The injury bug is back. As we all know, the Yankees are experiencing another tough run of bad health. Even with that being the case, the team is excelling due to their impressive depth. Whether it is Mike Tauchman, Gio Urshela, Cameron Maybin or Austin Romine, the backups are contributing. This success is partly due to adopting a roster construction strategy from a team they may see in the World Series. That team is the Los Angeles Dodgers.
How The Dodgers Arrived At Their Current Model
When the Guggenheim group bought the Dodgers in 2012, they took a Steinbrenner-like approach. They spent lavishly to win a title as soon as possible. This led to a league-leading payroll featuring bloated contracts for Andre Ethier, Brian Wilson and Brandon League, amongst others. After flaming out in two consecutive postseasons, the Dodgers hired Andrew Friedman from Tampa Bay. In hiring Friedman, Los Angeles committed to a more cost-efficient approach to roster construction.
Forced to build a contending team with finite resources in Tampa, Friedman was the perfect solution to the Dodger’s spending problem. There was a renewed emphasis on player development, smart international signings and shrewd free agent deals. The goal was simple: create an inventory with as many above-average position players as possible. This gives LA the opportunity to win a game each and every night.
The Dodgers reject the traditional notion of building a lineup around 3 or 4 above average players with role guys. What initially feels like a redundant move is actually a decision to maximize individual roster spots. The Dodgers want 10-12 above average players who can play multiple positions. That versatility is an absolute must. This allows the team to capitalize on matchups according to that day’s game. It is a very advanced and effective approach to team building.
The Yankees Follow Suit
In 2016, the Yankees finally made the decision to change course. The organization was experiencing the crushing downside of their oversized contracts. There was a renewed emphasis on going young and cost-controlled. The team released Alex Rodriguez. They traded Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. More importantly, they called up Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. They also brought in Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier. The Yankees were introducing their new core to the big leagues all while initiating the process the Dodgers underwent a few years prior.
From 2017 to the present, Brian Cashman has made a concerted effort to create the deepest 40 man roster he can possibly assemble. In years past, the process focused on getting big names to cover up fundamental issues on the 25 man roster. Those teams were not only expensive; they lacked versatility and athleticism. You couldn’t mix and match according to that day’s game. Peeking over at the west coast and seeing the success of the Dodgers approach, Cashman began to incorporate some of that with his own roster. Here is a list of some of the players Cash has brought in since 2016:
- Gleyber Torres
- DJ Lemahieu
- Giancarlo Stanton
- Clint Frazier
- Ronald Torreyes
- Gio Urshela
- Mike Tauchman
- Luke Voit
- Edwin Encarnacíon
Outside of Stanton, there isn’t a high priced superstar on this list. The Yankees sacrificed marquee, but expensive, talent for overwhelming depth. The players mentioned either provide multi-position flexibility or strengthen a position that already featured a pretty good player at a fraction of the cost. How many times did we say DJ LeMahieu was a redundant signing? Brian Cashman saw value in assigning one roster spot to a good hitter who could address multiple positions. It is tough to argue that he didn’t make the right decision. Adopting this approach saved the Yankees 2019 season.
The Elephant In The Room
Of course, the catalyst for this approach was keeping money in the owners’ pockets. Teams clearly want to suppress player wages and manage smaller payrolls. It isn’t a coincidence that the Guggenheim Group targeted Friedman for their President of Baseball Operations position. Nor is it a coincidence Cashman borrowed from Friedman to address Hal Steinbrenner’s belief that you don’t need a $200 million payroll to win a title. It appears all of the premiere franchises are leveraging their resources towards 40 man depth rather than investing in one or two stars.
This leaves many baseball fans in a conundrum. It is tough to argue with the results. Both the Yankees and Dodgers are the cream of the crop. There is a very real possibility they will meet in the World Series this year. That is exciting. What isn’t exciting is the blueprint for these two franchises are rooted in limiting the ability for players to maximize their earnings. There are fans that believe the players shouldn’t complain because they’re making generational money. While that is true, it is important for labor to have the best chance to earn top dollar regardless of the industry. We all love winning. It is disappointing it is coming at the expense of well earned compensation.