Whether it results in a 2014 playoff spot or not – and the odds remain long against the Yankees making it to October – the organization’s in-season additions provided a road map on how, I believe, they will construct their roster moving forward.
I would think of this like “follow the leader.” The Yanks did it a decade ago when the Red Sox’s use of analytics moved Brian Cashman to implore George Steinbrenner to invest finances to follow that revolution or fall hopelessly behind.
Now, the Rays and especially the A’s have become the leader the Yankees are following. Those clubs, recognizing their inherent monetary disadvantages, determined they would have difficulty spending on stars. So, rather than thinking about assembling top-heavy rosters from 1-to-25, they fixated on doing so from 25-to-1.
They could not have pricey gems, which works to their benefit in a post-steroid age when buying expensive stars has become more unfulfilling than ever. But thinking of a roster from the bottom up also has meant having good players throughout, avoiding soft spots.
To do this, they thought about versatile players and varying skills, particularly when it came to platoon strengths – guys who could really hit lefties to be complemented by guys who could really hit righties – or really run or really defend, etc.
The Yankees, after the disaster of 2013, when they deployed so many players who were not of major league quality, tried to follow this theory last offseason. They hoped Kelly Johnson, Brendan Ryan and Yangervis Solarte would offer Joe Girardi maneuverability as multi-positional pieces who had distinct skills: Ryan’s defense, Solarte’s switch-hitting, Johnson’s potential for lefty power.
But that was mainly done with a budget in mind. The Yankees, for much of last offseason, were still trying to shoehorn a payroll under the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million – so they stepped away from a pricier multi-positional possibility such as Jhonny Peralta.
With that $189 million pipe dream gone, the Yankees upgraded their versatility during the season with Stephen Drew, Chase Headley and Martin Prado. The Yanks wanted Drew in the offseason, but his price tag scared them away.
This trio has offered multi-positional usage while serving as a harbinger of how the Yankees will view their rosters moving forward.
Of course, they are still the Yankees, so if a prime-age star such as Giancarlo Stanton becomes available, they will pursue vigorously. But I think they generally want to stay away from the mega-contract entanglements that have gone wrong for them. Still, I expect the Yankees to use their monetary muscle, just to gain the advantage on a smaller scale for versatile types – think of it as what the A’s do, but (forgive the reference) on financial steroids.
Because the Yankees cannot even pretend to try to get under $189 million next year, particularly with Alex Rodriguez and his contract coming off suspension. Thus, I would expect the days of nickel-and-diming to fill out the roster are gone. The Yanks will more zealously avoid the Zelous Wheelers and win the battles for the Drews and Headleys – both are free agents. Or turn to someone such as free-agent-to-be Jed Lowrie or target a Mike Aviles or Ben Zobrist in trades (both have 2015 options). Or just generally focus on players like these who offer protection in multiple spots when the inevitable injuries strike.
Internally, the rising Rob Refsnyder provides second base/right field variety. Jose Pirela falls into the Solarte category of a longtime minor leaguer who plays an assortment of positions, but there are not enough believers that his Triple-A hitting will translate to the majors. The Yankees backed out on Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo, but it was instructive that they projected him as both a second baseman and outfielder.
The Yankees saw the Red Sox put some money behind the deep-roster theory in 2013 and turn it into a championship. They have watched baseball guerrilla efforts turn the Rays into serial contenders on a shoestring, in part because of the ability to deploy a rotating cast to their best usage in a myriad of spots on the diamond. And the A’s have been a predominant team for several years honoring this philosophy.
The injury plague that continues to impact the sport means you better have a deep 25- and 40-man roster and you better have players who can fill cracks in several spots when they inevitably arise.
Prado, who already has started in four spots for the Yankees, and Drew, who had never before played second base, and Headley, who has played first and third (but also has left field on his resume) are clues at how the Yankees are thinking about future rosters.......