Right now, everyone wants to know what the New York Yankees are going to do next.
Will they trade Alex Rodriguez? Will they let Nick Swisher go? Will Andy Pettitte retire? Will Mariano Rivera retire? Will they make any big free-agent signings to ensure that they never experience an embarrassment like the 2012 postseason again?
These are all good questions. The Bombers have a lot of work to do this winter, and by the time it's over they'll probably look drastically different than from when we last saw them in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers. Slowly but surely, the 2012 Yankees will be transformed.
As for the organization itself, well, it was already transforming. Before long, the Yankees will have a new look from the top all the way to the bottom. A new era in the history of the Yankees is upon us.
Allow me to explain...
The Last Remnants of the Yankee Dynasty Will Soon Be Gone
As recently as 2007, the Yankees still looked a lot like the Yankees teams that were so successful in the 1990s and early 2000s. At the time, familiar faces like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Mariano Rivera were still on the roster, and the club was still managed by Joe Torre.
Much has changed since then. With Posada hanging his spikes up after the 2011 season, the only members of the old (tongue firmly in cheek) Yankees dynasty still on the roster in 2012 were Jeter, Pettitte and Rivera.
For a time, only Jeter was on the active roster. Rivera was lost for the season in early May with a torn ACL, and Pettitte was lost for several months when a comebacker broke his ankle in late June. While he and Rivera were out, Jeter was left to carry the flag of the old dynasty all by himself.
That period of time may as well have been a preview for what's to come.
Jeter isn't expected to miss any regular-season action after breaking his ankle in Game 1 of the ALCS, but it's by no means a given that Pettitte and/or Rivera will be back next season.
According to Newsday, Pettitte was open to the idea of returning in 2013 when he spoke after the Yankees were swept in the ALCS, but he stopped short of setting anything in stone.
"Hopefully I can come to a conclusion here, one way or the other, within a month or so," said Pettitte, noting that he wanted to discuss playing again with his family before making a decision one way or the other.
For his part, Rivera has become less and less of a lock to come back in 2013 as time has gone along, and now it sounds like he may just call it quits for good. Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com reported this week that Rivera is unsure about whether or not he'll play again, which is a pretty far departure from Rivera's insistence back in May that he would surely be back in 2013.
Who knows? Maybe Pettitte and Rivera will be back in 2013. It wouldn't be such a huge shock given their competitive nature and the Yankees' tendency to look after their own.
But if they do come back, the very smart money is on neither of them being back in pinstripes in 2014. If they return, the 2013 season will be a swan song for both Pettitte and Rivera.
As for Jeter, his last season in pinstripes is likely to be the 2014 campaign. He has a player option for the 2014 season that he'll exercise no questions asked, but he'll be 40 years old at the end of the year and it likely won't be worth the Yankees' time or money to retain Jeter's skills.
Jeter's defense is already a liability. If his bat goes too at any point in the next two seasons, it will be too easy for the Yankees to thank him for his services and then finally part ways with him.
The old Yankees dynasty is not as big in the rear-view mirror as it once was, but the Yankees will still be clinging to it as long as players like Jeter, Pettitte and Rivera are around. They are and always have been very good ballplayers, but at this stage of their careers they're also artifacts from better days.
Once they're gone, the old Yankees dynasty will officially be a thing of the past.
They're Getting Cheaper
We're used to money being no object for the Yankees. They bumped their payroll up over $200 million for the first time back in 2005, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, and their payroll has crossed the $200 million threshold each of the last five seasons.
It's no secret by now that this is not going to last. Managing general partner and son of The Boss Hal Steinbrenner said back in March that he aimed to get the Yankees' payroll under $189 million by 2014 so as to avoid the luxury tax.
“I’m looking at it as a goal, but my goals are normally considered a requirement,” said Steinbrenner, via David Waldstein of The New York Times.
The Yankees opened the 2012 season with a payroll just south of $210 million, so they have much work to do before they're under the $189 million luxury tax threshold by 2014.
And it won't be easy. The Yankees already had about $120 million in payroll locked up for the 2013 season, and that's not including the various options they hold. Once they pick up their options for Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano, they'll have roughly $150 million in payroll committed for the 2013 season.
It's harder to tell where the Yankees will be in regard to their payroll following the 2013 season, but for now we know that they have $75 million committed for the 2014 season. If they sign Cano to an extension, that number will get a lot closer to or maybe even over $100 million. If so, the Yankees will have over half their payroll allotment locked up by just a small handful of players.
In the past, this would not have stopped the Yankees from going out and buying up as much talent on the free-agent market as they could possibly get. No number was too large for them as long as the potential payoff was a World Series championship.
Winning championships will still matter for the Yankees under Hal's watch, but running a tight ship on the business end of things will be equally important. They won't get too carried away with their funds regardless of what they stand to gain.
And for good reason. The Yankees generate a ton of revenue every year, but they're not rich enough to throw away $50 million without feeling any sort of financial pain. And according to the Times, that's how much the Yankees stand to lose if they're over the luxury tax threshold in 2014.
That's not the only incentive they have to stay under the luxury tax line. By now, the Yankees should also know full well that it's not always worth it to have expensive players.
No More Ridiculous Contracts?
In the past, free agents looking to get paid would give the Yankees a call before they called anyone else. They had the money, after all, and they were usually willing to listen so long as your name had some star power.
Now they know that it's not such a good idea to pay free agents whatever they want.
Presently, the Yankees have three players with huge contracts on their hands. Alex Rodriguez is still in the middle of the 10-year, $275 million deal he signed back in 2007. Mark Teixeira is still serving the eight-year, $180 million contract he signed in 2009. CC Sabathia is locked up through 2016 with $23 million set to come his way each year.
The first of these contracts is an utter disaster. The second is a bad contract that could become an utter disaster before long. The third has been worth the trouble for the Yankees to this point, but warning signs are now starting to hint that it's about to become an albatross contract.
There's no chance of A-Rod being worth the money the Yankees will have to pay him if he sticks around in The Bronx for the rest of his deal. Even when he's healthy, A-Rod is merely a mediocre player. Making matters worse is the fact that staying healthy has been a struggle for him in each of the last five seasons.
Teixeira is still an excellent defensive first baseman with 30-homer power, but his overall offensive abilities are waning. In the last four seasons, his OPS has gone from .948 to .846 to .835 to .807.
Per FanGraphs, 11 first basemen posted a higher OPS than Teixeira did in 2012, a tell-tale sign that he is no longer one of the game's elite offensive first basemen.
Sabathia, for his part, has given fans little to complain about during his time in pinstripes. He's given the club over 200 innings each of the four years he's been in town, and overall he has a 74-29 record and a 3.22 ERA.
But 2012 was a trying season for Sabathia. He had to go on the disabled list twice, and he just had surgery to remove a bone spur in his left elbow, according to ESPNNewYork.com. He's expected to be ready in time for spring training, but one is forced to wonder if all the miles on his left arm are beginning to wear on him.
Elsewhere, the Yankees are going to pay Derek Jeter $17 million in 2013 and as much as $17 million in 2014 too if his incentives kick in. He's still a good hitter, but his defensive problems and his diminished baserunning abilities make him worth well less than $17 million per year at this stage in his career.
The point is that the Yankees are finding out more and more every year that it's exceedingly difficult to get good value from high-priced players. Having one of them at a time is risky. Having two of them at a time is even riskier. Having three of them at a time borders on being downright stupid in this day and age.
Fortunately or unfortunately for the Yankees—it depends on your point of view—there may not be that many star free agents out there for them to sign up in the near and distant future. With so much TV money being pumped into the game now, clubs have more funds with which to lock up their young, homegrown players before they reach free agency. There's a chance that young studs like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper won't hit free agency at any point during their primes.
The Yankees will get their share of the TV money as well, but it won't change the fact that the luxury tax is a line they want to avoid crossing. And in order to avoid crossing it, they're going to have to be much more measured in how they spend their cash on both free agents and their own players.
The emphasis used to be on having a star-studded roster. Now it's going to be on having an efficient roster.
In their own way, the Yankees are going to be playing Moneyball pretty soon.
The AL East Is No Longer the Yankees' Plaything
Since 1996, there have only been four seasons in which the Yankees didn't win the AL East. It's been their division for a long time.
Too long, perhaps.
The Yankees' reign over the AL East has developed some cracks over the last few years. Of their four failures to win the AL East since 1996, three have come in the last six years. They darn near missed out on another AL East title this year, as the Baltimore Orioles were neck-and-neck with them in the division race right up until the bitter end.
The O's won't be going away anytime soon. They have some good young players on their roster, including star center fielder Adam Jones. He's just now entering the prime of his career, and he can look forward to playing in Baltimore for years to come after signing an extension with the club early in the 2012 season.
Beyond Jones, the Orioles have to be excited about Manny Machado's future after he posted a solid .739 OPS in 51 games at the major league level this year. Despite being only 20 years old, he looked like he belonged from the moment he arrived.
There's a strong chance the Orioles will open the 2013 season with Dylan Bundy in their starting rotation. He was ranked No. 1 on Baseball America's midseason rankings of the top 50 prospects in baseball. With his stuff, he could very well win a Cy Young at some point.
The upstart Orioles aren't the only team the Yankees have to worry about competing against in the coming years. The Tampa Bay Rays won 90 games for the fourth time in the last five years in 2012, and they've done more than enough to prove over the last few years that they're going to win no matter how many no-names they have on their roster. Andrew Friedman is a very smart GM, and he has a very smart manager working under him in Joe Maddon.
The Boston Red Sox are down now and may not be back up for a while, but they won't stay down forever. The Red Sox basically have limitless financial freedom after sending over $250 million in payroll to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August, and they also have a strong farm system that's only going to get stronger with top picks lined up for the 2013 draft.
The Toronto Blue Jays are an enigma, but they have a solid young core of players in place and more are on the way. At the start of the 2012 season, Keith Law of ESPN.com had Toronto's farm system ranked as the third-best in all of baseball.
With the Yankees' spending set to be capped at $189 million in 2014, there's only so much they're going to be able to do to run away from the other four teams in the AL East year after year after year. They'll be forced to compete on the same level as the Orioles, Rays, Red Sox and Jays like never before.
Mind you, this doesn't mean that the Yankees are doomed to suddenly fall down to the bottom of the AL East totem pole and stay there. It just means that the competitive balance that has emerged over the last few years is going to be the status quo.
A status quo such as this would not have been allowed to continue if the Yankees were under their old management, but that's neither here nor there at this point.
There's Nobody Around to Raise Hell When Things Go Wrong
When the Tigers finished off their sweep of the Yankees in the ALCS, it was none other than Donald Trump who hit the nail squarely on the head:
A lot of the @yankees should be ashamed of their play in the post season. They are lucky they don't have to deal with George Steinbrenner.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 19, 2012
He was right, you know.
The Donald wasn't the only one who pointed out that George Steinbrenner would have raised hell if he had seen his Yankees go down in such an unspectacular manner. Numerous articles were written about what the The Boss would have done following the Yankees' embarrassment if he was still with us.
Ronald Blum of the Associated Press wrote that Steinbrenner would have, at the very least, issued a public apology. Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News took things one step further and wrote that Steinbrenner would have fired hitting coach Kevin Long, publicly ripped A-Rod, told both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi that their days were numbered and then ordered Cashman to go sign Josh Hamilton.
Sounds about right to me. The Boss was like that.
But you'd never know from looking at these Yankees that they used to be ruled by an iron-fisted Titan. They're still the Yankees, but, well, they're kinda not at the same time if you know what I mean.
Many fans and members of the media still want to treat it like it is, but winning and losing is no longer life or death with these Yankees. A mentality like that can only come from the top, and the man who bore that mentality and imposed it on the organization passed away two years ago.
The winning-is-everything nature of the Yankees could be alive and well right now if Hank Steinbrenner was in charge of the team, as he's much more of a chip off the old block than his brother Hal.
But Hank's not running the team. In fact, Joel Sherman of the New York Post noted a couple years ago that Hank was more than willing to hand the controls over to his brother. He even admitted to friends, "My brother has the head for this."
With no real pressure coming from Hank, Hal is free to run the team his way, and his way is vastly different from his old man's way. One of the guidelines of Hal's way, it seems, is to never freak out.
If you're a fan of the old Yankees teams, enjoy what's left of those teams while you still can. The Yankees are headed toward a
bright dark undefined future, and it will be here very soon.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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