Who’s running my team: The New York Yankees

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 18: New York Yankee general manager Brian Cashman speaks to the media during the New York Yankees press conference to introduce Gerrit Cole at Yankee Stadium on December 18, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 18: New York Yankee general manager Brian Cashman speaks to the media during the New York Yankees press conference to introduce Gerrit Cole at Yankee Stadium on December 18, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

Our series of articles looking at the front office structure of each major league team continues as we look at the New York Yankees.

New York Yankees

  • Managing General Partner: Hal Steinbrenner
  • President; Randy Levine
  • Senior Vice President, General Manager: Brian Cashman

It’s stupid question time. Here’s today’s entry: How are the New York Yankees doing?

As has been the case for about a century, the news isn’t that the Yankees are solid, but the size of the competitive advantage at which they operate.

Let’s begin with the valuation. Forbes puts it at $4.6 billion, a figure that is 40 percent greater than any other team, 44 percent greater than any team in its own division and nearly 2.6 times the valuation of the average MLB franchise.

In fact, the only franchise in all of North American professional team sports with a greater value than the Yankees is the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, at $5 billion.

And things are only improving. That valuation has nearly tripled over the past decade, from $1.6 billion in 2010.

The key is no secret: Both the Yankee market and the Yankee brand are gold mines. In 2019, the Yanks reaped $2.158 billion from their market, which obviously is the nation’s largest, and which they dominate.

There are 20.3 million souls in metropolitan New York, nearly as many as the combined 22.6 million who live in the Los Angeles and Chicago markets, the nation’s second and third largest. That market generated $3.065 billion in value to its two major league teams last season, and the simplest fifth grade math thus puts the Yankees share at 70 percent.

As for brand, what kid doesn’t instantly recognize the Yankee logo? It grossed $815 million in revenue, out-producing any other baseball brand by $261 million. Here’s an eye-opening encapsulation of the power of the Yankee brand: In 2019 it out-performed the combined brands of the Blue Jays, Reds, Pirates, Orioles, Royals, Rays, Athletics and Marlins.

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No wonder the Yankee front office is such a bastion of stability. Why would anyone ever want to leave?

The Steinbrenner family has held controlling interest since George, the patriarch, bought out CBS in 1973. For the record, Steinbrenner paid $10 million. I advise against doing the math on that transaction’s profitability: it will only depress you. Hal, one of George’s sons, took over in 2008.

Levine joined the New York Yankees as president in 2000 after a lengthy career in baseball and politics. Levine’s role was initially envisioned as an intermediary one between George Steinbrenner and Cashman, at the time a relatively new, young general manager. Across the intervening years, Cashman established his own bona fides, Steinbrenner mellowed, and Levine’s role was largely reduced to figuring out what to do with all the spare money.

For the first several decades of his ownership, George Steinbrenner was of course the brains, muscle and voice of the franchise. Famously outspoken and impulsive, he rolled through 21 field managers and 11 front office executives in his first two decades as owner.

Nineteen of the field managers and nine of the front office chiefs either quit or were fired or re-assigned within two seasons of their appointments.

The operation’s mellowing coincided almost precisely with the arrival of Cashman in 1998, and even more precisely with the appointment of Joe Torre as field manager two seasons earlier. Since 1998, the Yankees have employed just three field managers, and they have not yet seen reason to unseat Cashman.

Now the game’s senior general manager – Oakland vice president Billy Beane doesn’t count since David Forst handles GM duties there – Cashman is a graduate of Catholic University who started with the Yankees as an intern while still in college and never left. An assistant GM from 1992 to 1998, he succeeded Bob Watson in the general manager’s office when Watson resigned to move to an executive position with MLB.

As general manager, Cashman has presided over teams that won four World Series (1998, 1999, 2000, 2009), 13 AL East championships, and which appeared in a post-season game in all but four of his seasons.

In eight seasons under Cashman, the New York Yankees have won as many games as any team in baseball. He has yet to produce a sub-.500 team. Based on Wins Above Average, the annual impact of Cashman’s moves on the Yankee roster amounts to +11.67 games.*

In the face of those numbers, it remains fair speculation that virtually anybody could do what Cashman did if they had the Yankees’ resources to work with. The payroll advantage is inescapable. Until 2013, they ranked first in payroll for every season of Cashman’s tenure save 2001, when they were second.

Since 2000, the Yankees have averaged $200 million in on-field talent, a figure that happens to be more than all but two other teams allocated to that purpose in 2019. Let me re-phrase for emphasis: in 2019, only two other teams spent as much on players as the Yankees averaged between 2000 and 2019.

That, in turn, leads to the most profound question of all: With all that going for them, why haven’t the Yankees won more World Series? After all, the franchise just completed its 10th consecutive season without a ring. The second decade of the 21st century marks the first decade without a Yankee championship in a full century.

The honest answer to that question lays in the math behind the layered playoff system adopted by all sports, but particularly by MLB. A rule of thumb is that in any contest between two relatively evenly matched opponents, the more talented team is likely to win about 60 percent of the time. Let’s work that concept through, stipulating only two things:

1.       That MLB playoff teams fit the definition of “relatively evenly matched.”

2.       That team ranks can be expressed at least approximated by their regular season records.

In a three-tiered playoff system, we can thus estimate the likelihood of the best team actually winning the World Series as 60 percent multiplied over three rounds. As an equation, that is: .6 x .6 x .6. I’ll save you a trip to your calculator: The answer is .216 or 21.6 percent.

Math does not rule absolutely in baseball – it’s a broad equation, subject to lots of permutations, the best team doesn’t always have the best record, and divisions aren’t always balanced, influencing records for better or worse. In practice, however, the formula doesn’t miss by a lot. In the two decades of World Series play since 2000, the “best team” as measured by regular season record has won six times… 30 percent.

Across the same 20 seasons, teams that finished with the sixth or worse overall record won seven World Series. That includes the 2019 Nationals, whose 93-69 regular season record was 10 games worse than the Yankees.

Thirty percent isn’t 21 percent, but it’s close enough to the range of plausibility to illustrate the New York Yankees’ post-season problems. To win the World Series, you have to be both good AND fortunate…in significant, if not equal, parts.

Next. How Pettitte helped land Cole. dark

Ill fortune won’t be a satisfactory answer to “long-suffering” Yankee fans (as if there were such a thing). But it happens to be true,

*This calculation is obtained by determining the net impact of all player transactions on team performance for the season(s) in question. Wins Above Average is a zero-based offshoot of Wins Above Replacement; thus, the final figure suggests the degree of positive or negative movement in the standings attributable to front office moves.