New York is not Tampa Bay or even Philadelphia. In New York, our baseball team — or, at least, the one that plays in the Bronx — features the highest payroll around and is expected to win everything every year. But south down I-95, they do things a little slower and with a different philosophy than we do.
In Philadelphia, the Phillies have long enjoyed underdog status. They have just one World Series title in their 100-plus years of existence. While they drew the fifth most fans in the game this year, they had a payroll of just — just — $95 million, good for 13th overall. They’re not big players on the free agent market.
Rather, this team has succeeded by building up a core of talented players they’ve drafted and filling in around them. With Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard around the horn, they have an infield of homegrown stars. With Pat Burrell in left and Brett Myers and Cole Hamels on the mound, their most important cogs were all Philadelphia draft picks. In a way, this team is constructed in the mold of the 1996 Yankees with Brad Lidge playing the role of John Wetteland.
Tampa, a team with no fans and limited financial resources outside of those given to them through MLB’s revenue sharing system, has taken this model to the extreme. Their team features nearly an entire lineup of homegrown young stars and former top-round draft picks. Their free agent pick-ups — Troy Percival, Cliff Floyd, Carlos Peña — are there because 29 other teams passed on them. And somehow, they’re favored to win a World Series against a team with a payroll more than twice Tampa’s.
These teams are lessons in staying the course as they work to develop top prospects into Major League stars. Unlike the Yankees, these teams are constrained by their finances. The Phillies and Rays can’t go out and sign a CC Sabathia if their Ian Kennedy equivalent doesn’t pursue the path imagined for him. But they can still provide us with examples of what happens when front offices have a plan and are patient.
Over the last 19 months, we’ve tried to preach a New York version of that course. Sometimes, we’ve been right; sometimes, we’ve been wrong. It comes with the Minor League territory. But there’s no reason why the Yankees can’t attempt to rebuild a team in the mold they set for themselves 14 years ago.
Now, this doesn’t mean the Yanks should forego a Mark Teixeira because they have the Juan Mirandas of the world at AAA. One is hardly a suitable replacement for the other. But the Yanks shouldn’t pull the trigger on a trade that they’ll regret. Just ask the Phillies; I’m sure they’d love to have Gavin Floyd back.
For the next few days, the World Series will be the be-all and end-all of baseball. A-Rod has already opted out of his marriage, and he’s locked into his contract for ten years. So just sit back and enjoy the ride. While you’re doing so, appreciate how the Phillies and Rays combined patience and a farm system to get where they are today. If the Yanks can do this, with their resources to fill the holes, they could return to the dynastic levels they enjoyed a decade ago. And with the free agent signing period just ahead, this path could materialize sooner rather than later.