The Yankees, Tanaka, the Future and the Past
What happened to the $189 million limit?
Perhaps it was foolish to believe that the Yankees were going to adhere to any kind of payroll constraints when it came down to confronting the ramifications of limited money, but they seemed so serious about it that it was hard not to believe them.
The logic was sound. Hal Steinbrenner was right when he said there’s no reason that a team can’t win with a budget if that budget is still one of the highest in baseball. The problem was that he was looking at the Athletics, Rays and Cardinals—teams with competent front offices and skills at finding young players—and comparing it to his staff led by Brian Cashman. Cashman has never shown any ability whatsoever in judging players young or old. He has the ability to spend the limitless cash he’s bestowed by his bosses. Anyone can do his job. No longer will there be the half-hearted and inept attempts to place himself in the top tier of general managers because the realization has apparently finally hit home that in order for the Yankees to win, they have to do one thing: spend money.
The Yankees have basically admitted that it was a farce from the beginning to try and build a viable team without purchasing players. The argument could be made that they didn’t give it a chance, but with a dilapidated and failed farm system; young players like Eduardo Nunez, Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances who were badly misjudged and have provided little to nothing; and the realization that if they continued down the road they were on it would be a repeat of 2013 or worse, ownership conceded the point that they have an inept group of talent evaluators and a GM who can’t develop players. They resorted to buying, buying, buying.
As a business, the Yankees are run in a haphazard and panicky way. They react to the smallest adversity by throwing money at the problem. In 2009, it worked. In 2014, it’s still a question mark as to whether they’ve filled their holes or just shoved a golden pacifier into the fan base’s mouth to shut it up until they truly see what they have on the field.
With the vast majority of Alex Rodriguez’s salary off the books for 2014, there’s no excuse for the Yankees not to have gotten under the $189 million limit. But they didn’t. Chalk it up to hyperventilation, poor management or whatever you want. They ran for the exits as soon as they smelled smoke.
They missed the playoffs in 2013, had a bad year, lost Robinson Cano and went berserk with the checkbook. As much as Steinbrenner and Cashman say that the $189 million wasn’t a mandate, it was a mandate going back three years. It lasted until they came to the conclusion that they were going to get worse before they got better—if they got better—and if they were intending to rebuild through the draft, they had to have people they trusted to find and develop players in charge. They don’t. So the stark reality was that they had to toss the $189 million mandate overboard to make themselves relevant again.
If the draft is ever mentioned again as anything to take seriously from the Yankees point-of-view, the fans and media should scream “shut up!!!” at the very idea. Much like Branch Rickey innovated the farm system so the Cardinals wouldn’t have to purchase players from minor league clubs, the argument could be made that the Yankees should just stop spending money on the draft and on international signings entirely. The only difference between now and before the amateur drat/team-affiliated farm systems is that the…actually, as I’m trying to think of a difference and there is no difference. They’re buying players. Period.
Eventually, there might not be anyone to buy. Because players like Clayton Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen are being locked up to contract extensions by their current teams, the Yankees are facing a diminished pool from which to purchase and no reinforcements on the farm. It’s a narrowing wormhole from which to operate and if it doesn’t work, then they really have nowhere else to go but down. Money was what they had. Money was what they used.