“You know why the Yankees always win, Frank?”
“Because they have Mickey Mantle?”
“No, it’s ‘cause the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.”
That line from “Catch Me if You Can” always makes me think that maybe the real reason the Yankees do always win is indeed the pinstripes. The Yankees are a franchise shrouded in mystique and lore. They’ve played in the most hallowed of baseball cathedrals. Their all time lineup card brims with names like Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio, Berra, Ford, Jackson, Jeter, and Rivera. They’ve appeared in more postseasons than any other team, and won an insulting 27 World Series titles. In post season play they have the benefits of getting “help” from the “ghosts” of the Yankee greats.
But mystique and lore aside, the main reason the Yankees win all the time are benjamins and brains.
The Yankees used to be (and may still be) the poster boys for franchise overspending. MLB offseasons were headlined by big name trades, and high ticket free agents heading to the Bronx with padded wallets and lofty expectations. Here are a few of the free agent signings that stand out:
• Jose Contreras (2003) – 4 years/$32 million
• Carl Pavano (2005) – 4 years/$40 million
• Jarret Wright (2005) – 3 years/$21 million
• Kei Igawa (2007) – 5 years/$20 million ($26 million posting fee)
• Roger Clemens – 1 year/$17.4 million (for half a season)
• Alex Rodriguez (2007) – 10 years/$275 million (vomit)
• AJ Burnett (2009) – 5 years/ $82.5 million
And that’s not even mentioning the Sidney Ponsons, Richie Sexsons, Kyle Farnsworths, and Tony Womacks of the world. As mentioned the Yankees were known to make a trade or two; here are a few:
• 2003 – Acquired Kevin Brown from the L.A Dodgers in exchange for Jeff Weaver, Brandon Weeden, and Yhency Brazoban.
• 2003 – Acquired Javier Vazquez from the Montreal Expos in exchange for Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera, and Randy Choate.
• 2004 – Acquire Esteban Loaiza at the trade deadline from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Jose Contreras.
• 2005 – Acquire Randy Johnson from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, and Dionner Navarro.
• 2009 – Acquired Javier Vazquez (again) and Boone Logan from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn, and Arodys Vizcaino.
Sure when your pockets are as deep as the Yankees are it’s okay to roll the dice on some of these move and hope that they pan out. Unfortunately for the Evil Empire most of the moves mentioned above did not pan out. Now it is to be said that the Yankees did still contend and make the playoffs in those years where most of these transactions took place. In 2003 they made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Marlins. In 2004, they would go up 3-0 on the Red Sox in the ALCS before infamously blowing that lead and getting eliminated by the eventual WS champions.
Guys like Vazquez, Brown, and Johnson weren’t regular season disappointments by any mean. The Big Unit would actually win 17 games in both seasons with the Bronx Bombers; Vazquez and Brown would win 12+ in at least a season. The issue was their lack of big game pitching when it mattered – in the playoffs. It didn’t matter how successful they were in the regular season if they couldn’t replicate those successes in the post season. Unlike complete busts like Pavano and Igawa; the “Big Names” will be more remembered for their inability to show up in the big game for the Yankees.
In the past few offseasons, the Yankees have shied away from their once big spending ways, instead looking for reclamation and rebuilding projects. They look to take one man’s trash and turn it into their treasure; or at least a handful of W’s. They’re bargain bin shoppers. They’re popping tags. In the past 3 seasons the Bronx Bombers have had immense production from players they picked up off the scrap heap. Andruw Jones was a shell of himself when he showed up at Yankee stadium in 2011. He would get in 107 games and hit 14 HR and 33 RBI in those games. Jayson Nix is probably the best player they picked up out of the trash. After spending 2011 with the Blue Jays organization Nix signed a minor league deal with an invite to spring training in 2012. That season he would get in 74 games, playing a multitude of positions and stepping in admirably for the oft injured A-Rod. In the playoffs that season he would hit .500 against the Orioles in the ALDS. He was re-upped for the 2013 season.
One of the more shrewd moves by the Yankees was the acquisition of Ichiro. The Seattle Mariners were a in a bind. For a once proud team that had once won 116 games, the Mariners were a shell of their former self. They had a big problem on the horizon. What to do with their aging star? Ichiro was the Seattle Mariners. He was the heart and soul of that franchise. He was also a free agent at the end of the 2012 season. The Mariners could resign the nearly 40 year old, declining star; a deal that would surely show the Mariners overpay Ichiro in the efforts to make him a Mariner for life. The Mariners could have done nothing and stayed pat with Ichiro and eventually lose him to free agency, much to the chagrin of the Mariners fan base. So the Mariners made the hard, but smart choice of trading the face of their franchise to the Yankees at the trade deadline for .70 cents on the dollar or minor league prospects. Ichiro played admirably for the Yankees and was a cheap replacement and substitute for Brett Gardner, something they had been lacking all year. The Yanks liked the look of Ichiro in pinstripes so much that they opted to resign him to a bargain of a deal; 2 years/$ 13 million.
The 2013 edition of the Bronx Bombers feature one time 40 homer man Travis Hafner on a $2 million deal; Hafner once used to command $10 million per season. Realizing that A-Rod would be out for most of the 2013 season, they signed Kevin Youkilis to a 1yr/$12 million deal. When Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira went down with injuries, the Yankees replaced them with the contract known as Vernon Wells, and Lyle Overbay. They also picked up Brennen Boesch shortly after he was released by the Tigers. It was rumoured that they even kicked the tires on the recently retired Chipper Jones. I’m sure they also checked out the status of Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, and Paul O’Neal.
These Yankees were thought to be a push over and afterthought this season, and they’ve showed so far that they’re anything but. It’s amazing to think that in the span of a decade that the Yankees would go from throwing millions at anybody and everybody, to weeding through the recycling bins and coming up with treasures. Maybe this will pay dividends as they wait for their injured and aging stars to rejoin their ranks and lead the push for postseason baseball.