This is not how things are supposed to go for the New York Yankees.
When it comes to desiring a commodity and having a willingness to spend for it, the Yankees are not supposed to swing and miss. And while the occasional whiff has happened under the Steinbrenner family reign, missing out on the prize they covet, for a myriad of reasons, is becoming more common.
The latest example: Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada.
The Yankees wanted him. Badly. They worked him out repeatedly. They were willing to pay a huge tax penalty to sign the 19-year-old infielder. So they made their best offer—$25 million plus a 100 percent tax, bringing the grand total cost for Moncada to $50 million.
Then, the Boston Red Sox topped that last week, spending $63 million total—the Red Sox are also subject to the 100 percent tax during this international signing period—to land Moncada. He immediately became the organization’s top prospect and No. 10 overall by Baseball America’s ratings.
And once again, the Yankees missed on a player because they showed some financial restraint.
“We made a heck of an offer and it wasn’t good enough,” owner Hal Steinbrenner told the New York Post’s George A. King III.
Said general manager Brian Cashman (via King): “It’s part of the process and we gave them our final and best [offer]. Nobody disagrees with the ability. It comes down to how much money you want to commit. We put our best foot forward with a significant offer, but it fell short.”
At the end of the bidding, the Yankees did not want to commit upward of $60 million on a prospect when they believed they could get a more proven player for a similar price, possibly one also from Cuba.
There was a feeling from some that Moncada wanted to be a Yankee, team viewed it as too risky to spend a total of $60M-$70M for a prospect— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) February 23, 2015
Yanks offered $25M, which is $50M with tax, probably would've gone a bit higher, but Sox valued Moncada more— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) February 23, 2015
Yanks feeling was they can buy a proven MLBer for $60M or $70M— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) February 23, 2015
This offseason the Yankees exercised the same kind of caution by not dipping into the free-agent pool. They left alone Max Scherzer, Hanley Ramirez, Jon Lester, James Shields and most of the rest, inking only Andrew Miller and re-signing Chase Headley as significant contributors.
In the recent past, despite spending $471 million in the 2013-14 offseason after missing the playoffs, the Yankees have not landed all their desired targets.
In 2010, it was Cliff Lee, who took two less years and less guaranteed money to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies. And in 2012, the Yankees missed on catcher Russell Martin along with other lower-tier free agents.
These players choosing teams other than the Yankees says less about the Yankees than it does about the state of the game and how other teams—the Red Sox, Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers to name a few—are now able to play on the same financial level. Also, front offices across baseball are smarter, better prepared and better informed than even just 10 years ago.
Now, the Yankees have to set they sights further down the free-agent road, especially if relations between the United States and Cuba soften.
We all know the Yankees are in win-now mode at all times. They do not rebuild. They reload. Or at least they attempt to, and that is a big part of the reason their farm system has not bared any real fruit in several years—relievers David Robertson and Dellin Betances aside.
To change that trend, the Yankees went nuts on the international market during this current period. They signed 10 of Baseball America’s top 30 international prospects and four of the top 10. To do so, the Yankees completely ignored their $2.2 million international spending limit in signing a total of 28 players, spending an estimated $15.5 million.
Because they obliterated their bonus pool, they Yankees are not allowed to offer a bonus of more than $300,000 to any international player for the next two signing periods. This current signing period ends June 15.
That takes the team out of the running for 18-year-old Cuban pitcher Yadier Alvarez, arguably the best pitching prospect coming out of Cuba right now, because the right-hander will not be eligible to sign until July 2, when the Yankees will already have penalties imposed.
Cuban RHP Yadier Alvarez had a showcase. Not eligible to sign until 7/2. Expect residency & to start F/A process soon pic.twitter.com/B8iUESGaqP— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) February 26, 2015
It also takes the Yankees out of the running for the 2013-14 Serie Nacional rookie of the year, Vladimir Gutierrez, because he also cannot sign until July 2.
Looking elsewhere on the international market, 29-year-old second baseman (30 in April) Hector Olivera fits a need for the Yankees. Helping this cause is that Olivera is older than 23 and has played at least five seasons in a professional league recognized by MLB, Cuba’s Serie Nacional. That means Olivera will not count against a team’s international bonus pool and will come without the 100 percent tax for the Yankees.
Despite being an older player, Olivera impressed at a showcase last month, and he is expected to be a major league player once he does sign with a team. Salary estimates have gone as high as $70 million.
OK, so it's five teams over $70M on Hector Olivera. But I still wish the Brothers Gourriel could play in The States— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) February 17, 2015
Considering how the Yankees spent wildly during this current international period, they aren’t in desperate need to make a move here. Moncada would have been a huge get, but because they missed on him, they do not need to make up for it by spending foolishly elsewhere, although Olivera could make plenty of sense since they won’t be taxed and he can contribute immediately.
The Yankees no longer play the free-spending game alone. Others have seats at the table, and Moncada’s signing is just the latest proof. Still, Moncada is not their only option, and the Yankees can still find a way to get involved in the international market, which we have already seen them do during this current signing period.
All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.