Yankees' Lack of Star Power a Big Concern Both on Field and off It

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterJune 30, 2016

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 21: Starlin Castro #14 of the New York Yankees in action against the Colorado Rockies during a game at Yankee Stadium on June 21, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

NEW YORK — In the seats behind home plate, scouts from rival teams ogle the relief pitchers the New York Yankees haven't yet decided to sell. Just the other day, the Chicago Cubs had three scouts at Yankee Stadium, enough so each could have focused in on just one of the late-inning relievers who could change the trade market and perhaps Cubs history.

On the concourses behind the seats, racks full of T-shirts with the "No Runs DMC" logo the Yankees created to market those relievers sit waiting for customers. But instead of buying shirts honoring Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, the few fans who are shopping seem content with their aging Derek Jeter jerseys.

This is where the Yankees stand at midseason 2016, with players more marketable to other teams than to their own fans. This is what the Yankees have become, a tradition-rich franchise stuck with too few current stars their fans are drawn to.

All-Star voting isn't always the best indicator of stardom, but it's worth noting that in 21 of the 22 seasons between 1993 and 2014, the Yankees had at least one player in the American League starting lineup. In 10 of the 11 years between 2002 and 2012, they had two or more starters.

Last year, they had none. That's almost certain to be the case again this season, with only Brian McCann (a distant fourth among catchers) and Carlos Beltran (10th among outfielders) even making it onto MLB's latest voting update.

Just five years ago, four of the nine players voted in for the AL played for the Yankees. Jeter and Alex Rodriguez missed the game because of injuries, but Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano both started.

Five years later, only A-Rod remains, and he can barely make the Yankees lineup. The others have gone. Only their replica jerseys remain.

Hideki Matsui officially retired in 2013 and Derek Jeter retired in 2014, but their jerseys still outnumber those of current Yankees players.
Hideki Matsui officially retired in 2013 and Derek Jeter retired in 2014, but their jerseys still outnumber those of current Yankees players.Kathy Willens/Associated Press/Associated Press

Walk around Yankee Stadium, and you're just as likely to see a Cano jersey as one honoring any current Yankee.

No current Yankee made the list of the top 20 baseball jerseys sold last year. Just four years ago, Jeter topped the list, and fellow Yankees Ichiro Suzuki and Cano made the top 10.

You can argue it doesn't matter. You can argue that the standard of stardom the Yankees set through the first decade of this century was a real anomaly, never possible to match.

Teams go through cycles, and the Yankees themselves have been through them before. They didn't have an All-Star starter from 1989-92, the only other time in the last 45 years they went consecutive seasons without one.

All-Stars and attendance and jersey sales are byproducts of success, and this year's Yankees team remains below .500 as the midpoint of the season approaches. The Yankees have played just well enough to stay on the fringes of the race—they began play Wednesday 3.5 games out of a wild-card spot—but they've been bad enough that a midseason sell-off remains possible.

Chapman, Miller and Beltran could all be traded if the Yankees determine they're better off trying to retool for the future. They do have players of value.

"We have stars," said Betances, who has become one of them.

If fans could vote for All-Star pitchers (who are chosen instead through player vote and managerial selections), the Yankees' late-inning trio would no doubt get big support. But as the Cincinnati Reds found out when they had Chapman, it's tough when your biggest star only pitches in the ninth inning when you have a lead.

Now that's true for the Yankees.

Their drop-off in star power has been drastic, and as much as the Yankees need wins to stay in the pennant race, they need stars to stay in the race for relevancy.

It's not just about jerseys and All-Star votes. The Yankees need to sell tickets, and they need to attract eyeballs to television sets so the team-owned YES network can sell advertising.

The Yankees are trying to market shirts celebrating their late-inning relief trio, but it doesn't seem many are buying.
The Yankees are trying to market shirts celebrating their late-inning relief trio, but it doesn't seem many are buying.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

This year, for the first time in the decade both teams have had their own networks, the New York Mets are topping the Yankees in local ratings, according to Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News. The New York Post's Richard Morgan reported YES ratings are down 10 percent from last year and nearly 50 percent from their peak.

From 2002-11, Morgan noted, the Yankees regularly averaged 400,000 viewers per game. This season, they were down to 233,403.

Through Tuesday, the Yankees' average home attendance was 38,022. That's tied with the Los Angeles Angels atop the American League and sixth-best in baseball. But as Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports pointed out, the Yankees are down 1,800 a game from last year and 8,000 a game from 2010.

Some of those drops are to be expected. The Yankees were coming off their 27th World Series title in 2010; this year, they were coming off two straight seasons missing the playoffs followed by 2015's one-game playoff cameo.

It's not just at home. From 2001-15, the Yankees ranked first or second in the American League in road attendance. So far this year, they're fifth, behind the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and (most surprisingly) the Oakland A's.

The Yankees were first in the majors in road attendance (35,512 average) in 2014, helped by the Jeter farewell tour. They're 16th in the majors (29,383) so far this season.

Meanwhile, the Mets made the World Series for the first time in 15 years, grabbing much of New York's baseball spotlight. With their attractive young rotation and with Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup, the Mets have the type of stars the Yankees normally feature.

Paul O'Neill retired 15 years ago, but his shirt still gets prime display at Yankee Stadium souvenir stands.
Paul O'Neill retired 15 years ago, but his shirt still gets prime display at Yankee Stadium souvenir stands.Danny Knobler

Go to a Mets game at Citi Field, and you'll see fans wearing Cespedes jerseys and Matt Harvey jerseys and Noah Syndergaard jerseys.

Go to a Yankees game, and you still see plenty of people wearing shirts from the past.

"Am I drawn to any of the current players? No," said Jed Dietrich, a fan looking over the items at one of Yankee Stadium's souvenir stands. "I grew up on [Don] Mattingly. I understand what they're trying to do—get rid of the bad contracts and get younger. I think eventually guys like Aaron Judge and Greg Bird will be part of the future."

For now, Judge remains at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, while Bird is injured and out for the season. For now, Dietrich still wears Mariano Rivera's No. 42, and his five-year-old son Sean wears Jeter's No. 2.

Oh, and he didn't buy that No Runs DMC shirt, either. Seems the Yankees will have a lot easier time selling Chapman, Miller and/or Betances than they will convincing fans to buy their shirt.

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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