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What Is the New York Yankees' Secret to Getting so Much out of Aging Players?

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What Is the New York Yankees' Secret to Getting so Much out of Aging Players?
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The New York Yankees do many things that opposing fan bases dislike. From spending outlandish amounts of money on payroll to traveling with road crowds that overwhelm home field advantages to winning on a consistent and grand scale.

If there's one attribute that all fans would like their team to copy from New York, it would have little to do with perception or attendance or past success.

Since Brian Cashman was named general manager of the Yankees in 1998, no franchise in baseball, and maybe even all of professional sports, has received so much production out of aging players.

This year, helped in part by the trio of Lyle Overbay, Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, New York is in first place in the American League East entering play on May 14.

If the idea of New York finding contributions from aging, former All-Star level players is surprising, you haven't been paying attention for the last 15 years.

While the bulk of the roster has always been led by prime superstar level contributors, it's clear that Brian Cashman has always felt more comfortable handing role player positions to former stars than rising prospects.

In theory, especially when the Yankees financial might is taken into context, the practice is brilliant.

If a young player is a true prospect with a future in the major leagues, sticking them on the bench or bullpen won't accelerate their development. Consistent at-bats or innings is necessary to growth.

Of course, per-arbitration players are cheaper than veterans, thus the reason many organizations take the younger route.

With a payroll of at least $189 million to work with, handing out a few $1 million deals won't hurt the bottom line in New York.

The secret to the success of older players in New York isn't magic, pixie dust or great coaching. It's rooted in the idea that great or very good players have farther to fall from the top of the sport to replacement level. If they are 50 percent of the players they were, respectively, when they were, say, 28, that's still likely more productive than a fringe prospect or less accomplished older player.

Furthermore, transitioning the former stars into utility and spot duty roles saves the wear and tear on their older bodies. While their counting stars have almost never been great for New York, their at-bat by at-bat or inning-by-inning contributions have matched, or even exceeded, their prime seasons.

The following is a year-by-year list of contributors that Cashman has added to the roster since his first season on the job. Over the last 15 seasons, New York has missed the postseason a grand total of one time, been to the World Series on six separate occasions and captured four World Series titles.

Every single member on the list was either a former All-Star, MVP, Cy Young Award winner or Rookie of the Year.

1998-1999: Chili Davis, Darryl Strawberry
2000: David Justice, Jose Canseco, Denny Neagle, Dwight Gooden
2001: Mark Wohlers, Henry Rodriguez
2002: Ron Coomer
2003: Robin Ventura, Raul Mondesi
2004: Tony Clark, Ruben Sierra, Kenny Lofton, John Olerud, John Lieber
2005: Tino Martinez, Matt Lawton, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter
2006: Randy Johnson
2007: Roger Clemens
2008: Ivan Rodriguez, Richie Sexson
2009: Eric Hinske
2010: Lance Berkman, Kerry Wood
2011: Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia
2012: Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, Derek Lowe, Raul Ibanez, Ichiro Suzuki

Leon Halip/Getty Images
Eric Chavez posted a 127 OPS+ for the 2012 Yankees, his highest mark since his age-26 season.

Of course, not all of the moves worked out, but the grand majority contributed to the cause, sometimes in standout roles.

If not for the 20 home runs provided by David Justice in the second half of the 2000 season, it's likely the Yankees dynasty ends a year earlier. Without the contributions from Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in 2011, a playoff berth wouldn't have materialized. While Raul Ibanez's 2012 season wasn't spectacular, he'll be remembered forever in New York for clutch, pinch hit magic in the postseason.

You can make the case that Cashman has had to rely on veterans because of a minor league system that failed over the years, but it doesn't take away from the belief in former stars to harness their ability and turn back the clock in pinstripes.

Anyone can hit on a few veterans, but 34 former All-Stars isn't an accident. It's a philosophy that has helped New York remain one of the most consistent outfits in professional sports for nearly two decades.

 

Does Brian Cashman get the credit he deserves in New York?

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