Next up in our Pinch Hitters series is Ed Conde, the head of the federal government’s Alcohol Countermeasures Laboratory in Cambridge, MA. Ed was born in the Bronx and remembers watching Mickey Mantle play in the original Yankee Stadium. He has lived among the enemy in Boston for 25 years and was very happy when the Yankees won in 2009. “It is hard living among the enemy,” he wrote. “But it is much better when the Yankees win!”
For his post, Ed examined the Yankees ability to build a minor league system, and how that might be affected by the new collective bargaining agreement.
Most Major League Baseball teams use a cyclical approach to team building. They build primarily by drafting and developing players taken high in the amateur draft, trying to hit on enough picks to build a playoff team. After a few seasons, these teams age and lose players to injuries and free agency. Team performance invariably declines, and the cycle starts anew.
The Yankees do not operate this way. Winning precludes the Yankees from picking high in the draft. The high ceiling/high probability prospects are long gone before the Yankees select in the first round. Therefore, the team has had to use alternate methods to amass talent. The Yankees have:
1) Drafted young high school players with high upsides. These players are talented, but much less likely to reach their potential than similarly talented college players. Examples are Phil Hughes, Austin Jackson, Slade Heathcott, Austin Romine, Cito Culver, and Brett Marshall.
2) Drafted players coming off an injury that other teams shied away from. Examples are Joba Chamberlain, Andrew Brackman, and Ian Kennedy.
3) Drafted hard-to-sign players and then offered far more (over slot) money than the Commissioner’s Office recommended. Examples are Austin Jackson and Dellin Betances.
4) Signed very young International Free Agents who were not subject to the draft. Examples are Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera, Alfonso Soriano, Melky Cabrera, Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez, Manny Banuelos, Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, and Eduardo Nunez.
This four-pronged approach has replenished a farm system that was rated a lowly 24th by Baseball America only seven years ago. A healthy farm system allows the GM to make deals for players like Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Chuck Knoblauch, and Alex Rodriguez.
Unfortunately, trouble may be brewing. Rumors have surfaced that the next Collective Bargaining Agreement may include hard slotting for the amateur draft and the introduction of an international players draft. These changes could have a devastating effect on the Yankees ability to amass young talent.
What can the Yankees do to offset these changes? Three things that could work are:
1) Become even better at scouting both the minor league and amateur levels. Use the Yankees vast financial resources to develop the best network of scouts. Become better at finding the next Dustin Pedroia or Albert Pujols that other teams overlook.
2) Build the best coaching staffs at both the major league and the minor league levels. Use the team’s financial clout to get the very best coaches at every level. The Yankees have to do a better job of developing talent – especially pitching. It is especially difficult to see Clay Buchholz (Baseball America #4 prospect 2008), John Lester (#22 – 2006), Jonathan Paplebon (#37 – 2006) and Daniel Bard (#98 – 2009) surpass Phil Hughes (#4 – 2007), Joba Chamberlain (#3 – 2008), Ian Kennedy (#45 – 2008), and Humberto Sanchez (#57 – 2007).
3) Be creative and amass more draft picks. Take a page from the Red Sox book and try to use the rules to obtain additional first round and supplemental round picks.
The Yankee Dynasty crumbled when they were unprepared for the implementation of the amateur draft in 1965. Before 1965, the Yankees could pick and pay any player that they wanted. When forced to scout and develop players, they were not up to the task. The team went through the worst period in its history from 1965 to 1975. Similarly, the team crumbled in the early 90’s when a preoccupation with high-priced free agents caused them to neglect scouting and development.
The future may very well hinge on how well the Yankees develop players like Hughes, Chamberlain, Banuelos, Betances, Brackman, Montero, Sanchez, etc., and by how well they are able to identify and obtain new young talent. Despite the Yankee penchant for signing high impact free agents, sustained success will only come if they maintain a vibrant minor league system.
Associated Press photo of homegrown Yankees Robinson Cano and Francisco Cervelli