Bob Dylan’s always been one of my favorite singers. Why? Because there is a message in each of his songs.
It’s hard to believe how time passes, but 50 years ago – in 1964 – Dylan had a smash hit called, “The Times They Are A Changin” that swept up the charts. They were changin’ all right, with both Vietnam and the New York Yankees. After a 1964 pennant, the Yankees, who saw Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Company get old quick, would not win another American League flag for more than a decade.
The present Yankees are not in nearly as bad a shape as their 1965 counterparts were heading into the season, but Dylan’s message is the same. The Times They Are A Changin’ for sure.
And the fans better get used to it. Baseball has changed and the Yankees, somewhat behind the curve, are finally changing with it. This is not because Hal Steinbrenner won’t spend like his father. It is not because he doesn’t think the Yankees will contend in 2015. It’s because of baseball and a changing business.
Teams are locking up their young stars. Look at Pittsburgh. Someone suggested the Yankees ought to trade for outfielder Starling Marte. That would never happen. He’s signed through the 2019 season. Oh, what about Andrew McCutchen? He’s signed through 2017. That’s all well-and-good, given their ages of 23 and 28, respectively.
That kind of thing worked for the Yankees for years. Lock up big-time free-agents with multi-year contracts. Problem is, players like Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez are but shadows of themselves and all are still in the books for at least two more years.
So the Yankees, feeling burned by this, decided, after closer David Robertson turned down the team’s qualifying offer, privately to let him go without an offer. The club added a cheaper Andrew Miller to promising Dellin Betances in the late innings to form a tough lefty-righty combination and obtained hard-throwing lefty Justin Wilson for surplus catcher Francisco Cervelli.
The motivation was the high draft pick the Yankees will get for Robertson’s signing with the Chicago White Sox is a better business decision than to add another 4-year contract and pay nearly $80 million over the next quartet of seasons for a pair of relievers.
No doubt the front office also had prospects Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb, Nick Rumbelow and James Pazos in mind. All certainly have the potential to replace Robertson way before his 4-year pact with the Chisox runs its course.
The same with Brandon McCarthy. The Yankees kind of tread quietly. McCarthy, who liked in it in New York and flourished under pitching coach Larry Rothschild, went to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a 4-year, $48 million deal. The Dodgers spent $48 million on a pitch with a a 10-year career record of 52-65, 4.09. McCarthy will be 36 at the end of his Dodgers contract.
In the back of the Yankees’ minds in the case was a legitimate question. Can 23-year-old right-hander Bryan Mitchell, who just needs a but of tweaking with his mechanics, match or better the numbers McCarthy has put up? It’s quite possible.
It comes down to this. The Yankees, and it took awhile for various reasons, finally have a farm system that is ready to produce. Every decision to spend a boatload of money – not because there is a budget or whether the club can afford it – will be balanced against what the club is developing in its system.
That doesn’t mean the Yankees won’t try to sign a Max Scherzer when he is available. It means the system will fill a lot of parts the club spent money on in the past. The trade for young shortstop Didi Gregorius is more evidence of this. The Yankees have two young second-base possibilities in Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela, a superb first-base prospect in Greg Bird and an elite right-field prospect in Aaron Judge, a member of the Arizona Fall League All-Prospect Team with Bird.
The core of catcher Brian McCann and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner will mesh with these kids as soon as 2016. So the debate here is do you sign Chase Headley, an average player, to a multi-year contract to play third base, or do you out Martin Prado, who has played over 400 games there, in that spot and play kids at second base? The Yankees may re-sign Headley to give Gregorius a veteran double-play partner at second, or they may not.
With more emphasis on the draft and development, the Yankees will now pick and choose what free-agents to approach. This will be balanced against what in-house possibilities there are. Affordability has nothing to do with it.
The Boss spent lavishly in 20th Century baseball. In the 21st Century, as Dylan crooned 50 years ago, “The Times They Are A Changin” indeed.