Which is it? Do the Yankees have more money than everyone else to waste on toys that will break after a finite amount of use but will be great while they’re functioning or are they trying to build a different kind of team than the one they’ve been trotting out for the past 13 years? You can’t have it both ways. To promote the Yankees financial might and say that they shouldn’t worry about the $189 million goal/mandate, the luxury tax and how much money they spend and then say that they shouldn’t have spent the money to keep the best second baseman in baseball is the purest form of idiocy.
Is the money Cano got from the Mariners crazy? Yes. Is it going to be a nightmare in its last three years? Most likely. Will Cano help the Mariners win a championship? Who knows? None of that matters. The bottom line is that the Yankees drew a line in the sand on their own player who wanted to stay while overpaying for a Red Sox player in Ellsbury. There doesn’t seem to be a plan in place. Perhaps the Yankees had a kit that TV commercials are constantly reminding us we have to have in case of a hurricane, tornado or terrorist attack. It’s actually more of a panic button than a plan. And a contingency plan is not a plan.
The Yankees claiming that they had no choice but to let Cano leave implies that there is a sense of fiscal sanity. To say there was ever any kind of budget in place is the biggest insult of all to the collective intelligence of those who know better. It’s all part of a myth of dominance that is based on a narrative and has nothing to do with reality.
It’s frequently mentioned that during this current run with the Derek Jeter-led group, they’ve made the playoffs every year but two since 1995. For some reason, this is seen as a badge of honor when they’ve won five World Series during that time. Perhaps if they’d spread out the World Series wins rather than having won four of the five between 1996 and 2000, it would be perceived differently. Instead, they won the four titles very early in Joe Torre’s managerial reign and, from then on, anything less than a World Series win was seen as a failure even though they went to the playoffs every subsequent year. Because of that desperation to maintain, they abandoned what it was that built those early teams in the first place. As a result, they morphed from a cohesive group into a band of mercenaries and superstars.
Know this: Under the new template from the year 2001 to 2013 they’ve won one championship. One.
During that time, the Red Sox have won three, the Cardinals and Giants have won two and the Yankees have the same number of titles as the Diamondbacks, Angels, Marlins, White Sox and Phillies. These are facts. They’ve spent over $2.2 billion on players in that time. Is that bang for your buck when the stated goal is a championship, period? I’m not talking about new ballparks, amenities, cachet, merchandise and worldwide recognition. The Yankees were not built to be a profitable enterprise in and of itself. Everything is contingent on championships. The idea is to be a champion. They’re not champions.
Placed into context, the “annual playoff appearance” statement referring to 1995 to 2013 with only two years left out in the cold takes on a similar “so what?” tone as when George Steinbrenner said the Yankees had the best record in baseball in the 1980s. It’s factual and it’s meaningless when placed into the Yankees’ mantra that every season that doesn’t end in with a parade in the Canyon of Heroes is a dismal failure.
Another ridiculous and out-of-context assertion is that the Yankees will be able to withstand the loss of their best player and use the money they saved by not having to pay him to sign and trade for other players, saving money and being more balanced over the short and the long term. The case study for this is the Cardinals after they lost Albert Pujols to the Angels. The differences between the situations are stark. The Cardinals had a ready-made replacement to take over at first base in Allen Craig and used the money available to sign Carlos Beltran to play right field. They had a bursting farm system loaded with prospects that were known to be top-tier. And they’d just won the World Series giving them capital to tell Pujols to take a walk and have their intensely loyal fan base accept it win or lose.
Can the Yankees say that? The acquisition of McCann could free them to trade catching prospect Gary Sanchez, but if they do that it can’t be another gaffe like the Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero calamity. Other than Sanchez, they have few players on the farm to deal. Beltran is a free agent again, but he’s two years older than he was when the Cardinals signed him and the Yankees don’t have a replacement for Cano at second base. They’ve signed Kelly Johnson and have been in contact with Omar Infante. Neither combined are shadow of what Cano is. And they don’t have the freedom to say to a fan base that has been conditioned to expect a World Series every year that they’re retooling and hope the they’ll accept that and still pay the outlandish prices it costs to come to Yankee Stadium.
This is what their annual demand of World Series or bust has created. It’s what made them and what will break them.
The decisions they’ve made this winter don’t seem to have a blueprint. A conglomeration of haphazardness has infested the Yankees. Is there a limit of $189 million for 2014 or not? Having given $85 million to McCann and $153 million to Ellsbury with them in pursuit of many other names that will be exorbitantly expensive seems to indicate they’re not going to bother with the payroll limit or are hoping (praying) that Alex Rodriguez’s salary is off the books due to a suspension. If that’s the case, they’ll also need a third baseman – this is something that’s conveniently ignored if they lose A-Rod. As for pitching, they re-signed Hiroki Kuroda, which is a solid move. There’s a massive movement for them to get Masahiro Tanaka and the majority of those advocating a “price is no object” full-court press to get him will be the first ones to say how bad he is if he doesn’t live up to the hype as few Japanese imports do.
Are they paying closer attention to finding amateur talent? That they’ve surrendered the draft picks necessary to sign McCann and Ellsbury with possibly more on the way, along with the bizarre decision to keep in charge of the draft the same people who created their minor league mess in the first place, says no.
Are they committed to the young players that they believe will be of use? Given the adherence to the absurd innings limits and pitch counts for their young pitchers even with the failures of every one of their “top” pitching prospects over the past decade, that answer is also no. They signed McCann when they have Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez in their system. This says that they’re repeating the old Yankee way of developing prospects simply to trade them.
The defection of Cano has left the Yankees and their fans with a conundrum. The entire foundation of the organization and being a fan of it is based on winning and getting what they want regardless of cost. The side story of “Yankees history” has justified the supposed better breeding that is implied in comparison to other organizations as if the Yankees went to Harvard while their competitors got by on a CUNY education in New York. But the fantasy is shattered when it’s examined logically; when they don’t win; when they don’t get what they want.
Had they re-signed Cano, the reaction would be the exact opposite of what it is today. They’d complain about the money, but qualifications would accompany their relief that they don’t have to worry about second base and the middle of their lineup because they had the production of Cano to count on for the near future. Now that he’s leaving, his lack of hustle is a problem. It’s said that he’s not a leader. He’s called a great player, but not a person who puts fans in the seats. Rather than caveats to explain away Cano’s faults, it’s caveat emptor for the Mariners.
Now the Yankees are supposed to spread the money out and get players who fit more into a team concept than the individual who puts up massive numbers. This reverts to the players who did imperative things that the unsung cogs in the machine from the late 1990s – Scott Brosius, Darryl Strawberry, Chili Davis, Joe Girardi – did to augment the stars that were integral to them winning. It’s an insult to Cano and a denigration of his skills to dismiss him and say that he wasn’t that great anyway and they only won one title with him as if that’s his fault. It’s as if he’s the one responsible for their inability to repeat their success from the 1990s and they’re glad he’s gone.
If Cano leaving proves anything it’s that the idea of players signing with or staying with the Yankees has nothing to do with the “rich tapestry of history” that the storyline promotes. It has to do with money. One of the most popular memes going back 100 years is that everyone wants to be a Yankee. Before the draft was implemented, players signed with the Yankees because they won every year and they offered the most money. Once the draft was created, the Yankees struggled because they were unable to adapt to the new landscape in which they couldn’t simply buy amateur players. It took free agency for them to truly be able to regain their footing as they dove in with an open checkbook and signed Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage among others. There were some cases in which players chose to play elsewhere in spite of the money Steinbrenner threw around. Rod Carew didn’t want to go to New York. John Denny didn’t like the atmosphere and perception of disarray. Greg Maddux didn’t want to be the center of attention and didn't like New York. It’s happened, but not often. Some of the more popular stories of players joining the Yankees follow with the whispered epilogue superseding the vast money that few want to acknowledge as the real reason:
- Torre called Mike Mussina to express how much the Yankees wanted him (and the Yankees offered him $87 million).
- Bernie Williams called George Steinbrenner as he and Scott Boras were about to go to Boston to sign with the Red Sox (and the Yankees upped their initial offer by about $30 million to nearly match the Red Sox offer).
- Derek Jeter signed a long-term extension to shun free agency (for $189 million).
- Alex Rodriguez signed a contract to stay (for $275 million).
- Roger Clemens returned after one of his frequent retirements and three years with the Astros (for a prorated $28 million).
For the most part, the Yankees get the players because they pay for them. Another team paid Cano far more than the Yankees were willing to and he left.
Cano signing with the Mariners for ten years and $240 million is a disaster for the Yankees. Don’t let it be framed any differently than that. They have a lot of work to do. No matter how it’s twisted to suit the Yankees and their fans to explain away a need to adapt, losing the best second baseman in baseball is never a good thing. He’s almost impossible to replace and there are limited options to do it. Don’t believe the sources explaining away the Yankees allowing Cano to leave. It’s damage control. There was lot of damage to control before Cano left. If they hope to still be perceived as the Yankees of old, they have to fix it. Losing Cano is a bad start.