With 90 percent of the season yet to be played, not much should be made of any team’s start. Still, Yankee-haters like me can hope! From a less passionate perspective, I have wondered about the direction of the Yankees for the last couple of seasons. Opposing owners, fans, and the media like to play up the Yankees financial advantage, but it is only part of the story, and in my view, a secondary element. Their budgets are large but still limited. Coupled with roster limits, when they make poor player choices, they will pay.
In Chapter 2 of my new book, From the Ballfield to the Boardroom: Management Lessons from Playing Fields, I make the case that the Yankees run of success since 1996 has a lot more to do with sound and well-coordinated personnel decisions than financial superiority. From 1979-1994, the Yankees enjoyed a financial advantage that translated into mediocrity. They used their deep pockets to pusue free agents, who, for the most part, were big names beyond their best years such as Jack Clark, Danny Tartabull, Jesse Barfield, Wade Boggs, Jimmy Key, Andy Hawkins, Tim Leary, Jim Abbott, and Steve Howe They developed few of their own prospects. Team performance turned around when Bob Watson and Gene Michaels built the team around young (and cheap) players such as Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada, while using their free agent war chest to plug-in holes with solid but non-spetacular veterans such as Brosius, Knoblauch, Martinez, and Nelson. Even a name as big as Roger Clemens really played a supporting role for most of his stay. The main benefit of the Yankees financial clout has been to help them extend their run of success two or three years beyond what most teams might be able to pull off with a given core.
For all of the media hoopla in the last two years over the Yankee signings, the decisions from the Yankees’ brass have begun to resemble those of the 1980s and early 1990s. Jeter, entering his 10th full season, and Posada, who is in his mid thirties, are the “young blood” in the lineup. The only prospect developed in recent seasons, Alfonso Soriano, now plays in Texas. Two of the starting pitchers are over 40. Rivera turns 36 while Mussina and Williams turn 37 this year. Jason Giambi is a deflated shadow of his steroid-enhanced self. If Mussina, Johnson, and someone else pitch very well all season, they may make some noise. If not, the ALCS collapse last year may have forshadowed gloomier days for Yankee fans.