The New York Yankees dominated baseball during the “Core 4” years; if they want to see that level of success again they have a lot of work to do to turn the current team into a contender. Often analysts talk about the need to look to the future to fix the teams problems; I believe this team needs to look to their recent past.
The best thing that happened to the early 90’s Yankees was George Steinbrenner being suspended from baseball. This allowed Gene “Stick” Michael to build the team through the farm system, instead of George’s method of investing in the biggest free agent and constantly gutting the farm system. Did it produce a few lean years? Of course, however by the time George was reinstated by MLB the Yankees had drafted and begun to develop future stars Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettite, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. In 1994 the Yankees were in first place before the strike canceled the remainder of the season. In 1995 the Yankees won the first ever wild card and went on to have a classic series with the Mariners. After the firing of Buck Showalter at the end of the year, the Yanks hired Joe Torre and went on to have one of the most dominant runs of all time, winning three of the next four World Series, including a 125 win campaign in 1998. Following the 2000 World Series, the Yankees would win the Pennant in 2001 and 2003 before winning the World Series again in 2009. Some people will say the run ended during Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, where some will say the run ended last year after Derek Jeter’s final game. I tend to side with the latter, I think Derek Jeter’s retirement officially closes the book on an era of Yankees baseball, problem is the front office is treating the current team like an extension of the previous era.
The 2015 Yankees as currently constructed have the ability to go a couple different ways. If they bite the injury bug again like last year and certain players (McCann, Teixeira) don’t play up to the back of their baseball cards I could see this team winning 75 games. On the other hand, if those guys plays well, if they get something out of A-Rod, CC packs the pounds back on and goes back to his old self and Tanaka comes back strong I could see this team winning 90 games, compete for a Wild Card (maybe the division) and likely an early exit from the playoffs (I know, if you make it anything can happen-i.e. 2014 KC Royals). To me, this feels like what the team did from 2005-2008, trying to add just that one more veteran player to the core to try and make a run, constantly sacrificing the farm system for immediate success. In 2009 the Yankees spent 200 million in the offseason to win the World Series, and while they did win it all that year, the current club is still suffering from those contracts.
The problem is this team doesn’t have a “Core 4” to build off of; it is one thing to add pieces around Jeter, Mo, Rivera, etc. It is not the same building around McCann, Ellsbury and Gardner. In my opinion the Steinbrenner’s and GM Brian Cashman need to look back to the early 1990’s, rebuild from the ground up. I understand the challenges, Yankee fans are not used to going through lean years, going this strategy is basically giving up any hopes of the playoffs for the next 2-4 years (this following two straight missed playoff years), plus the Yankees have an obligation to the YES Network to make sure the team is competitive to produce ratings, something that will be interesting (maybe to just me) in the post Derek Jeter era.
Instead of hoping the ball breaks the right way for them this year and they can fight for a playoff spot I think the Yanks should start cleaning house now (or at least before the trade deadline). Every asset that won’t be around by the time the team is good again should be traded for the best possible prospects. No one is untouchable but I’d say Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Didi Gregorius and Michael Pineda would be the closest players that I’d keep to build around. If Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia opening the season strong, I’d deal them to contenders, I doubt anyone would take on A-Rod’s contract but if a team like say the Marlins was willing to take him, deal him. Even McCann and Gardner shouldn’t be off the table. In addition to building for the future I think it could also go a long way towards reenergizing interest in the Yankees farm system from fans (besides just the occasional game that a star player is in recovering from an injury) If I’m Brian Cashman, this is the tact I’m taking in the 2015 season.