Earlier in the week, Hal Steinbrenner made the news when it was reported that he called some of his baseball people together in Tampa to discuss the team’s lack of upper-level Minor League talent. The Yankees have been patching holes in their roster since before the regular season started, and they’ve used a fair amount of rookies as part of the patchwork plan, with little offensive success to speak of.
The Yankees not developing much homegrown talent is hardly a new talking point. The last batch of real prospects was the Hughes-Kennedy-Joba trio that in a matter of months might all be on different teams, and the last batch of real prospects to stick and make a positive impact at the Major League level was the Core Four. The Yankees being stuck between the marginally competitive rock and the 2014 payroll budget hard place has just as much to do with their failure to scout, draft, and develop Major League talent as it has to do with any of the other organizational missteps they’ve made in years past.
A fair amount of those organizational missteps can be traced back to Hal and the non-baseball portion of the Yankee front office, which is what makes him calling this meeting so puzzling. Is he just now figuring out that the Yankees haven’t worked any new young players into their everyday lineup in years? Did he forget that he talked up some of the young players in the organization as potential contributors this year then went out and signed a bunch of washed up veterans to start over them, the same thing he’s done the last few offseasons? Does he realize that Manny Banuelos, Jose Ramirez, Corban Joseph, Vidal Nuno, Mark Montgomery, Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, and possibly Zoilo Almonte are out for the rest of the season with injuries? Why is this suddenly such an important issue that he has to call everybody down to Tampa to discuss it when it’s been right there in front of his face since he took over for his old man?
And if I’m being honest, I don’t think this season is a fair one to point to if Hal wants to argue that the Yankees didn’t have any Major League-ready talent to step up. Austin Romine has looked light years better at the plate in the last month, should get better defensively, and is starting to get more playing time. Preston Claiborne came out of nowhere to become one of the most reliable relievers in Joe’s bullpen this season. He was D-Rob’s setup man last night. I can’t remember a rookie coming up and getting that kind of high-leverage work in his first season since Joba in ’07. Nuno pitched well in limited work and spot starts. Zoilo looked like he might have the tools to be a decent outfielder. David Adams at least showed that he can play the kind of defense worthy of a utility infielder role.
It’s not like the Yankees have gotten nothing from their farm system this year, and what they’ve gotten, whether Hal deems it acceptable or not, is not the reason they’re in 4th place in the AL East. It’s the injuries, it’s the age-related decline, and it’s the lack of direction from Hal and his non-baseball cohorts in the front office that put the team in this position. Scapegoating the farm system and the player development personnel, who I agree haven’t done the best job in the world, doesn’t change that.
If Hal is just now figuring out that the lack of upper-level talent in the system is a problem then shame on him. Once again he’s way too late to that party, just like he was late to the “don’t implement a payroll budget that handcuffs your team competitively after you’ve already handed out a ton of big money long-term contracts” party and just like he was late to the “don’t hand out big money contracts that carry guys into their late 30-early 40s” party. It’s a party I’d rather not have him involved in, given how poorly he’s handled himself at those other ones. Hard to want to fix all the team’s baseball and business-related problems when you don’t know much about baseball or business.
(Photo courtesy of Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News)