Yankee fans might find this a hard pill to swallow but the reality of the situation is that the roster, as it is constructed at the moment, is not a legitimate World Series contender. With nearly $70 million collectively owed this season to aging stars Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia; its easy to see why the Yankees are caught somewhere in the middle between being a true contender and a rebuilding franchise. The Yankees reaped the rewards of these contracts back in 2009, when the organization defeated the Philadelphia Phillies for its MLB record 27th title. Now let’s take a look at some of the reasons why title #28 won’t be a realistic goal in the near-term.
While the Yankees were able to pull together an 87-75 record before losing the wild-card one game playoff, many of the question marks entering the 2015 season turned out favorably. With Alex Rodriguez (3.1 OWAR¹) coming back from an extended suspension for PED use and Mark Teixeira’s (3.3 OWAR¹) health as a huge question mark, no one could have anticipated the level of production the pair contributed last season. While disappointing relative to the standard set by the Yankees teams of recent memory, last year’s team out-performed reasonable expectations. This is a conclusion that is gaining traction, given an 8-15 start to the season with a whopping -31 run differential².
Although it may not look that way on the surface, the Yankees are in the midst of a rebuilding effort. General Manager Brian Cashman has been able to acquire a number of MLB-ready young assets, most notably the double-play tandem of Starlin Castro at second base and Didi Gregorius at shortstop. Unlike the “core four” years, Cashman has remained adamant in recent years about not trading away the franchise’s top prospects, including: SP Luis Severino, 1B Greg Bird, C Gary Sanchez, RF Aaron Judge and SS Jorge Mateo. Although it must have been extremely tempting at last year’s trade deadline to part with one or multiple of the aforementioned prospects, it shows that Cashman’s vision was focused on a few years down the road.
Championship rosters generally have one thing in common: balance. What I mean by balance is the ability of the manager to match-up personnel to either: a) exploit an opponent’s weakness, or b) prevent an opponent from exploiting your own weakness. Entering the 2016 season, the majority of the talk surrounding the New York Yankees was the addition of flame-thrower Aroldis Chapman to the already elite bullpen pairing of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. While the Yankees’ bullpen is certainly on the short-list of the best in baseball, there are few other positions where the Yankees have an elite (or even above-average) player. The starting pitching rotation features depth but lacks a true ace, something the 54,251 fans that watched Masahiro Tanaka pitch in the one-game playoff will tell you.
The Yankees struggle to produce runs against formidable left-handed pitching, a theme that plagued them through-out their run to the playoffs and culminated with Astros’ Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel delivering a masterful shutout performance in the one game playoff. To make matters worse the Yankees best hitter against LHP in 2015, Chris Young (OPS vs. LHP in 2015: .972) is now a member of the rival Boston Red Sox. Young’s replacement, switch-hitting Aaron Hicks, has been able to produce just one hit in 19 at-bats against lefties. Although it is certainly possible to overcome a deficiency such as this over the course of a 162 game season, the truth is that it is highly unlikely. Baseball is a game of adjustments and as soon as the rest of the league becomes aware of a weakness, they will continue to exploit it until it is negated.
Unlike seemingly any other franchise (in any other league), the New York Yankees’ rebuilding process features a payroll of close to $217 million. While it may be tempting to look at this slow start and expect a turnaround based on last year’s record, the reality is the Yankees’ season was over before it began. Brian Cashman will continue to acquire young talent, as he waits patiently for the bloated contracts of Teixeira, Sabathia, Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran to expire. With only $55 million of salary on the books for 2019, Cashman will hope to add the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez in what certainly appears to be a superstar loaded 2018 free-agent class. It won’t be until then, that the Yankees will be a legitimate championship contender.
¹Offensive Wins Above Replacement
²Runs Scored Minus Runs Allowed