1 Year-Deals and the Soft Yankee-Style Rebuild

By now, you've probably heard that the Yankees sent Kevin Youkilis a 1-year, $12 million offer to play 3rd next year. Given that Youkilis's next best rumored offer is a 2-year deal for not much more money, it should be pretty obvious what the Yankee strategy is: use their financial advance to load up on 1-year deals, instead of signing costly free agents. The Yankees are about to have a ton of surplus resources. Once the soft cap is in place, they will be forced to limit their spending below their optimal level. However, they have one year to spend a whole bunch of money, anticipating that they are spending future surplus resources, and giving the team some breathing room.

I'm of the opinion that this Yankee team is badly in need of a rebuild. Normally, the Yankees would do this (see the post-2008 offseason) by going out and spending a bunch of money, swinging a few trades, and promoting some prospects to the majors. Their lack of MLB-ready prospects makes the latter two very difficult, and the cap makes any long-term signings impossible. Mortal teams generally have to wait for the #4 option-let the team lose for a season or two while the young players in the organization develop-that is unacceptable to the Yankees. I think 2013 gives them a unique opportunity to have that chance.

Instead of just signing Youkilis to a 1-year deal, I think the Yankees would be smart to go bigger. Sign Youk, but also go out and make some big 1-year offers to other players. Josh Hamilton having trouble finding a multi-year contract? Offer him 1-year, $30 million. Offer Kyle Lohse 1-year, $16 million. Give Cody Ross and A.J. a big payday, etc. The Yankees would load up for one year, and have an open payroll ready for 2014 and beyond.

And if you really want to get crazy: jump start the rebuild early. After you sign a bunch of guys to 1-year deals, trade the less expensive 1-year guys on your roster. Phil Hughes and Curtis Granderson should be able to fetch something useful in return.

This strategy offers the following benefits:

  • You get prospects in return for trading Phil Hughes and Curtis Granderson
  • You get relatively risk free production out of 1-year free agents, at the cost of only a few draft picks and surplus money.
  • If the season starts off very badly, you have lots of pending free agents to sell at the trade deadline.
  • The big one: You give Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, Manuel Banuelos and Mason Williams another year to get ready.

Its rebuilding, but without the sucky seasons of losing. From a business perspective, you get both a) Another solid run at the World Series, improving the Yankee brand and bringing money in and b) A better long term set up.

Obviously, there are more and less extreme versions of this strategy. You might go for Youk/Ross/A.J. on 1-year deals, but not trade away anyone or sign a Lohse/Greinke/Hamilton/Bourne/Etc. Or, you could go really crazy and include a Robinson Cano trade, and more free agents / 1-year deal trades. But the basic strategy remains clear: Significantly overpay for 1-year deals for 2013, using future Yankee surplus resources that will no longer be available.

I'm more and more convinced that there's no other route forward toward a winning 2014 season that doesn't involve gutting the farm season (and likely just delaying the inevitable losing seasons to 2015-2016). The Yankees need to use farm-raised players to make sure they don't end up with a zombie roster.