A disastrous season for the New York Yankees wouldn't necessarily be such a disaster. On the contrary, it could actually be a blessing in disguise for both the club's present and future.
[Stares out at audience, sees they're not convinced.]
Yeah, you're going to have to hear me out on this one.
I'm not actually saying that the 2013 season is going to be a disaster, mind you. Not yet, anyway.
The Yankees' first two games against the Boston Red Sox certainly were a disaster, but it felt like old times at Yankee Stadium on Thursday when Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera combined for a bit of vintage magic that ensured the Yankees will not, in fact, be going 0-162 this season.
Plus, we know that Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are going to be back and add more horsepower to Joe Girardi's lineup eventually. I'm also perfectly willing to go out on a limb and guess that CC Sabathia won't be throwing in the high 80s all season.
But even the most steadfast Yankees supporters should be able to agree on this: If ever there was a season for disaster to strike the Yankees, this is it.
Even when everyone's healthy, the Yankees are going to have a weak team by their usual standards. And given their collective age, good health could elude the Bombers all season long. This could be a season of "Again!?" and "Oh no, not him too!"
Let's face another reality: The Yankees are long, long overdue for a losing season. They haven't had one since 1992. And by extension of being long overdue for a losing season, the Yankees are also long overdue for a rebuild.
A disastrous 2013 season would very likely be the motivation the Yankees need to push that button, and they'd be thankful they did in the long run.
The first step would be blowing up the 2013 roster, which wouldn't require too much effort on the part of general manager Brian Cashman and team boss Hal Steinbrenner. Per Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Yankees only have about $84 million and a small collection of contracts on their hands for 2014.
Assuming he doesn't do them a favor by retiring, the Yankees are still going to be stuck with Alex Rodriguez after 2013. They will, however, be ready to shed a lot of money and a lot of aging players. That's going to be their cue to get younger, which is another thing they're long overdue in doing.
But the greater benefit of a losing season is that it would give the Yankees a chance to add some talented youth via the draft. A losing record would, of course, put them near the top of the draft order, perhaps even in the top 10 if things go poorly enough.
The last time the Yankees had a top-10 draft pick? The year was 1992, and the guy they chose with the sixth overall pick was none other than Derek Jeter. Last I checked, he's turned out to be a pretty good player.
And since him, the Yankees haven't found many good ones in the first round of the draft.
Since 1994, the Yankees haven't drafted any higher than 17th, according to Baseball-Reference.com. By WAR, the most successful first-round draft pick who's actually played for them since then is Joba Chamberlain, who owns a career WAR barely over 7.0.
Want some perspective? When Chamberlain was drafted in 2006, the top of the draft featured names like Evan Longoria, Brandon Morrow, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer.
Thanks to their winning ways, it's talented young players like these that the Yankees have been missing out on for a long time. If they lose in 2013, talent like that will be within their reach.
Baseball America (No. 11 system) and ESPN's Keith Law (No. 10 system) would have everyone believe that the Yankees farm system is not hopeless, but it's going to be in the Yankees' interest to put together a truly elite system if the 2013 season does indeed lead them to push the rebuild button.
They're going to have a fair number of aging stars to replace as they go down the line, for one. Beyond that, it's pretty clear that building super-teams by way of free agency is a trend that's dying a quick death in Major League Baseball.
Lucrative extensions have become all the rage. With an assist from MLB Trade Rumors' extension tracker, here's a list of stars who have signed extensions just within the last three years (ordered by dollar amount): Joey Votto, Joe Mauer, Felix Hernandez, Matt Kemp, Buster Posey, Cole Hamels, Justin Verlander, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Cain, Ryan Braun.
In years past, these guys probably would have found their way to the open market, where they would have been targets for teams like the Yankees. Now they're sticking around with the teams they came up with, and Matthew Leach of MLB.com has it right when he says that the ever-growing pile of extensions is a sign of the times.
The Yankees are still going to be able to contend for the big-money free agents who do hit the open market. But because fewer and fewer superstars are going to be hitting the market, it's hard to imagine the Yankees duplicating their big free-agent haul from the 2008/2009 offseason—Sabathia, Teixeira, A.J. Burnett—that was so crucial in them winning the 2009 World Series.
To keep their lineup and their pitching staff studded with stars, it's going to be much more practical for the Yankees to develop stars in bunches rather than buy them in bunches. A losing season in 2013 would put them in an excellent position to do that.
They could further augment their prospect pipeline by letting Robinson Cano walk. Yes, Cano's decision to fire Scott Boras bodes well for the Yankees' chances of re-signing him. But if 2013 is a disaster, the Yankees could just decide to treat Cano like they treated Rafael Soriano and Nick Swisher—make him a qualifying offer, show no interest in doing business, collect draft pick.
If that's the way the dominoes fall, the Yankees' future is going to be looking pretty bright by the time the 2014 draft is in the books. They'll have used their first high draft pick in many years, and they'll have added plenty of additional talent with higher picks than usual throughout the rest of the draft.
But like I said way back when, a disastrous season wouldn't just be a good thing for the Yankees' future, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for the club's present, either.
There's no denying that expectations are a lot lower than usual for this Yankees team. The "Championship or bust" cloud that hung over the organization in the George Steinbrenner days has largely evaporated over the last few years, for one, and then there's the reality of the situation.
The Yankees weren't good enough to go the World Series last year, and the offseason saw them get worse while so many teams around them in the AL got better. They have the potential to be a good team with everyone healthy, but not the potential to be a superpower.
At the same time, though, there's a sense of urgency to send the old guys out on a high note. We know that 2013 is going to be Rivera's last season, and you have to think it will be Pettitte's as well. Jeter is very close to the end of his career also.
If 2013 turns into a losing season, the emphasis won't be on winning for the old guys—that ship will have sailed. In its place, however, would be a time for appreciation for the old guys that everyone could enjoy.
You can think back to what things were like in 2008 when the Yankees were playing their final season at the old Yankee Stadium. There was no heated pennant race to overshadow the countdown to the final game at the Stadium. The Stadium itself had the spotlight, and it felt only right that it should.
There's going to be a similar vibe in the Bronx if the Yankees are out of the race late in the season. Instead of expecting the world from guys like Rivera, Pettitte and Jeter, the fans would be able to properly adore them. Just like with Yankee Stadium in 2008, the spotlight would be all theirs.
I'm sure they'd prefer to go out on top, and I'm sure that the fans would love that, too. But I can also think of far worse ways for the Yankees and their fans to see out a losing season than to be paying constant homage to the guys who were responsible for so many great times. Every team that ever has to go through a losing season should get to be so lucky.
So, if this season does turn into a disaster, do not weep for the Yankees. There are still going to be things for them to celebrate, and the club is quietly going to be putting itself in a position to rise from the ashes sooner rather than later.
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