One would hope Hal Steinbrenner is no longer “confused” about why Yankee fans are so upset, as he proclaimed back on June 21 when the team was floundering in third place, 9 ½ games behind in the American League East. There is nothing to be confused about the present state of the Yankees: It’s a lousy, poorly constructed, grossly over-priced ballclub that just came home in last place after a dismal 1-5 road trip against the Angels and wretched Rockies, with no hope of reaching the World Series (where it hasn’t been in 14 years) any time soon.
Now, it is time for Hal Steinbrenner to stop being confused and start taking stock of his franchise under the watch of analytics-obsessed Brian Cashman, the eternal GM. Back in March, Hal said it shouldn’t take $300 million to win a championship. But you shouldn’t have to pay $280 million (as he is now) to finish last either. The Yankee payroll is only hideous because of the players it’s being spent on:
$32 million a year on oft-injured 33-year-old Giancarlo Stanton (.193/.272/.438) through 2027, $17 million a year on 33-year-old Anthony Rizzo (.244/.332/.381) through 2024, $15 million a year on 35-year old D.J. LeMahieu (.231/.293/.365) through 2026, $21 million a year on 37-year old Josh Donaldson (.142/.225/.434, which thankfully expires after this season with an $8M buyout) and $27 million a year for likewise oft-injured 30-year old Carlos Rodon (0-3, 7.36 ERA in his first three starts after missing most of the first half with an injury) through 2028. And it’s not as if these guys are only going to get better with age.
If Hal were to do an honest assessment of Cashman’s job performance he would be hard-pressed to decide which has been more responsible for the team’s present plight: His trading record or the Yankee player development system?
Regarding the trades and just so this doesn’t sound like a latter-day second guess, when Cashman and his front office underlings were dancing cartwheels after supposedly fleecing Derek Jeter in Miami out of Stanton in December of 2017, I was on record in this newspaper as saying they would one day rue this as the most expensive disaster in Yankee history. So there’s that.
Cashman’s made some good deals in recent years, for Domingo German in 2014 and bullpen pieces Clay Holmes, Michael King, Chad Green and Luis Cessa but they are far out-weighed by his abysmal record of trades for starting pitchers: Frankie Montas, Sonny Gray, Andrew Heaney — and going way back to Jeff Weaver, Denny Neagle and Javy Vazquez — all of whom couldn’t pitch in New York, which, of course, didn’t show up on any of Cashman’s analytical spreadsheets.
But truth be told, the real crux of the Yankees’ inability to get back to the World Series since 2009 is the equally abysmal performance of their player development department. Since 2008, they’ve hit on only three first-round draft picks, Aaron Judge in 2013, Clarke Schmidt in 2017 and Anthony Volpe in 2019 — and the jury is still out on whether Schmidt will turn out to be the first frontline starting pitcher developed out of the draft by the Yankees since Andy Pettitte, or if Volpe is really going to be their everyday shortstop of the future.
As for Judge, his toe injury has now fully revealed how the emperor Cashman (and the Yankees as a whole) have no clothes. No one realized just how much of a one-man team they were, but as so noted by the Elias Bureau, they were averaging 4.7 runs per game (10th overall) with a .730 OPS (14th) up to June 3 when Judge went down — and 3.8 runs per game with a .660 OPS, both 28th worst in baseball, since. Overall this year they rank 20th in the majors in runs and tied for 28th (.230) in batting.
It’s because the Yankees haven’t developed a productive everyday first baseman since Don Mattingly that Cashman was forced to once again dip into the free agent market and bring back the streaky, injury-prone Rizzo for two more years last winter. And it’s because they’ve drafted and developed only one productive everyday outfielder (Brett Gardner) since Bernie Williams, Cashman was forced to make expensive, disastrous free agent signings like Jacoby Ellsbury or ill-conceived trades like the ones for Aaron Hicks and lost-in-space Clint Frazier. This latest Judge-less outfield has been an embarrassing mishmash of Triple A-caliber castoffs. Similarly, they have not developed a catcher since Jorge Posada.
And there are still no outfielders, first basemen or frontline starting pitchers on the immediate horizon in the system. The much-touted “Martian”, Jasson Dominguez, is hitting .216 in Double-A Somerset. Austin Wells, their No. 2 prospect who they took with their No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft out of Arizona, was bogged down in Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A Friday. Scouts still like his bat some but questions remain on his catching skills.
This is what it has come to — an aging, expensive team, lacking in athleticism with only one bona fide high-end starter in Gerrit Cole and a bullpen that is burned out through overuse by Aaron Boone’s constant search for the one reliever who doesn’t have it, often as per the analytics handbook. I know this is hard for Hal Steinbrenner, who doesn’t like shaking things up and has drunk the analytics Kool-Aid himself, but at the owners meeting next week to re-elect Commissioner Manfred, he might want to buttonhole Rangers managing partner Ray Davis, who in 2022 was faced with the same deterioration of his franchise under a longtime GM.
In the Rangers’ case it was Jon Daniels, who’d been on the job since 2005 when, at 28, he became the youngest ever major league GM. Daniels twice took the Rangers to the World Series, in 2010-11 (under old school manager Ron Washington), and was MLB executive of the year in 2010. But by 2022, the Rangers had had five straight losing seasons under Jeff Banister and Chris Woodward (neither of whom had ever managed in the majors before) and Davis had seen enough. He fired Daniels and replaced him with his assistant, Princeton-bred former pitcher Chris Young, who actually played in the majors for 13 years.
Granted, Young has spent a whole lot of Davis’ money on free agents, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien last year and pitchers Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez and Heaney this past winter (such is the result of a failed player development). But other than deGrom’s predictable injury, it’s all been money well spent. Young’s most important move, however, was to hire Hall-of-Fame-bound Bruce Bochy, who knows how to win, as his manager and — voila — the Rangers have been leading the NL West most of the year.
I shouldn’t have to tell Hal Steinbrenner that the Yankees need to go in a new direction; that under Cashman and his analytics guru Mike Fishman it just isn’t working — at all levels of the organization. All of baseball recognizes this. He’s got a $280 million boondoggle on his hands that is only going to get worse before it gets better. The teams ahead of them in the division, the Orioles, Rays and Blue Jays, are all younger, more athletic and have better players at every position except right field. So he shouldn’t be curious as to why the fans are upset. They’re not just upset. They’re downright pissed at what’s become of this once-proud franchise.
So, too, should Hal be.