Five months without baseball can make people go insane. Hell, we’ve been without baseball for just a week now and I’m already to the point of missing Michael Kay. Missing Michael Kay. This is serious stuff, this baseball withdrawal. Thankfully, we have the hot stove season still ahead of us. Baseball will always be about what happens between April and October, but there’s an understandable fascination with the yearly rebuilding process. We’ve already gotten into it heavily on RAB.
We all want to see the Yankees repeat as champions, so we want them to make moves that best position them for that. Unfortunately, this often leads to fans concocting unrealistic scenarios and then screaming when they don’t come to fruition. This is nothing but counterproductive.
Major League Baseball is a complicated machine. What makes sense to you and me might not make sense to the guys running the teams. It leads us to sometimes question those in charge, and sometimes rightfully so. Other times, there’s a factor at play unknown to all of us, but known too well to the GM and his staff. It can lead to some tumultuous times, but I think we’re all calm and sane enough here to put it in perspective.
When evaluating what the Yankees should do, and what they have done, there is one principle to keep in mind, and that comes with one addendum. Understand this, and you’ll understand a lot more about why teams make the moves they do and why they avoid others:
Teams have limited resources, and they must use these resources as efficiently as possible in order to build the best possible team.
Addendum: The game goes through this cycle every year, presumably forever.
This means we have to evaluate moves not only in a vacuum, but also as compared with all other possible moves. This perspective involves exploring options for not only 2010, but also for seasons further in the future. The Yankees’ front office, however, will likely only look a year or two ahead.
Resources refers to not just money, but also to the team’s players. Available funds and young talent are the two main forms of currency in baseball. The Yankees have made it clear that they will keep their payroll around the 2009 level, if not a bit lower, so that should put expectations in line. We know how much they can spend, and we know what players they have in the system. That should give us an idea of what the team can do.
The Yankees have holes and weaknesses. They’ll continue to have holes and weaknesses, with the idea that they’ll be fewer and less severe than other teams. To accomplish that, they’ll deploy their resources as efficiently as possible. Not to pick on him, but commenter ledavidisrael showed us an example of this yesterday when he mused on how J.J. Hardy would help the Yankees. Hardy is a good player, and if his bat recovers he’ll help the Twins. But why would the Yankees use their precious resources on him when they already have one of the best infields, if not the best, in the league?
The infield is not a weakness for the Yankees, so they should use as little of their resources on that as possible. They should look to any weaknesses, both on the major league roster and in the system, and use their resources to strengthen them. For the Yankees, that means pitching, as it does every team, and the outfield. If the team is going to make moves this winter, it should be with those weaknesses in mind.
They can improve the pitching and outfield mainly through free agency and trades. These will be the two major topics of discussion over the next four-plus months, as they are every off-season. In an effort to keep everyone as sane as possible, let’s go over some of the finer points of the off-season. I did this last off-season, but I’m much better equipped this time around, thanks to some work by a few good writers.
As fans, we love to come up with trade proposals to help our team. That’s great, but 99.999999999% of the time, the trade proposed is unrealistic. This might be for a number of reasons, both obvious and non-obvious. Fans overvaluing their team’s prospects is the main reason for ridiculous trade proposals, but there are plenty of others.
Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star tackled this subject a few months ago. He shows us, through first-hand experience, why a trade proposal from an outsider rarely makes sense.
Once, in a casual conversation a few years ago, a member of the Royals’ front office gave me a homework assignment. He wanted me to come to him with a doable trade idea that would make the Royals better.
“And realistic,” he said. “Don’t have us trading Jimmy Gobble for Albert Pujols.”
The next few days or so, I wore out Baseball-Reference and Baseball Cube and all the other nerdy sites even more than usual. I came up with something, I can’t remember exactly what, but I vaguely recall suggesting either DeJesus or Teahen to the Cubs for a deal involving Ryan Theriot and other parts.
The Royals’ executive considered it for a few seconds, acknowledged that it made sense in the obvious ways I pointed out, then listed two or three reasons it didn’t make sense, reasons that I hadn’t considered and most likely never would’ve known without that conversation.
Brian Cashman cannot control other GMs minds
Many players will be available this off-season via trade. While the Yankees might have seemingly unlimited financial resources (even though they don’t), they certainly don’t have unlimited player personnel resources. In fact, plenty of other teams have much more in the way of player currency, which usually consists of prospects.
For a recent example, the Tigers have reportedly made Edwin Jackson available. Maybe the Yankees see Jackson as a more cost-efficient alternative to John Lackey. Jackson would also come with less of a commitment, as he can become a free agent after the 2011 season. So instead of Lackey at five years and, say, $90 million, Jackson could be had for two years and, with arbitration raises, perhaps $15 million. That sounds like a much better deal, even if Lackey is a better pitcher.
We run into the resources problem immediately. Yes, Jackson would be cheaper than Lackey, but he would cost the Yankees plenty in player resources. Is that worth the trade-off? Maybe, maybe not. But even if the Yankees decide it is, the have to get Dave Dombrowski to accept their offer. Other teams will also present offers, and if the Yankees is not the best, the Tigers will not accept it and Jackson will be elsewhere in 2010.
Fans might scream at this, saying Cashman could have added this player or that to the offer to make it more enticing. But then we’re back to the Mellinger argument. Each team has its own list of wants and needs, and they’re going to take the package that best fits those. Slapping Kevin Russo on top of a package doesn’t necessarily fulfill the Tigers’ needs. There’s also a point where the players going to the Tigers would be too great an expenditure of resources, even considering Jackson’s relative cheapness.
We’ll see the Yankees connected with many names this winter — we’ve already seen them connected to Lackey and Holliday. The Yankees have financial resources, so agents frequently connect their clients to the Yankees, hoping that the specter of the Evil Empire can help raise the bidding. That the Yankees spent heavily last off-season will only increase this activity this off-season. Until we start to hear something substantial, take rumors as just that. You’ll know when the Yankees start to get serious about someone.
Teams might not be interested in the Yankees spare parts
This doesn’t happen nearly as often as it did a few years ago — or perhaps these people are commenting elsewhere — but fans sometimes want to sign a player whose position is already filled. The solution to the logjam is to trade the incumbent. We saw this last winter a bit with Adam Dunn. He’d be the DH, but the Yankees already had Hideki Matsui. Many fans thought the Yankees should have dumped Matsui on the Mariners and then signed Dunn. This rarely, if ever, happens.
If the Yankees don’t want a player, it’s unlikely that another team values him highly enough to give back anything of significant value in a trade. It’s nice to think another team will help out the Yankees, but that is never the case. This is especially true when we’re talking about older players. There are plenty of older players on the free agent market. Why wouldn’t a team go out and get one of them, rather than use their own resources to acquire someone from the Yankees?
GMs are not idiots
OK, some general managers seem to make more foolish moves than others. Dayton Moore and Ned Colletti, for quick examples, have seemingly handed out a few more ill-advised deals than other GMs. That doesn’t mean they’re always ripe for the fleecing. J.C. Bradbury of Sabernomics has broken down some general manager myths, and explains why they’re just not true. They include:
- GMS can buy low and sell high. “For this to work, the GM on the other team has to be a colossal moron.” J.C. explains further here.
- The number of free agents at a position affects the price of free agents at a position. “The problem with this is that the free agents have come from somewhere. A high number of players looking for new teams means that there is a corresponding number of openings that teams need to fill.” The exception is when teams have already filled the position from within, but then there are also teams which wish to upgrade at the position.
- Every trade has a winner and a loser. “Mistakes happen, but as a general rule, all parties to trades are winners.” In their minds, at least. Trades might work out in favor of one part eventually, but that’s information not available at the time of the deal.
- Players peak at 27 and old players are worthless. “The aging process is gradual, more like the Minneapolis Metrodome than an Egyptian pyramid.”
The Yankees have a plan
By the time they’re done evaluating their situation, they’ll come up with a few plans, actually. There’s the primary plan and then a number of backup plans in case one aspect or another of the primary plan falls through. Last year the Yankees got lucky. Their Plan A worked out. That won’t always be the case, and it likely won’t be the case this year. In any case, the Yankees will act according to their plans. If something unexpected comes up they might alter the plan, but otherwise they’re going to act consistently with it.
Keep all this in mind throughout the off-season, and maybe you’ll stay sane. Forget it, and you’ll pull your hair out while screaming at Cashman for not acquiring this player or that. I think we’ll have a much happier comments section this winter, though, if we take heed of all this.