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Hal Steinbrenner is right. The Yankees are a championship-caliber team. They might even be the best team in baseball. The ceiling is certainly high on a very talented team, and even reasonable expectations put the Bronx Bombers among the game’s elite. However, the down side risk is not inconsiderable. Although the Yankees may be the odds on favorite to win the World Series, they aren’t quite guaranteed to make the playoffs. Would a more aggressive off season have created greater assurance? Undoubtedly, but with a disappointing winter in the past, Yankee fans can still look forward to an exciting summer.

If everything falls into the place, the Yankees could be a juggernaut that wins well over 100 games. This scenario is predicated on a consistent rotation capable of brilliance backed up by a deep, dominant bullpen and an explosive offensive brimming with power. Health is the biggest concern. Early spring injuries to key contributors like Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino and Dellin Betances raise alarm bells, but if the initial prognoses are correct, the long-term impact should be muted. Otherwise, there aren’t many candidates for performance regression. On the contrary, the Yankees can reasonably expect either the same or more production at every position but short stop.

Everything doesn’t have to go right, however. The Yankees have enough talent to overcome a few injuries or disappointments, especially if the team is willing to make a key trade or two at the deadline. But, they are not invulnerable. If the early injuries persist, or expected improvements do not come to fruition, the Yankees could end up on the fringe of the wild card race. Unlike last year, there aren’t many major league ready reinforcements waiting in the minors, so if things go south, Brian Cashman will have to look outside the organization for help, and if the cost is too high, the Bronx Bombers could be left stranded.

Following are 12 key questions outlined and answered in the context of reasonable best, base, and worst case scenarios. Also, scroll below to see how well the Captain’s Blog has predicted the Yankees’ annual win total in the past and click here to see a forecast for the rest of the league.

Best Case Scenario: 105 wins

The Yankees’ efforts to improve the rotation and fortify an already strong bullpen pay off as James Paxton and J.A. Happ join Masahiro Tanaka as stable anchors that allow Luis Severino and CC Sabathia to get healthy and then thrive. The decision to stick with Miguel Andujar at third base also proves enlightened as he and Gleyber Torres build on their rookie season, creating a formidable lineup that includes a resurgent Gary Sanchez complementing the consistent slugging of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge in the middle of the order. Also, despite several key spring injuries, the Yankees rebound to have good relative health throughout the season, and when needs arise, the organization proves willing to pull the trigger on a big trade.

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2019 Predictions

American League East

The Yankees and Red Sox are on equal footing in the East, so just about anything could tip the balance. Boston’s bullpen looks to be its biggest weakness, and a few extra blown saves could make the difference in the division race. The rotation is the Yankees’ Achilles heel, and if Luis Severino isn’t healthy, Boston should take the top spot. All things considered, the Bronx Bombers have a little more depth, so if health treats each team equally, the Yankees should celebrate their first division title in seven seasons. The Rays will spend most of the season looking up at the Yankees and Red Sox, but with a good young rotation and solid lineup, Tampa should have enough to claim a wild card spot. All three teams’ position in the league should be bolstered by beating up on the Blue Jays and Orioles. Even if the Blue Jays surprise with an early season improvement, chances are the organization will look to deal veterans for prospects at some point, making them a second half laggard. The only suspense regarding the Orioles is whether they will become the second team in MLB history to have consecutive 110 loss seasons (1962-63 Mets).

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Can anything to be gleaned from team records during the exhibition season? Or, does Opening Day truly wipe the page clean? Conventional wisdom scoffs at those who pay too much attention to spring training games, but maybe a team’s pre-season performance shouldn’t be completely ignored?

Distribution of Spring Training and Regular Season Winning Percentage Divergence, Since 1984

Note: Tie games excluded from winning percentage calculations.
Source: baseball-reference.com,
mlb.com and springtrainingmagazine.com

The correlation between exhibition and regular season winning percentages has historically been low. Since 1984, the correlation coefficient is only 0.16, and from 1998 and 2010, the relationship is a similarly weak 0.20. In terms of the difference between winning percentages, over the longer span, just over 30% of teams had regular season records within 10% of their spring training results. So, in aggregate, the convention wisdom seems to be correct. However, an anecdotal look at the best and worst records suggests a link that may be more than just coincidental.

Top-10 and Bottom-10 Spring Training Records Since 1984

Note: Excludes the 1990 and 1995 exhibition seasons, which were shortened by work stoppages. Tie games excluded from winning percentage calculations.
Source: baseball-reference.com,
mlb.com and springtrainingmagazine.com

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The Yankees’ spending freeze was expected to thaw this winter. With two of baseball’s brightest young stars on the market and reportedly eager to shine in the Bronx, almost everyone assumed at least one would be wearing pinstripes. Conventional wisdom was wrong. In fact, the Yankees didn’t even make a formal offer to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Free agency, it seems, has become too rich for the team with the highest revenue in the game.

Although some fans will undoubtedly feel betrayed by the Yankees’ refusal to spend at levels commensurate with the league average, the team’s reluctance to invest in elite free agents has become a well telegraphed aversion. Throughout the winter, Hal Steinbrenner bemoaned the team’s operating costs and warned about the need to save up for the future commitments that will be needed to retain the team’s young core. No one should take Steinbrenner’s first lament seriously because the high cost of operating in New York is greatly mitigated by the tax-preferred financing and anti-trust protection that have helped the team’s enterprise value balloon. But, what about the appeal to future cash flow? Is the Yankees’ reluctance to spend on free agents justified by the looming cost of retaining its own star players?

To effectively evaluate this claim, we first need to identify the players the Yankees hope to extend. Since Steinbrenner’s comments were made, the team inked Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks to long-term, team-friendly deals, so that leaves Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres as young stars who have the potential to command exorbitant salaries as their careers progress. How exorbitant? The chart below attempts to put a price tag on the team’s new core four.

Projecting the Future Cost of the New Core Four

Note: Current service time records are Bryant at $10.85mn, Betts at $20mn and Donaldson at $23mn. Blue shading represents arbitration eligible years. Torres has four years of eligibility, but a free agent contract after year three is assumed.

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(This updated post was originally published on February 16, 2011)

For over 20 years, Tampa has been the Yankees’ spring training home, but it still seems like just yesterday when the team’s camp was located down the coast in Ft. Lauderdale. I am sure most fans who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s still reflexively harken back to those days of yore, while the real old timers’ memories take them all the way back to St. Petersburg, where Yankees’ legends from Ruth to Mantle toiled under the Florida sun.

Over the years, spring training has evolved significantly. Once upon a time, it was a pre-season retreat designed to help out-of-shape ballplayers shed the pounds added over the winter. In the early part of the last century, before even reporting to camp, players would often attend spas in places like Hot Springs, where they would purge their bodies of the iniquities from the offseason. Then, games would either be played among split squads (in the old days, the camps would be split into teams of veterans and hopeful rookies, the latter often called Yannigans) or against local minor league and college ball clubs. Finally, the teams would barnstorm their way back up north before finally kicking off the regular season.

Today, spring training is more big business than quaint tradition. Thanks to the growing competition between cities in Arizona and Florida (each state now hosts 15 major league clubs), teams have been able to extract sweetheart stadium deals, allowing them to turn the exhibition season into a significant profit center. Still, at the heart of spring training is hope and renewal as teams begin the long journey that is the baseball season.

The Yankees’ spring history has been a journey all its own. Below is an outline of some significant mileposts along the way.

Yankees’ Spring Training Homes Since 1901
yankees-st

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For the second straight winter, baseball’s hot stove has run cold. With the free agent market in a deep freeze, unthawed by the superstar talent of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and the game’s former big spenders conspicuous by their inactivity, whispers about pending labor strife have grown louder. Some have even mentioned the “C” word. But, it’s not collusion that has thrown a damper on the off season. Another “C” word is at the heart of the game’s transactional malaise…Competition…or the lack thereof.

Throughout the history of baseball labor negotiations, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) has been an advocate of the free market, at least to the extent one can exist in a sport with an anti-trust exemption. The union has consistently resisted artificial means of sharing the game’s wealth, such as salary caps and floors, because it believed the biggest piece of the pie could be obtained by allowing free agents to be valued by the highest bidder. And, until recently, they had been exactly right.

So, what has changed? After having the pendulum swing completely in their favor, the MLBPA has gradually ceded its advantage by making concessions. Limits on amateur pay, which increase the value of young players relative to veterans, as well as a more punitive competitive balance tax (CBT) system are two examples that have had a chilling effect. But, they alone are not responsible for the rapid cooling caused by the burgeoning crisis of competition.

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AP has released MLB’s official salary data for 2018, and in many stories there is some conflicting data, particularly with regard to the percentage of revenue allocated to salaries. Following are some clarification and interpretation.

You will often see Scott Boras quoted with a claim that players get a mid-40% share, but it seems like the revenue figures are gross and include MLBAM contributions. Also, only payroll is included (i.e., not benefits and post season share).  This makes sense from an agent perspective.

The union is frequently quoted as saying the share is about 50%. That seems to jibe with a net revenue figure compared to MLB total compensation. I am guessing the revenue excludes Stadium debt, but includes contributions from related businesses.

An owners’ spokesperson will usually cite a mid-50% number, but that includes minor league player expenses and excludes MLBAM contributions (but, reportedly, does not exclude Stadium debt).

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