There was a time when the Yankees were usually seen as the favorites to land any international free agent they coveted. From Orlando Hernandez and Hideki Irabu to Jose Contreras and Hideki Matsui, the Yankees (and their checkbook) were the big players on the block, and the international free agent market was a way for them to add new talent without going through the more traditional channels of acquiring and developing new players. In recent years, however, they’ve been remarkably quiet on that front, especially given that we’ve seen some of the most intriguing talents in the history of international free agency come to the states since 2009. Last year alone, the Yankees let the Rangers and A’s have Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes, respectively, with little more than a token show of interest from The Bronx. As Brad Vietrogoski wrote at TYA the other day, those are two players that could have helped them quite a bit in retrospect.
Because of the posting system and the fact that Darvish was ultimately a nine figure investment, I’m willing to leave him aside and say that I can understand not putting in a $50 million bid for the rights to acquire him, on top of his actual contract. Even at the cost of Jesus Montero, there’s a pretty clear case to be made that acquiring Michael Pineda was the more prudent course of action, bot because he would be much cheaper than Darvish and because he had the 2011 season on his resume. That said, it’s pretty difficult to see why the Yankees didn’t have more of an interest in Cespedes, even without factoring in his 136 wRC+ and 3.1 fWAR rookie campaign. Even if you couldn’t guess that an injury would open up immediate playing time for him at the big league level, the Yankees knew that they’d be in need of an outfielder when they let Nick Swisher walk this offseason, and that they didn’t have any viable replacements within their own system. With Torii Hunter signing a two year, $26 million contract with Detroit yesterday, the $9 million AAV in Cespedes’ deal would make the Yankees’ budget plans look a lot easier to achieve.
Going back a little further than that, I’m still pretty puzzled as to why Aroldis Chapman isn’t a member of the Yankees’ organization. Coming out of Cuba in the winter of 2010, Chapman was arguably the most heralded amateur free agent of all time with his 100 MPH fastball and wipeout slider. He ultimately signed for a total of $30.25 million with the Reds, while the Yankees never even made him an offer. That’s pretty staggering, given that Chapman appeared to have a floor pretty close to what he is now, a dominant left-handed reliever, and while $30 million seems like a lot to give to a lefty reliever, the Yankees committed $16 million to Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano in the time since, two players whose ceiling was being a top notch LOOGY. Much like Cespedes, imagine how much sturdier the Yankees 2014 roster would look if you could slot Chapman’s $5 million AAV onto the roster, whether in the starting rotation or in the bullpen (especially if 2013 proves to be Mariano Rivera‘s last year).
On the whole, I think it’s pretty odd that more media figures haven’t spent more time wondering why the Yankees weren’t interested in any of these guys, and that we don’t have any indication that there’s been much second guessing over these missed opportunities within the organization itself. Because make no mistake: based on what we have heard about the Yankees’ level of interest in these players, they were misses, and with the combination of caps on signing international amateurs and the self-imposed salary cap looming, the mistakes appear even larger as you look into the future.