.

    As I said I don’t doubt that could be true, we’ll have to wait and see. However I am positive no one is going to give him the deal he was going to get before the suspension. Because of that, depending on what the market value ends up being, Melky might choose to play on a 1 year deal trying to raise his market value with a great clean year. In which case reuniting with Cano and the Yankees on a 1 year deal might be something he is interested in.

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