Once Again RAB Nails It - "The Yankees Have Changed..." PLUS, My Reaction

I highly recommend reading this article on River Ave Blues:

DJ LeMahieu is the Latest Sign the Yankees Have Changed

Some highlights from the article:

*You need no reminder that the Yankees and the long-coveted 2018 free agent class have a special relationship… There were special free agents available, and the Yankees were expected to have a special offseason. LeMahieu, more even than the decision to pass on Patrick Corbin… is the symbol that this expectation, so long held, won’t come to pass.

*Never mind that when the Yankees sold important pieces in 2016, it was to build a young core that could be supplemented by one of the stars pending free agency… Never mind that the Yankees cut $50 million in payroll after missing the pennant by a single game in 2017, finally coming under the luxury tax we’d all heard so much about. Never mind that both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were both open about their desires to play in New York. Never mind that adding even one of them would position the Yankees not just to win the World Series in 2019 but many more after that. Never mind it all, because very little of it mattered in the end.

*The decision to choose DJ LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki over Manny Machado… lays bare that the Yankees have changed. For the first time since the Yankees signed Reggie Jackson before 1977, the team is more interested in justifying passing on superstars than it is justifying itself as the Evil Empire.

My reaction:

*The truth hurts. While the Yankees never said they’d spend big this off-season, that was the seemingly logical excuse and rational expectation for all their cost cutting the last few years. Yankee fans felt there was an inherent understanding that this off-season was the one where the Yankees would spend big to win again. It looks like that’s not happening. It seems very very clear. This truth hurts - fans are hurt -maybe more than the Yankees realize.

*The truth hurts because a lot of the fan base feels the Yankees care more about being cost conscious than actually winning. Yankees fans who have invested their own money, time, and emotions into the team see this as a betrayal of trust. Yankees fans have always been willing to invest in the higher costs necessary to be Yankees fans because that money was always seemingly invested back into the team by bringing in the top talent. That is no longer the case. The Yankees are operating differently today. I have talked to many many fans who are not as compelled to go to Yankee Stadium in 2019 - many who couldn’t wait for this off-season and the prospects of seeing Bryce Harper, and others, in pinstripes. Seeing Brett Gardner is not going to compel fans to venture to the Bronx. Seeing Bryce Harper would have. For myself, I was ready to buy a small season ticket package when the Yankees finally splurged this off-season. I rationalized that I would do my part in this fan/franchise arrangement. I’m not compelled, at all, to do that now. When the franchise talks about saving their money, I think about saving my own as well.

*The 2019 Yankees are operating as a team that is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. They hope D.J. LeMahieu is the player he was offensively in 2016. They hope Troy Tulowitzki is the player he was years ago. They hope C.C. Sabathia is physically well enough to pitch all season. They hope Brett Gardner can defy time and a career of reduced production as the season goes on. They hope Aaron Hicks can play more than 137 games. They hope Clint Frazier is healthy and they hope he is a Major League hitter over a long period. (This has not been proven.) They hope Zach Britton will be the pitcher he was two years ago. They hope JA Happ isn’t too old to be effective. This is the way small market teams operate. Small market teams have to play the hunches and look deep into the stats to find the diamonds in the rough. Not the Yankees. The Yankees have the financial resources to bring in the true lighting - the superstar players. They have proven to their fans that they are no longer interested in that.

*I think the reason Yankee fans didn’t get outraged the last few seasons was this expectation (and unfounded hope) that once they got under the luxury tax, and reset it, that this was the time that the Yankees would spend again. The Yankees have not operated as THE YANKEES for many years now. The fans were patient because they felt that the time would come, this off-season, when they’d once again flex their mighty financial muscles. Fans were seemingly told to just wait for the 2018-19 off-season. While it was never stated, there were hints out there. In fact, as an example, during the Winter Meetings Brian Cashman made a comment to the effect of the “Yankees will operate as a truly functional death star.” Those words come with an expectation that says, “SUPER STAR.” A fully functional death star does not seek discounted players, who might be shells of their former selves (such as Troy Tulowitzki). A fully functional death star grabs the big talent. The Big Talent. The Yankees are not a fully functional death star. They are a team that is interested in purposely not acquiring the best talent available.

*The Yankees sell and have sold their fans (for decades) on being the “Evil Empire.” They even play the Star Wars music at Yankee Stadium. They like the flaunt their pennants. They like to show the championships. They have the banners and the pictures all over their stadium and their network. The Yankees market their former greatness - always. They sell these moments and have made a fortune on them. They’ve created a loyal fan base that expects the franchise to be committed to one thing - winning. Winning. The Yankees would obviously like to win, but the idea of spending big to win is not the model - even though that’s the image they will still try to sell their fans and even though that is the image they will market. If the Yankees continue this in 2019, it is disingenuous, at best. Instead, they should play the music from the movie Moneyball (whatever that music is) because that is the way the organization is operating.

*I posted this on the SSTN Twitter page earlier today and am convinced I am correct. Some fans have stated that the reason the Yankees shouldn’t spend big on Harper/Machado/Corbin (and others) is because in a few years they will have to pay their own big talents. They say, “Aaron Judge will be a $30 million ballplayer in a few years.” While that might be true, I have no confidence, that when that time comes, that the Yankees will pay to keep Aaron Judge. It was the old Yankees philosophy that kept the homegrown free agents on the team. Say what you want about Robinson Cano and the Mariners offer. The Yankees did not truly compete to get Robinson Cano re-signed. They let him walk. They gave all sorts of reasons why. Never mind that they could have spent to extend him years before he became a free agent. Bottom line - they let him walk - even without a player to replace him. Aaron Judge will be 31 years-old when he becomes a free agent in 2023. If this current organizational philosophy still holds in 2023, when Judge becomes a free agent, there is no way, zero way, the Yankees will keep him. They will say, “We don’t pay for contracts for players going into their mid-thirties.” Bank on this. Just look at it this way - they are unwilling today, right now, to pay for elite talent that is entering their prime, two super stars that are just 26 years old. There is no way they’re extending Aaron Judge or re-signing him as a free agent. They’ll have similar excuses for Luis Severino “too many innings on his arm when he was young” (and who they are taking to arbitration over a mere $850,000) and Gary Sanchez “catchers don’t age well” among others.

*This is a new era for the Yankees and it’s a potentially dangerous time for the franchise. It’s been a long time since they won a World Series… 2019 will be the tenth season. That’s a long time for Yankees fans - fans that are sold, and pay for, a franchise that markets championships. The fans are getting impatient. New fans are developed when they watch their team win…not when their team gains Wild Card status. New fans are brought into the fold when the see championships. The Yankees have let ten years go by without giving their fans this thrill. Yankees fans have seen only one championship since 2001. Yes, Yankees fans might be spoiled. Maybe. But, one huge reason for this is that is the way the Yankees market the team. The Yankees are marketed as the team that wins. They haven’t been doing enough of that. The frustrating thing for many is that they aren’t even, and haven’t for many years, even giving the impression that winning a World Series is their ultimate goal. Staying cost conscious is their goal. That’s what the Yankees talk about. Fans don’t pay to see the team get under the luxury tax. After years of hoping that financial austerity wasn’t the way the Yankees would ultimately operate, this off-season has proven that it is the new model. Absolutely. Because of this, the Yankees are slowly driving away long time fans, making them lose faith in their approach and mission, while at the same time, not bringing in new ones because there is nothing special about the Yankees that makes them different than any other team today. If fans want to see a team that spends to win, they look to the Red Sox. Young fans don’t care about the Yankees of the 1990’s. They weren’t even born. It’s ancient history.

*The Yankees have convinced many fans that they, the fans, should care about the team’s financial bottom line. It’s seen all the time, “The Yankees have to watch who they get,” “The Yankees just can’t spend,” “We don’t want monster contracts….” Why should the fans care about the team’s profits? The Yankees don’t share those profits with the fans. The Yankees aren’t reducing costs. Costs associated with the Yankees continue to go up as the franchise spends less and less on players. Last year they cut $50 million in payroll from the previous season as they were on the brink of a World Series the year before. It is estimated that the Yankees spent less than 30% of their revenues on players in 2018. That number is among the lowest in the sport. The Yankees are not financially strapped. River Ave Blues, Pinstripe Alley, and others have run articles all winter (as have we) demonstrating that point. According to Forbes, the Yankees are baseball’s richest franchise. According to the Forbes article, the Yankees are worth one billion more dollars than baseball’s number two team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. That, read it again, is billion - as in $1,000,000,000

*No one has seriously advocated that the Yankees should just spend wildly. People aren’t clamoring for the Yankees to spend foolishly on marginal talent. Acquiring the likes of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado though is vastly different than spending lavishly on marginal talent. It is rare that 26-year old superstars are available for nothing but money. The Yankees, the team that can, and has positioned itself extremely well to spend on these players, is giving away their one biggest advantage that they have over the rest of the sport. Throughout their history, the Yankees have been great when they used their vast resources to get the best players. That is where their success, their name recognition, and their championships have come from. It’s also why they have the biggest fan base. People like watching their team win. Yankees fans expect their team to win. It comes with the territory. It’s the deal the franchise has made with its fans. Understand, getting guys like D.J. LeMahieu is actually fun and exciting - when it is part of a bigger plan to build the best team possible. The Yankees have the smarts and the financial resources to find the players like LeMahieu to be a great complementary piece while also, at the same time, securing the biggest stars to play on baseball’s biggest and grandest stage.

*The 2019 Yankees might be great. There is a lot to look forward to and hope for. But, the team they put on the field will not be, in any way, shape, or form, the powerhouse it could have been. That’s a shame. It’s not the way the Yankees used to operate. There was a great deal of hope that the “We Are The Yankees” approach would return. It’s now very clear that it won’t.