Is it just me or are the Yankees just sort of…different? I don’t think its just me.
The Yankees have always been a little aloof; distinct from the MLB’s other 29 teams. Unique in a way. You never see the Yankees with middle of the road prospects and true role players. Mark DeRosa never had a spot on the Yankees. Neither did Gordon Beckham or Freddie Galvis or John McDonald. The hallmark of the Yankees for the last decade and a half has been a stellar starting lineup (remember “the best infield ever?”) and almost nothing behind it.
There are many reasons for this phenomenon. When The Boss ran the show, the priority was always signing the big ticket free agent to plug a hole, not developing from within. (Note: This idea that the Yankees bought all their championships is ludicrous. Think back, other than 2009, the Yankees’ wins came in the late 1990’s with home grown guys like Rivera, Jeter, Pettitte, Posada, Williams, and a bunch of role players. A more traditional set up. The whole concept of signing aging superstars began in earnest after the dynasty ended and has produced close to nothing.) If the Yankees couldn’t sign the guy they wanted, they’d trade for him. Often using their best available prospects in the deal. That’s how they got A-Rod from Texas. As such, very few players have really risen through the Yankee ranks and the ones that have have been particularly noteworthy (Robinson Cano).
This system doesn’t really work. Since George Steinbrenner changed the Yankees’ focus to external construction of the roster, targeting outsiders like CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Andruw Jones, and before them Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, and Jason Giambi to name a few, the team has won only one championship and missed the playoffs twice. The successful Yankee teams, like successful teams in general, have developed from within and supplemented from without.
Additionally, it has become clear that a team of superstars isn’t really the way to go. If the A’s, Cardinals, Red Sox, and Angels have taught us anything, it’s that 25 equal pieces make up a successful whole, not 10 huge chunks and 15 slivers. This is where the Yankee mindset is starting to shift.
Gradually, over the last 10 months, the Yankees have begun to acquire those players that you’ve never seen them have before. It started early in the season with Chris Nelson and progressed through Matt Adams, Brendan Ryan and a whole host of other semi-useful bit players. Of course, these guys sucked in 2013 and the Yankees sucked along with them–Nelson was dumped, Adams belonged in AAA, and Ryan showed up too late to help–but in theory, these guys are much better pieces for a winning team than washed up versions of Travis Hafner, Mark Reynolds, and Vernon Wells–guys acquired seemingly for the name recognition as much as the on field performance.
The Yankees have feasted on washed up big names in the last few years (Eric Chavez and Ichiro come to mind in addition to the ones listed above, and I could go on) and have done it at the expense of useful players with a lower profile. While the rumors of the Yankees trading for the Cardinals’ David Freese to fill their A-Rod shaped 3rd base vacancy are almost certainly going to lead to nothing, I like what Brian Cashman is thinking. Freese is a decently sized name but only because of one hot October. He is a useful Major League starter, but no star. This is good because the last thing the Yankees need is another star. This team needs a bunch of capable guys to go out and grind and do a job. You know, like every other team has.
Too many times the Yankees get caught up in the romance of the big name player without bothering to check on how much he can contribute to anything but jersey sales. Too many times they eschew depth in favor of bravado. It’s high time they lowered their sights from the marquee and onto the baseball field.