Time and time again, this Yankees offseason has been compared to the winter of 2008-09 when the Yankees invested heavily in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira — and made a lopsided trade for Nick Swisher — and promptly won a World Series. It was a wildly successful bit of roster reconstruction, and it stands as a cautionary tale of short-term payoff vs. long-term problems.
· Sabathia finished fourth in the Cy Young voting during his first year with the Yankees. Now he’s coming off the worst season of his career with diminished velocity and increased uncertainty.
· Teixeira had a near MVP season in 2009. Now he’s coming off wrist surgery and steadily declining numbers, still trying to regain strength with Opening Day two months away.
· Burnett had his only winning season with the Yankees in ’09, and he made one of the pivotal starts of that postseason. Two years later, he was dumped for pennies on the dollar to have a career resurgence elsewhere.
· Swisher gave the Yankees four steady seasons in right field, but while he’d been a steal on the trade market, he hit the free agent market in his early 30s and immediately ceased being a bargain.
What the Yankees have done this winter is reestablished themselves as the kind of team that can thoroughly reconstruct its roster through free agency. This winter conjured memories of 08-09 because the Yankees moves were overwhelming and significant. Nearly a half-billion dollars invested in one offseason. That’s remarkable, and it’s surely given fans some cause for hope after last year’s disappointment.
But as Ray made crystal clear this morning, it’s still possible to feel more concern than elation. I tend to think that’s because investing in the free agent market always feels a bit temporary. Young players — especially homegrown players — have a lasting quality. New free agents, even if they’re in their prime, feel a little fleeting. Re-signing Robinson Cano, even though he’s technically older than Brian McCann or Jacoby Ellsbury, would have been a part of a longer investment that began well before he hit free agency. With Ellsbury and McCann, the Yankees missed out completely on their 20s. In a weird way, I think that means something. It changes the way you look at a player.
It seems to me that the average fan is more aware of the farm system than he used to be. Information about prospects is more readily available, so the name Gary Sanchez isn’t limited to only those who study Baseball America and check minor league box scores. A free agent like Cano is no longer the game’s most prized and desired commodity. It’s the young guys like Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw. It’s the short-term impact, with the hope of long-term stability.
The Yankees have proven they can still spend like no other, and that might be enough for a championship run now and then. But until they’re able to produce their own young players — impact prospects with staying power — it’s all going to feel a bit temporary and fleeting.
Associated Press photos