For most of us, it’s easy to remember the magic and the dominance of the late 90’s Yankees, the teams that won four World Series in five years including three straight from 1998-2000. If you remember that then you definitely remember the day the Yankee Dynasty died on a November night in Arizona with the greatest closer of all-time doing the inexplicable and literally throwing the game away.
13 or so years later no team in Major League Baseball has been able to recapture the dominance those late 90’s Yankees teams including the Yankees themselves and unfortunately it doesn’t appear that they ever will again. The Yankees are a victim of their own past success and the way in which they have decided to do business ever since that fateful night in Phoenix. Due to the success of the past two decades, the standard has been set so high that the Yankees are incapable of accepting the notion of a few down years in order to rebuild. Instead, they choose – and in fact, need to retool/reload or they run the risk of seeing Citi Field-esque crowds in their monument to excess in the Bronx.
When George was still acting as “The Boss” from 2002-2007, the Bombers made a host of short-sighted, big-money signings that never really panned out because they thought that they could simply reload with high-priced veteran talent but it turned out they were paying more for past performance than anything they could possibly do in pinstripes. Names from Kevin Brown to Jaret Wright to Carl Pavano to Rondell White to Gary Sheffield all saw turns with the big club in the Bronx and none of them were able to get the Yankees back to the promised land and the glory days of the dynasty years.
In fact, it is these contracts that are precluding the Yankees from being able to build another dynasty team because they provided the proverbial rising tide that lifted all boats in that they paid top dollar for over-the-hill talent so much so that teams are in the position where they have to dole out $16 million dollars a year for a 37-year old AJ Burnett (I know). Obviously hindsight is 20/20 here but perhaps the contract that had the biggest ripple effect throughout baseball was the $275 million behemoth they gave to Alex Rodriguez after his 2007 MVP season because it started the trend of paying still-in-their-prime players on the wrong side of 30, prime money until they reach geriatric age at least in baseball terms.
Obviously it hasn’t hindered their ability to keep adding additional big-money contracts but what it does do – and we’re seeing it now, is that it creates logjams at certain positions especially DH. If you sign Mark Teixeira to an eight-year contract that averages around $22 million a year up and through his late 30’s, the odds you are going to draft and cultivate a slugging First Baseman over that time period is not incredibly likely. The same can be said for many of the other contracts the Yankees have doled out recently including and especially the Brian McCann contract who will be earning All-Star Catcher money despite the fact that offensively he was been trending downwards for the past few years.
Instead of building teams that can contend for and win World Series for an extended period of time, the Yankees try to buy windows and those windows are the early years of those big money contracts when the players are still in their respective primes. You saw it in 2009 where CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett were all in the first year of their contracts and proved to bey key cogs and they kept the window open up until 2012 but with the aforementioned Sabathia, Teixeira, Rodriguez, and alike showing signs of wearing down and beginning to trend downwards the window closed in 2013 with the Bombers missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, it once again became to purchase another 3-4 year window. Right now it appears we are in a never-ending cycle of relatively small windows bought with increasingly pricey long-term contracts.
If we are ever going to witness anything remotely resembling the late 90’s run again, the Yankees need to be willing to take their lumps for a couple of years when it comes to gate revenues and TV ratings in order to build a sustained winner by cultivating players as opposed to purchasing them. The Yankees simply don’t have the patience to wait for some of their home-grown talent to mature, some of the best Yankees farm hands are currently on other teams including Austin Jackson and Zach McAllister but instead of waiting for Jackson to become what he is now, Cashman and the front office think tank traded for the higher-priced and decade older version of Jackson in the form of Curtis Granderson who is now playing out the “back nine” of his career in Flushing, while the Tigers have their centerfielder for the next 10 years.
Unfortunately unless the economics of baseball in terms of the way in which players are compensated or the way and specifically the way the Yankees depend on star power to garner revenue, the trend appears destined to continue and repeat itself. Perhaps a big market team will figure out a strategy somewhere between the austerity of the Mets and the free-wheeling Yankees to find that elusive dynasty formula and maybe a team like the Red Sox is well on their way to that end but in the interim I’ll just sit back and enjoy watching the front end of another window of contention.