With C.J. Wilson in Anaheim and Yu Darvish reportedly headed north of the border or deep in the heart of Texas, the Yankees’ offseason pursuit of pitching has so far come up short. Unlike last year, however, when the team’s courtship of Cliff Lee was rebuffed, it doesn’t seem as if the Yankees had much interest in Wilson or Darvish, not to mention the many starters rumored to be available on the trade market. For some Yankees’ fans, this level of inactivity has been the cause of great frustration, leading to speculation that the team’s free spending ways may be a thing of the past.
Hal Steinbrenner’s unwillingness to open up the checkbook and Brian Cashman’s reticence to part with prospects seem to contradict the team’s “win the World Series or bust” mantra. After all, it’s hard to argue that Darvish, Wilson, Gio Gonzalez, etc. wouldn’t represent a major upgrade in the Yankees rotation, which, after CC Sabathia, consists of major question marks. Even though rolling the dice with such a rotation worked out well last year (assuming, like me, you consider a 97 win season to be a success), doing so again would constitute a major risk, especially in a league getting stronger by the minute.
The Yankees’ mandate is to win the World Series, but that isn’t a short-term proposition. Although fans, and some within the organization, rarely think too far ahead, it’s important to remember the team’s real mission statement is to win the World Series every year (or at least try), not just this year. That’s why Cashman’s cautious approach isn’t a betrayal of the team’s lofty standards. As the Yankees’ GM has repeatedly stated, no deal is better than a bad deal, which basically means the long-term competitiveness of the franchise is more important than an incremental, short-term gain.
Unless the Yankees believe an acquisition will improve the team both immediately and over the long haul, it really doesn’t make sense to go all-in, whether in terms of money or prospects. Considering the tenets of the new CBA, not to mention everyday fiscal sanity, it has become more difficult for the Yankees to erase their mistakes by writing a check. As a result, significant moves need to fit into the larger picture. In other words, future acquisitions need to be more like Sabathia and less like A.J. Burnett.
So, does that mean the Yankees are in a rebuilding mode, relatively speaking of course? Yes…and no (and, maybe, more like remodeling). On the one hand, the team still has a roster capable of competing for a ring, but at the same time, its chances of making the postseason (at least advancing beyond the new wild card round) seem more in doubt than at any time in recent memory. Meanwhile, juxtaposed against that uncertainty is the specter of a pitcher like Cole Hamels becoming a free agent (or the Mariners being more willing to trade Felix Hernandez) after this season, which, like it or not, has to be a part of the decision making process. Robbing Peter to pay Paul hasn’t been a philosophy employed much by the Yankees, but if that is the new reality, a greater emphasis must be placed on avoiding major mistakes. For just about every other franchise, that wouldn’t exactly qualify as “rebuilding”, but very little about the Yankees is analogous to the rest of the league.
Just because the Yankees did not acquire any of the big name free agents this offseason, and may have their sights set on future transactions, doesn’t mean the team can’t improve before the start of this season. A short-term contract for Edwin Jackson or a trade for John Danks (without giving up top prospects) are two remaining options that would fit into the Yankees’ new decision making paradigm. However, Cashman shouldn’t be afraid to stand pat once again, nor should fans of the Bronx Bombers fear another season with a make-shift rotation. Remember, after missing the playoffs in 2008 (a year in which the team relied upon a trio of young starters), the Yankees re-allocated their resources and the result was a championship. As long as the organization doesn’t fall into the trap of plugging holes instead of maintaining a sturdy ship, the Yankees’ championship aspirations will perennially remain afloat.