Why the Yankees Always Win (01/17/01)
I was preparing to begin my annual look at each team in order to assess their chances of winning this year's World Series when I was confronted with a terrible question: what's the point? I already know who's gonna win. The New York Yankees. And why is that? Money.
Their major league payroll is the largest in baseball. They can afford that because their local television revenue is by far the largest in baseball. But is it just the major league payroll? No, it's their entire payroll. The total number of employees is unknown outside the organization because of a strict confidentiality policy, but it's fairly certain that when you add up all the full- and part-time international and area scouts, and their bird dog scouts (people who are contracted by the regular scouts, like high school and college coaches) that the Yankees are by far the largest organization in baseball. Hire as many smart MBA types as possible, who will in turn hire as many good scouts as can be found, give them all tons of money to spend and Voila... dynasty. Pretty simple.
The Yanks also have the advantage of knowing that no matter what their team looks like in spring training, they can fix any problem with money during the season. Last year, they weren't scoring enough runs and the outfield was viewed as the culprit. No problem. They traded a rookie and a few prospects, assumed the additional salaries of David Justice ($7 million) and Glenallen Hill ($1.5 million) and had themselves a new outfield by July. Just to make sure, they added Jose Canseco ($3 million) with a waiver deal. When Chuck Knoblauch was experiencing fielding troubles, they simply traded for Luis Sojo and Jose Vizcaino (another $4 million between them). No salary is too great for the Yanks. What's another $15 million when you're already paying over $90 million to your existing roster?
In order to make trades, one has to have prospects, yes? So how can they continue to trade so many prospects? Why is their farm system so good, or at least perceived to be so good? Ever notice that every time some new international prospect is discovered, the Yankees are invariably involved in the bidding. That's because they are the only team that can afford to have a scout in every nook and cranny on earth. In Baseball America's Directory, each team publishes the directors of each of it's operations (business - marketing and media, and baseball - management and scouting). In this section, most teams list all of their full-time scouts. After the list of all their US scouts, the Yankees don't have enough room to list any of their international people, except for their directors of operations.
And even if some other team finds a prospect on the international scene, the Yanks and their enormous network of spies... er, scouts... have someone there in an instant offering more money. Hideki Irabu is a perfect example. The Padres scouted him and negotiated his release from his club contract in Japan, only to be backdoored by the Yanks. Speculation? Maybe a case of sour grapes? Maybe. But a manager of Irabu's, Bobby Valentine, who managed in Japan for a few years before returning to the States as the Mets manager, once asked him what he thought about American baseball. The conversation touched on the Yankees and Irabu responded that he wasn't familiar with that team. However, not a week after the Padres had negotiated his release from his Japanese team, Irabu said he would never play for the Padres, that the only team he'd ever play for is the Yankees, his favorite team from his childhood. Um, he's not familiar with his childhood favorite team? Who says Irabu isn't coachable. And while Irabu hasn't exactly been a Hall of Fame caliber player here, he did win 24 games for the Yanks between 1998 and 1999 with a better than average ERA, thus helping the Yanks to win two more world championships before being shipped off to Montreal for 3 top pitching prospects.
Money fixes other problems as well. Not only can they repair their major league club and bolster their farm system by throwing money at it, they have enough to compensate when their minor leagues fail, too. What other team could afford to lose their #1 pick to injury and not really suffer from it. The Yanks lost Brien Taylor in 1993 when he hurt his arm in a bar fight and never fully recovered. He was the Yanks' first pick in the 1991 draft and was slated to join their major league staff about the same time as Andy Pettitte. Didn't seem to hurt them too badly, though, as they have simply traded for Terry Mulholland (1994), David Cone (1995) and Roger Clemens (1999), and signed David Wells (1997) and now Mike Mussina (2001). Oh, and outbid everyone in 1998 for the reputed best Cuban pitcher in the last 25 years, Orlando Hernandez.
So yes, the Yanks farm system has been the backbone of their success, producing Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte... and a whole slew of "prospects" who in trade brought the rest of the players that money alone didn't buy.
Lastly, the Yanks never have to let anyone go. As long as a player is productive, the Yanks will keep him, regardless of the salary. Currently, Derek Jeter is asking for over $18 million per year, which would make him the 2nd highest paid player in baseball. While he's a very good shortstop, he's no where near the 2nd best player in the game. But is there a doubt in anyone's mind that he'll get what he's asking and more? Mariano Rivera is asking for $10 million a year. He's been their closer for the past 4 years and one of the best in the game. But is he worth as much as Greg Maddux, who has been one of the top 3 pitchers of the past decade? Probably not, but there's little doubt he'll get what he's asking for as well. Most other teams don't have a single $10 million player. When including Roger Clemens and Bernie Williams, the Yankees will have 4 who make at least that much.
So really, the only question now is whether or not George Steinbrenner can preserve his position atop the Major League money heap, as many teams are demanding a larger piece of the pie. And with a do-nothing commissioner like Bud Selig at the helm, chances are that George will have his pie and a good portion of everyone else's too. That'll certainly make my job a lot easier: I won't have to write any more pre-season team analysis. My job each spring will simply be to figure out who the Yanks will acquire in trade in the drive to their annual championship. Oh sure, there's the possibility the Yanks offense will show it's age and crumble at the same time that their pitching does, and that their bullpen and bench will be too thin to compensate, forcing the Yanks into a situation where they'll have to replace most of their team midseason in order to compete... but what are the chances of that happening? And who's to say they couldn't pull it off.
Well, because I've already started writing them, I might as well go ahead and offer my pre-season evaluations. Who knows, I might find a team that knows how to win without money.