Priorities

Every day, no matter what, my students write down their learning target. It’s a simple sentence I put on the board or in my presentation that helps them figure out what it is they’re supposed to, well, learn, by the end of the lesson and how they’re going to do it. Let’s give the whole Yankee organization:

I can be a better, more winning baseball team by being more flexible.

The Yankees knew when it was time to let Joe Torre go. After twelve seasons at the helm of the Yankees, things went stale by 2007 and they made a change. They did the same after nine seasons with Joe Girardi, though that seemed way less clear and clean a break. Now after four years of Aaron Boone, they’re running it back again, but things most definitely don’t seem fresh in the Bronx after the 2021 season.

The flexibility needed for the Yankees to succeed more, to get over the hump, must come from the top down. It starts with the front office approaching roster construction in a different way. First up is depth.

The Yankees have more or less ignored meaningful depth in the last few years, especially when it comes to middle infield. We’ve been harping on this–especially Randy–for pretty much the entire existence of the blog, and definitely the entire existence of the podcast. In an era of load management and aggressive resting of players, your infield depth can’t be Tyler Wade and Andrew Velazquez. This means stockpiling good players. It’s why I’d opt for keeping Gleyber Torres, even if he’s not the starting shortstop (hopefully a free agent signing) OR second baseman (a hopefully healthy DJ LeMahieu).

Torres can’t and shouldn’t man short for a full season, of course, but as part of some load management system, he’s more than fine. He’s young and talented enough that the team would be more than justified keeping him around. As I’ve said in the past, follow the Dodgers’ model. Just get as many good players as you can and let the rest fall in line. These ‘problems’ usually sort themselves out.

Second, the front office needs to be more flexible–whatever it might mean in this context–in delivering and applying its analytics to the field, be it players or coaches. For its part, the coaching staff also needs to get more flexible. Too often it seems like they don’t quite know what to do, how to react when the script they wrote doesn’t come to fruition.

From what we can tell on the outside, the Yankees have one of the biggest, most well-funded analytics departments in the entire league. At times, it feels that their deployment thereof is not great and that needs to change. If it’s a flaw with the numbers, dig deeper. If it’s a flaw in communication, fix it. If it’s a flaw in decision-making, if things are too rigid, too orthodox, loosen up.

Third up is financial flexibility. And I don’t mean the type the front office people usually love. I mean the flexibility to spend beyond what other teams spend. When I think back to Brian Cashman’s ludicrous comment about the Yankees and their payroll, I get rage blind for a moment. Yes, the Yankees spend a lot of money. Yes, only the Dodgers spend more than they do. BUT as many have pointed out, the Yankees’ payroll is more or less the same, in terms of raw dollars, as it was when I was in high school and early college.

Considering inflation, considering the jumps in spending made by other teams, the Yankees’ financial commitments to their roster have gone down. This doesn’t even take into consideration their other financial factors, like a new stadium, cable money, etc. Yes, again, the Yankees spend a lot, but they could spend more and still be more than okay.

I understand Cashman’s desire to prove himself as a GM, but hasn’t he done that over the last twenty something years? I understand the Yankees want to flex their analytical muscles instead of their financial ones, but is that really working after a decade without a championship? No matter what the Yankees do, outside forces will be critical. Just lean into the heel role and spend.

Doing the same thing over and over again is not working for the Yankees anymore. The results haven’t been desirable and the process has soured. Breaking out of the mold, doing things more flexibly is now an absolute necessity. Can the Yankees do it? Good thing for them they’ll have 162 games to figure it out, not just 45 minutes like my students do.

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5 Comments

  1. MikeD

    Long ago and far away, I once suggested on RAB that teams should start paying more money to build out their bullpens. It seemed obvious that more innings were shifting to the bullpen so therefore the quality of the innings coming from the bullpen arms had to also improve. It would no longer be acceptable to have just a set closer and one setup man. The overall quality of pens had to drastically improve if teams wanted to compete. That meant either spending more money on quality relievers, or grooming quality arms within your system. The reaction was teams couldn’t afford to do that, either money wise or prospect wise. Then came along the KC Royals and their shutdown bullpen that led them two straight World Series, including a championship. More teams followed that model. Credit to Brian Cashman, btw, in that he has consistently built quality pens with both high-priced talent, as well as prospects, or trading for undervalued arms (think Peralta, Holmes and Rodriquez at the midway point).

    There was a time the Yankees talked about improving on the margins. Bizarrely, they’re doing just the opposite now when the players on the margin play more than ever. It’s time to treat the bench the same way they treat the bullpen. Build it out. I’ve suggested this numerous times and I’ll do it again. Move DJLM into the role they originally signed him for several years back. Move Hicks into the Gardner role. That’s $25M for two players who will still get 400-40ABs as “bench” players. The bench depth goes from a weakness to a strength. This is necessary in an age of load balancing. Too many ABs went to Odor, Wade, Gardner and others whose names should be forgotten.

    This will require a different way of looking at the roster. I’m going to predict right now the Yankees will sign Seager. It’s as obvious as when they signed Cole. To balance that, they won’t sign a stud 1B’man or CFer, but they can sign or trade for players who can rotate with DJLM and Hicks. These are not bench players, anymore than DJ and Hicks are bench players. They’re simply building out a more flexible roster.

  2. CountryClub

    Cash isn’t perfect. No GM is. That said, it makes little sense to blame him for the payroll. He is working with Hal’s mandate. No rebuilding and no luxury tax. That’s how you end up with little depth in certain areas. It has nothing to do with him wanting to prove himself. If he had 20 mil more to work with, he’d spend it.

  3. Eduardo Fusshead

    That what they are doing IS working and IS desirable from the perspective of ownership is sadly all that matters. Until those things change (by which I mean their money gets meaningfully touched), you’ll be rooting for an org that voluntarily operates with its hands tied behind its back, hoping to get lucky. Which happens sometimes of course, further emboldening Hal to stay the course each time.

  4. Yanks317

    We have seen that the Yankees payroll was the same this year as it was in 2005 a lot. But, last year it was $258m. It’s ridiculous that they cut $50m in payroll within this window. But we can hope those escalator taxes are removed in the new CBA and they’ll live in that range. The players really need to fight for that, having the Dodgers and Yankees each take a pass on free agency once every 3 years has a significant impact on player salaries.

    • Arthur Souza

      I wish George was a live u would never hear about this.

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