Tuesday, November 19, 2013

'What The Hell Did You Trade Jay Buhner For?'

After watching the Red Sox capture a well-earned World Series championship, I knew it was going to be long, tough winter. While I congratulate Red Sox Nation on winning their third title in 10 years, there isn't much worse than having to listen to the likes of Dave crow about it.

Seriously, I'd rather shovel out from under another 36-inch snowfall like we had in February. It took a couple of days of shoveling and three more days of heating pads to loosen up my back, but that's still better than listening to Red Sox fans.

Sigh.

The thing is I'm not finding much warmth sitting by the offseason's hot stove.

So far, the Yankees have been linked to just about every big free agent on the market: Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson (of course), Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Elsberry, Nelson Cruz.

It reminds me of approach the Yankees took to team building in the 1980s ... and that can't be good. It was time when hair was big, I was in high school and George Steinbrenner over-emphasized acquiring every available big-name, aging star, either by signing him as a free agent or by trading away prospects.

Anyone remember Steve Kemp, Jack Clark and Andy Hawkins. How about the Al Leiter-for-Jesse Barfield trade or Willie McGee for Bob Sykes? And of course, who could forget Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps?



Of course that approach did exactly generate the kind of success Steinbrenner was seeking and left the farm system barren after going nine years without a first-round pick between 1979 and 1989.

Now the Yankees aren't going to go about the offseason without signing any free agents, nor are they about write off next season. That's not the Yankee way ... and frankly, they have some holes that simply can't be filled internally. But they have to be smart about it.

The Yankees had plenty of problems last season from runs scored to the collapse of the bullpen to the inability of the farm system to produce enough major-league caliber talent. But at the heart of all those issues was one, inescapable fact: Age and injury finally caught up to the Bombers. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira -- it's pretty damn hard to win when those key pieces spend most of the season on the disabled list.

And therein lies the problem with chasing free agents or trading away young talent. In addition to not solving the problems that come with age, bringing in these guys requires giving them long-term, big-money contracts, rewarding them for their past performance with their former teams as they head into the back half of their careers and the inevitable decline in production.

A look at the list of free agents for this season shows that nearly all of them are either in the 30s or will be turning 30 in 2014. And the many of the few free agents who are younger, including Chris Carpenter and Josh Johnson, have had significant injury issues.

So while loading up with the top free agents might allow the Yankees to be competitive in 2014 or even the following season, it is not the recipe for duplicating this 19-year era of sustained success that was ushered in with the development of Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jeter and Jorge Posada.

USA TODAY
And what that means is that while the Yankees are going make moves to try to win this year, they also have to working on rebuilding the core.

McCann is an incredible catcher and would look great in pinstripes, but he'll be turning 30 next season, will be looking for a contract of at least five years, and plays the most physically demanding position in the game. In addition, history has shown that for most catchers offensive production begins to decline around age 32.

In addition, the Yankees have four young catchers -- Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine, JR Murphy and Gary Sanchez -- at various points of development. Yes, Cervelli, Romine and Murphy struggled mightily last season, then again, so did Bernie Williams in his first season, hitting .238 with 4 homers 34 RBI in 85 games. Heck, Posada hit only .250 with 6 homers and 25 RBI while playing 60 games in 1997.

And the reality is that if the Yankees can't turn at least one of those four catching prospects into an above average, productive, major-league backstop, then Brian Cashman and the entire player development staff need to be fired. That would be absolutely pathetic.

And while the Yankees' interest in Choo and Ellsbury appears to be waning, they seem to be intensifying their pursuit of Beltran, which has me perplexed.

Beltran will be turning 37 in April, has already seen a steady decline in production and will be looking for a contract of at least three years. Is that really better than re-signing strikeout-prone, 32-year-old Granderson to a four-year deal? Which deal would one expect to look better on the back end?

So how does it makes sense for the long-term health of the franchise to give up the 18th pick in the first round of next year's draft in order to sign Beltran?

It doesn't.

It only makes sense if you're willing to mortgage the future for a shot to win now ...  and are willing to ask at some point in the future a question like "What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?"

1 comment:

Dave said...

Did I mention yet that the Red Sox won the title this year?