Baseball is a business, and the goal of a team is to make money. The Yankees are in a unique position where their revenue is so high that they can both maintain one of the biggest payrolls in the game, as well as make a ton of money. When the organization went on their spending spree this season, in spite of rumors of a $189 million budget, the message was the clear that the Steinbrenners wanted to put winning ahead of profit. The problem is, the Yankees are starting with a payroll in 2014 that's nearly $30 million less than 2013, and for the first time in 15 years, the organization no longer has the largest payroll in baseball. It's hard to write this without sounding like a spoiled Yankee fan, but I truly believe the Steinbrenners don't owe fans anything, and I've already talked about the brilliant business strategy of the fake budget. The Steinbrenners were able to revitalize the Yankee brand of spending and winning without increasing either, yet the media and fans are caught up in the $500 million investment they made this offseason. I can appreciate this strategy for its business sense, but from the sense of building a winning baseball team, corners were cut to bring this payroll down, and now the 2014 roster has some glaring problems.
Even after investing so much money this offseason, the Yankees entered the season with one of the weakest infields in baseball. Considering the strength of their outfield, the offensive value they're getting out of their catcher, and the new arms in the rotation, the Yankees cutting costs in the infield didn't look like a huge issue. However, with players like Brian Roberts, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira starting, the Yankees infield depth has been disappointing following the immediate (and predictable) injury to Teixeira.
Thanks to a nice first week by Yangervis Solarte, the Yankees have gotten a good amount of offense out of their infield already. Unfortunately, not even Solarte can save this team's infield defense. Through the first 8 games of the year, the Yankees' defense looks abysmal, and at times it's cost starters like CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova on the mound.
Yesterday's game showcased how a pitcher with decent stuff on the mound can look so horrible in the box score thanks to his defenders. Starting off the game, Derek Jeter missed a soft ground ball double play a few feet away from him, which lead to a 3 run inning for Ivan Nova.
This play was a little tougher for Solarte at third base, but it was still a catchable ball for a regular third baseman like Alex Rodriguez. It led to the lone run scoring in the 2nd inning.
Again, this was a little more difficult than the first ground ball hit to Jeter, but it was still a play that most shortstops make. Instead, the Orioles scored three runs this inning and knocked Nova out of the game.
Obviously, Nova isn't completely faultless. He was the one that gave up the home run to Adam Jones in the first inning following Jeter's awful dive, and he was the one that put the runners on base during these potential ground ball double plays. But for a guy that gave up 7 runs in 3.2 IP though, he actually didn't look all that bad. It was his infield defense that kept him on the mound, and when you throw enough pitches, you're going to get hit at some point.
We saw a similar problem happen to CC Sabathia in his last start, where he looked brilliant through the first 5.2 IP, but then a bloop and three similar ground balls through the infield cost him a great start.
Again, the Yankees spent $500 million this offseason and came out of it with incredible defense in the outfield, one of the best offensive and run preventing catchers in the game, and a great pitching staff. The organization has a ton invested in young guys that they hope can be the future core of the club. The front office hopes that Tanaka, Pineda, and Nova will be something very special over the next few years.
Yet after investing so much money, the Yankees don't have an adequate infield defense for their young pitching staff. Tanaka, Nova, Sabathia, and Kuroda are all considered ground ball pitchers, yet the Yankees focused on outfield defense this offseason, rather than a much needed infield defense.
With all the money and value invested in their starting pitchers, it was odd that they would suddenly stop when guys like Omar Infante and Stephen Drew were still available. I'm not a huge fan of either, but even in that case, the Yankees had plenty to trade for a respectable infield defender. Kelly Johnson's inexperience at third base and first base, Jeter's range at shortstop, and the collective injury risk of all four players has already proven that the Yankees' defense is far below average.
Yes, there's still a ton of money invested in Teixeira and Rodriguez at the corners, and the Yankees did try to re-sign Robinson Cano, but that doesn't excuse the current conditions of the defense. Jeter is another major problem that the Yankees have to deal with, and perhaps he's better off as the designated hitter for the majority of the season while Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Beltran take a crash course in playing first base. While it's not too late to trade for a middle infielder or sign Stephen Drew, it is likely too late to start teaching veterans new positions.