With one of the best free agent classes in years, it’s been odd to see the New York Yankees sitting on the sidelines and not sign any noteworthy names. It was only a few short years ago that team handed out large contracts to Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran. Couple that with the large, draining contracts of Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira and you can see where most of that $200+ million dollar payroll is allocated.
Rebuilding on the fly is not an easy task, but for certain teams with financial clout, such as the Yankees, it’s a much quicker process. However, with teams wising up and locking up their talented players at much earlier seasons, it makes it more difficult to find quality players on the free agent market.
It makes a player like Jacoby Ellsbury command a seven year, $175 million dollar contract as he enters his age 30 season. A quality player’s value overinflates and a team with deep pockets is able to foot the tab.
In the past, spending money on older free agents would help the Yankees sustain their dominance on Major League Baseball. Now that teams are getting smarter, it’s forcing teams to rethink their organizational philosophy.
Look at what’s been occurring in the Bronx the past two offseasons.
The Yankees have made a handful of trades to acquire young, talented players that are cheap and may just need a change of scenery. Last year, the team swapped pitcher Shane Greene and landed the young shortstop Didi Gregorius.
Gregorius had shown flashes of his talents his first few years with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but after a certain time, he wore out his welcome. Brian Cashman needed a replacement for the recently retired Derek Jeter, and he took a risk on Gregorius.
While the first two months or so was a bit of a rollercoaster, Gregorius settled in nicely over the summer and became one of the Yankees better plays and someone they hope to build around in the future.
Similarly, Nathan Eovaldi was a young starting pitcher who could throw very hard, but for one reason or another struggled to get people out. New York flipped David Phelps and Martin Prado to the Miami Marlins and took another risk.
Just like Gregorius, Eovaldi struggled for the first few months of the season, but after developing a cutter, he proved much more effective. Although shoulder problems cut his season short, Eovaldi made real strides and was one of the Yankees more reliable starters prior to his injury.
Both Gregorius and Eovaldi are 25.
If pundits doubted the Yankees motivation to get younger, take a look at their lack of inactivity at the trade deadline and their farm system.
Even though they were in first place at the deadline and in the heat of the playoff race, Cashman mandated that none of the team’s big time prospects would be traded. This list included top prospects Aaron Judge, Gregory Bird, Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez, and Jorge Mateo.
Deciding to keep Bird and Severino proved to be a key decision, as both players contributed significantly to the Yankees playoff push. At the same time, Judge, Sanchez, and Mateo continued to develop in minors. Sanchez in particular has shown tremendous growth and should very well be the new backup catcher for the Yankees come Spring Training.
Although the Yankees didn’t act on any free agents during the winter meetings, they were still active. They acquired Aaron Hicks from the Minnesota Twins for catcher John Ryan Murphy. While the loss of Murphy hurts, the emergence of Sanchez mentioned above will ease that pain. In Hicks, the team has reeled in a 26 year former top prospect who was just starting to find his was last season with the Twins, and will immediately become the fourth outfielder on the Yankees.
Most recently, the Yankees made another risky trade when they acquired Starlin Castro from the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Adam Warren. Warren was a swiss army knife for the Yankees the last few seasons, as he proved more than capable of starting and coming out of the bullpen. However, you have to trade talent to get talent, and Castro certainly has it. Although he has struggled the last few years, Castro started to thrive late last season when the Cubs moved him to second base.
Both Castro and Hicks are 26 or younger.
Between the prospects that the Yankees have in the minors and the recent influx of talent, it’s clear that there is a change in philosophy in the Bronx. Twenty years ago, the Yankees developed the “Core Four” and would build a dynasty.
After years of throwing money at every free agent under the sun, Cashman and the Yankee brain trust are trying to develop a new core of young players to lead the Yankees to the promise land.
These aren’t your father’s Yankees.