It’s always difficult to pinpoint when a team’s reign of dominance or even proficiency has begun or reached an end, but it seems like the vaunted New York Yankees have finally morphed into something they’re simply not used to being: a mediocre baseball team. It may seem like a fool’s errand to dismiss a team coming off a 95-win season that featured baseball’s most powerful offense, and that’s especially true when that team often seems to have unlimited resources. The Yankees, however, have been teetering on the edge of implosion for a while now. I’m willing to say they’ve slipped over the edge.
There are a lot of factors that go into the certainly temporary collapse of baseball’s most prolific franchise, but the biggest tipping point has surely been the team’s roster construction. Long one of the oldest teams in the game, the Yankees have simply become far too brittle for their own good. Long contracts aren’t typically a good idea, and the ones the Yankees are tied up in look increasingly terrifying. Alex Rodriguez can’t dodge PED allegations, can’t stay healthy, and can’t produce at a high rate when he’s on the field. Mark Teixeira will miss at least a month to start the 2013 season. Even CC Sabathia finally hit the DL and exhibited some health issues last summer.
Even the guys who didn’t sign deals for a decade or close to one come with their fair share of complications. Curtis Granderson has transformed into almost solely a home run threat, as low batting averages and declining defense are putting a severe dent in his value. A walk rate north of 10% is great, but it means a lot less when its owner can’t hit .240 and his contact rate is continually slipping. Even Robinson Cano, great as he is, will be gone after this season unless the team learns its lesson and shies away from a deal that will retain him well past his prime.
It’s not just that powerful offense that’s the problem, though. Outside of the dynamic bullpen, the Yankees have a rotation full of question marks behind Sabathia. Hiroki Kuroda had a fantastic 2012, but age and injury risk loom large. Phil Hughes has developed into a solid four starter, but this is a team that needs more. Perhaps even scarier, the Yankees can’t buy their way out of this one. The team is all set to cut payroll at a time when Granderson and Cano will hit free agency and there simply isn’t much in the way of young impact players on the roster. The problems are piling up, and when combined with the ascent of every other non-Sox team in the AL East, this a dangerous time for the Yankees.
What’s GM Brian Cashman doing to address his roster problems in the present? Well, it seems like he’s tapped into the well of desperation by contacting just about every aging or retired veteran in hopes of retaining their services. Chipper Jones laughed off the idea, Derrek Lee isn’t taking the bait, and Scott Rolen is–well, who knows? I’d imagine there was a time not all that long ago when an offer from Cashman would have been much more appealing.
It’s a perfect storm for the Yankees, and that’s pretty much what it takes for a franchise like this one to experience a lapse in quality teams. The Yankees have gotten old, sluggish, and unbalanced. The money isn’t going to be there like it has been, and the game has shifted toward something far different than it was when the team began its current run of success. Teams are winning now with young, cost-controlled talented brought up the pipeline and merely complimenting their own achievements with free agents. Sure, the Yankees have had their share of success stories in developing players (Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada come to mind), but they also haven’t had to worry about those players being bought away in free agency. Times, they are a-changin’.