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.

About EJ Fagan

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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

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

  9. 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.