Rumors still place the Yankees in the hunt for Roy Halladay. The Blue Jays want Jesus Montero, one of Hughes or Chamberlain, and lesser prospects for the star pitcher. Following the trade of Ian Kennedy and Austin Jackson, this would leave the Yankee farm system almost completely barren of top-end, near-MLB talent.
Roy Halladay is a fantastic pitcher, maybe a Hall of Famer, but he is also 33 years old. He is not a long term solution at the position, and carries with him plenty of injury risk as he becomes a baseball senior citizen. A trade for him would fill the classic Yankees trade: trade lots of long term value for short term value. And this is a terrible idea.
The Yankees are finally running their organization the right way. Their farm system is starting to produce high-quality major league talent. Their major league roster is, for the first time since 2004, completely devoid of albatross contracts (although Alex Rodriguez’s deal has the potential to become one) that bothered them for so long. While there are issues with the 200 million dollar payroll, they are making much better use of it than the late-Torre era teams.
Part of this is because of the Yankee core of players. Soon, the Yankees are going to have to replace Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera as the team’s HOF-caliber core to lead them to year-in, year-out playoff appearances. While they have been supplemented by outside help, the outside help has fluctuated in value.
With proper roster management, the Brian Cashman’s goal should be perpetual competition. Most teams operate in cycles: they build up, win for a few years, decline, trade away their best players, get a few high draft picks, and reload with the stars that they acquired. This cycle has been a reality for even the well-managed, large-budget teams. The Yankees are about to lose the 15-year core that have allowed them to stay out of this cycle for longer than any team that I can remember. The continue this run of success, the Yankees are going to need to find some more Hall-worthy talent to prop their team up for very long periods of time.
Alex Rodriguez is a Hall-worthy talent. So may be Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia. However, They are entering the decline phase of their careers. While the core-four Yankees have aged remarkably well, we can’t really expect guys who won their first ring in 2009 to do the same. Teixeira and Rodriguez will probably be all-star caliber players for most of their Yankee career, but toward the end they are likely to suffer inevitable declines while being paid quite a bit of money. Teams constructed via long term free agent deals will always have to deal with this problem.
To top things off, the Yankees don’t have the payroll advantage they used to. While their 200 million dollar payroll still dwarfs the next-largest by two or three large contracts, the number of teams that have lifted payroll to the 100 million or more range has increased dramatically. 13 clubs have had payrolls of 99 million or more in the past 2 seasons. The high-dollar club for free agents used to be reserved for just a few teams, but big-contract free agents face a much better buyers market for their services. And the Yankees have shown no indication that they are willing to push payroll higher than 200 million in the near future.
What does this all mean? It means that roster construction needs to look beyond the next season. In order for the Yankees to put out a Series-caliber team every season, they need to balance young players with old. They’ll have a few big productive contracts (Teixeira, CC, AJ, Alex Rodriguez) at the same time as aging ones (Jeter, Posada, Mariano), and pre-free agency young players to balance out the difference. That is exactly why Jesus Montero is so useful: he’ll be cost controlled until some of the slightly younger Yankee stars age.
And here is the catch the Yankees are in: they absolutely have to look long term, because rebuilding won’t be as easy for them. If the team finds itself with a bunch of untradeable, unproductive contracts, they can’t just be Oakland and clean house, get a bunch of prospects, sign some free agents, and jump back in. They’ll have to wait for the untradeable contracts to phase out. This high-budget team Dutch Disease should be familiar to New York sports fans: the New York Rangers had it for years before the NHL salary cap, and the New York Knicks still have it. Poor management combined with a high budget are a deadly combination that can wreck a franchise for a very long time.
Jesus Montero, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain have some serious star potential. They may or may not be stars, but that caveat is true of any young prospect. It was true of Brien Taylor, and was true of Derek Jeter. Sometimes, you have to place your bets, wait, and see if the result pans out. Because when you bet on a young player and lose, you only lose the opportunity cost of not trading him. When you bet on a 100 million dollar contract for a 33 year-old former Cy Young winner, you’re stuck with the bill, and your future options are limited.