In a sport that is so much about numbers like wins and home runs and WAR, perhaps the most important one in baseball is age.
Age, as you might've heard once or twice, is nothing but a number. Is that actually true, though, or just an (ahem) age-old adage?
The New York Yankees, it seems, could be putting that very question to the test during the 2014 season. To this point in the offseason, the Yankees have been the biggest spenders—and may be handing out even more money yet—but another element of their winter hasn't gone unnoticed. That would be the fact that the oldest club in baseball last year has, if possible, managed to get even older.
In 2013, the Yankees' average age was 31.8 years old—for both their position players and their pitchers—according to Baseball Reference, which made New York the most elderly squad in Major League Baseball. Amazingly, although the two eldest of their statesmen, 44-year-old Mariano Rivera and 41-year-old Andy Pettitte, have since hung 'em up, the Yankees may, in fact, be even more ancient next year.
That's what happens when an organization with a floundering farm system attempts to fill roster holes by adding the likes of Carlos Beltran (36 years old), Brian Roberts (36) and Matt Thornton (37), while retaining righty Hiroki Kuroda (38) and, of course, captain Derek Jeter (39).
With those names sprinkled in, here's a rundown of the Yankees' potential 25-man roster at the moment (which obviously is subject to change based on injury, spring performance or transactions still to come):
|New York Yankees' Projected 2014 25-Man Roster|
|PLAYER||OPENING DAY AGE|
|* = Projected starter|
Take note of two things from that: The average age of 32.0 years actually is north of last season's 31.8, and not a single starting player expected to be on the field come April 1—that's Opening Day—will be under the age of 30.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that "the Yankees' roster is one for the ages" (get it?):
The Yankees have accomplished the near impossible — they had the oldest player in the majors (Mariano Rivera) and the oldest starter (Andy Pettitte) retire and yet somehow have gotten older this offseason.
Thus, the Yankees saw one of their biggest problems — the decay physically and statistically in older players — and doubled down on it rather than run away. This is what happens when you have a putrid farm system combined with a never-rebuild philosophy combined with hundreds of millions of dollars to spend. You buy for today, the heck with tomorrow — and, by the way, today is no given either with this much seniority.
Can these Yankees, who are projected to be the oldest team in MLB, also be successful with such a—how shall we put this?—"distinguished" batch of players?
To find out, we looked back over the past decade (2004-2013) to find the oldest teams each year by hitters and pitchers alike, according to Baseball Reference, and took note of how these grizzled vet-riddled clubs fared.
Here, then, are the results:
|Oldest Teams Each Year (2003-2014): By Hitter and Pitcher Ages|
|SEASON||TEAM||HITTER AGE||PITCHER AGE||WINS||PLAYOFFS|
|AVERAGE||32.1||31.6||89||12 of 22|
In sum, the oldest teams by hitter and pitcher ages during each of the past 10 seasons were an average of 32.1 years old and 31.6 years old, respectively. Despite that, these teams averaged 89 wins per year and even went to the postseason on 12 out of 22 occasions.*
*As the chart shows, there were two ties for oldest pitcher ages—in 2009 and 2012—which is why it's out of a possible 22, rather than 20.
That's not a shabby showing now, is it? Geezers, it would seem, can get it done.
But here's the thing: Of those 12 instances in which a team that had the oldest group of hitters or pitchers made it to October, eight of them were achieved by the Yankees, while the other four were pulled off by the Philadelphia Phillies.
On hand, then, the Yankees of 2014 might not have a problem getting to the postseason—for them, this go-old approach is, well, old hat. But on the other hand, the only two teams who have managed to make this route work well have been a pair of squads who had a core of homegrown stars still more or less in their primes at the time.
For the Yankees, it was Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte and Jorge Posada. For the Phillies, it was Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels.
Sure, those studs were surrounded by other big-name players because their teams could afford to make that happen, but the foundation was a necessity. Otherwise, the outcome for being the oldest was just as likely to be as bad as the San Francisco Giants in 2006 or 2007, the Houston Astros in 2008 or 2009, or the New York Mets in 2012.
Or...the Yankees in 2013.
Indeed, it can be a very, very slippery slope from still-capable vets to over-the-hill oldies.
The takeaway from all this—and the big concern for the Yankees next season—is that for MLB's oldest team to be simultaneously a successful team, the requirement is a collection of elite talent that broke in together, peaked together and then managed to age—gracefully enough—together. At this stage for the Yankees, though, the graceful part of that formula might no longer apply.
Still, old can work. The Yankees themselves have proved as much. They've been here before, supporters can claim.
But as much as age is just a number, it's also an unstoppable, ever-advancing one that could very well catch up even more to the Yankees next season.
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