It sounds like a simple plan for most general managers to follow and yet, for the Yankees, it seems so hard. Brian Cashman is regarded as one of the best general managers in baseball, but sometimes he's faced with situations that make him have to overspend. It's not only Cashman but Hank and Hal Steinbrenner also have control over some of that poor decision making. In recent years, it seems as though Major League Baseball is going through a revolution with how front offices operate during the winter months and with the Yankees going through a revolution of their own this off-season, they'll need to adapt quickly which might mean the team could be in for a disaster in 2014 or that they can turn the corner for the next era of Yankees baseball.
You'll see me praise teams like the A's and Rays because of their ability to grab guys on low money deals and watch them out produce their salaries. The Yankees have done this as well over the years with guys like Bartolo Colon, Raul Ibanez, etc. Yet, they haven't found one of those deals that the player could be in their future plans. Essentially, the team signs established veterans and they play well enough to be productive. We never see a Ben Zobrist or a Josh Donaldson around here. This really just goes to show how the Yankees must scout other organizations systems better. These players are really cheap for their respective teams and have been for a while.
Now, it's not essential to sign guys like this. Sometimes signing those guys is a result of good scouting, but other times it's just striking gold. The new way of being successful is just spending smart. The days of the A-Rod, Pujols, and Hamilton deals are over - unless you're the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees are going to spend time waiting for the contracts of Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia to expire so they have flexibility.
Look at the Red Sox the past two years. They shed the longterm deals of Carl Crawford 7/$142 million, Adriano Gonzalez 7/$154 million, and Josh Beckett 4/$68 million (signed in 2011) that gave them financial flexibility and prospects. While everyone was laughing at the Red Sox and slobbering over the Dodgers, I quickly realized how ingenious this deal was for Boston. Financial flexibility gives you the opportunity to build a contender in an off-season. With a core of Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and David Ortiz, you have to add some talent around them. However, it wouldn't have to be All-Stars, it could be guys like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and Jonny Gomes.
There is a blueprint to the new MLB.
1.) Create your own talent
The best organizations in baseball know how to create their own talent. The St. Louis Cardinals have been dominant for years due to one of the best farm systems in baseball. It just seems like their prospects grow on trees. Especially their arms. Michael Wacha anyone?
2.) a. Extend your grown talent longterm early in their careers
Would you rather pay the face of your franchise $300,000 for the first six seasons of their careers only to want a whole lot more when it's time to re-sign them? I believe it would make more sense to sign your future early in their careers and make the deals longer. Sign a 25 year old to a 10 year deal worth $125 million or a 7 year deal worth $100 million. The player will be on the other side of 30 when the deal comes to an end. This means two things, see 2.) b. below or he signs a less lucrative deal at a hometown discount.
Teams are now extending their talent to deals similar to the one mentioned above. Maybe my numbers are not exact, but guys like Joey Votto, Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki, Felix Hernandez, etc. are getting theirs. Which makes point 1.) even more important. If there are no top free agents hitting the open market, then teams will have to produce the talent themselves. Uh oh.
2.) b. Let them walk
If the player is not willing to take a discount, then let him walk. Guys like Robinson Cano fit in this category. The Yankees will probably not sign a player or players this offseason to replace Cano's production and the team will be pressured to sign him.
Yet, that doesn't mean signing him will be the right move. We've already seen it with Alex Rodriguez and we're going to begin seeing it with Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia in the near future. Can you imagine having another one of those deals sitting around for 10 years?
3.) Sign role players to short deals
Attention: Mike Napolis of the world. We want your services, hold the beard. Guys like Napoli are perfect. They aren't stars, but they're good, and they'll get the job done. Plus, they're not expensive and sign deals ranging from one to three years.
Just win. The formula is out there for baseball's revolution.