George Steinbrenner was a fantastic owner. When he bought the team in 1973 he made it relevant again. Few owners have ever been as willing to open the checkbook to improve their team. When you look at clubs like the Miami Marlins, who are more prone to pocketing profits than investing in the franchise, you realize we could have done a lot worse. If only he had it in him to sign the checks and let the baseball minds do their baseball things, maybe the 80’s and 2000’s would have had more than 2 World Series Championships among them.
The Yankees did win 4 Championships from 1996 to 2000. Fine. But remember those teams were led by a core of players including Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams, who’s minor league tenure was during George Steinbrenner’s 2nd suspension (the first being in 1974 for making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign). Had George not been suspended from July 1990 through the end of the 1992 season for paying a guy to try and rustle up some dirt on his star outfielder, Dave Winfield, he most assuredly would’ve traded those players away. Instead, then General Manager Gene “Stick” Michael was left to his own devices and allowed these future keys to a dynasty flourish. It is true that there were some non-home-grown players like Paul O’Neill that were also keys to that epic run, but there is a difference between adding those pieces to an existing home-grown core, and just slapping together a 25-man band of mercenaries.
What he failed to realize is this: You can sign some hired guns like Jason Giambi or Alex Rodriguez (who is getting paid $21,000,000 this year to take selfies with Jennifer Lopez) to come in, hit a bunch of dingers, strike out a bunch of guys, and have quite a bit of short-term success… However, that chicken will come home to roost. Guaranteed. At some point, you’re going to have a team full of re-treads and has-beens who A) are getting beaten regularly by younger, faster players on more advanced teams and B) are impossible to move due to size and length of contract.
Listen, it’s easy to sign a star player to a position when there’s an opening, but not so much when most positions are occupied by old men with fading abilities and multiple years left on mega-deals. These players can’t just be traded, released, or sent down to the minor leagues. Baseball doesn’t work like that. Nobody wants to trade good players for bad players. Nobody wants to release someone who is owed a ridiculous sum of money over many years because it makes more sense to just hope they figure it out. Nobody is getting sent to the minors when they’re a veteran, post-arbitration player.
Sure, technically you can just trade them for a song and write another mega-deal. But now you’re blowing right past the salary cap. And as a fan you might think “so what? It’s not my money!” which is true. The problem is that the luxury tax you would incur for exceeding the salary cap will go to the smaller market teams, and some of them might take that money and sign a guy or two. How do you feel about players like Evan Longoria getting paid by the Rays, who may not have been able to afford his contract without money coming from NY’s luxury tax, perennially killing the Yankees for roughly an eighth of a season? Staying under the cap doesn’t lower ticket prices and does not save you a dime. What it does is offer a competitive advantage. Exceeding the cap helps bad teams beat you, and makes you worse. Plain and simple.
Despite what you hear today from Brian Cashman et al this is 100% a rebuild. Whatever he says to the contrary he is getting paid to say because the Yankee brass want you to keep watching. If this was not a rebuild Chris Sale would be a Yankee and Aaron Judge would be on the South side of Chicago.
To those who think a rebuild is below the Yankee standard I ask you this: What about 2001 through 2008, and 2010 through 2016? Were those below standard? The Yankees could have signed some huge contracts in the off-season and traded for some big names, but that formula has led to regular season juggernauts that usually lose in the post-season for lack of youth and team chemistry. Even if it worked this year, it would create the kind of problems the team has been dealing with for years that have resulted in high payroll with low output.
The farm is not simply a place where trade-bait is planted and harvested. It’s supposed to be where a team cultivates its own core of star players. That is what is finally happening now. This is the beginning of something great. This is a rebuild, and that’s a good thing. Have patience and enjoy the show.
Side note: George had this to say with respect to Winfield to the New York Times in 1985 –
“Where is Reggie Jackson? We need a Mr. October or a Mr. September. Winfield is Mr. May. My big guys are not coming through. The guys who are supposed to carry the team are not carrying the team. They aren’t producing. If I don’t get big performances out of Winfield, Griffey and Baylor, we can’t win.”
Because of this statement Ken Griffey Jr. listed the Yankees among the teams he would never play for.