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

For 18 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 inequities 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

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And then there were none. The Yankees have said goodbye to a litany of legends over the last few years, but now, with Derek Jeter deciding to call it quits after the 2014 season, a golden era in franchise history is finally coming to an end.

Derek Jeter's leadership has been a throwback to the era of Joe DiMaggio.

Derek Jeter’s leadership has been a throwback to the era of Joe DiMaggio.

The Yankees have had many dynastic eras, and each has seemed to take on the personality of its most prominent player. The emphatic brashness of Babe Ruth was evident during the years of Murderer’s Row, when the Yankees barnstormed across the American League and, in the process, revolutionized the game and established the Bronx Bombers as New York’s most powerful team. Ruth’s braggadocio gave way to Joe DiMaggio’s elegance, which was predicated on quiet efficiency. The Yankee Clipper’s teams were relentless, winning year after year, impeded only by a World War. When it was time for DiMaggio to pass the baton, it ended up in the hands of the magnetic and mischievous Mickey Mantle. During those years, the Yankees were more than just a championship ballclub…they were a road show who hit each town at night just as hard as the opposing pitchers they faced during the day. Finally, in the late 1970s, Reggie Jackson was the straw that stirred the drink, and the entire ballclub reflected his arrogance, especially when the calendar turned to October.

There have been many stars in the Yankees’ universe over the last 20 years, but they all have revolved around Derek Jeter. The epitome of what the franchise aspires to be, the gold glove short stop exuded the same professionalism and dignity as DiMaggio, and his teams followed suit. Also like DiMaggio, Jeter earned the respect and admiration of opponents and teammates alike, and carefully honed an image he imparted to the team. For two decades, the Bronx Bombers were Jeter’s team.  After 2014, they will be no more.

Jeter wasn’t the best player to ever wear pinstripes. Some years, he wasn’t the best player on his own team. However, he will go down as one of the most significant figures in franchise history. His on-field contributions speak for themselves and his post season heroics have become legendary, but the role Jeter played in helping to revive and re-define the Yankees’ brand has been just as important to the team’s sustained success. After all, it’s much easier to talk about pride, dignity and class, and portray the franchise as a model of excellence, when you have a poster boy playing short stop.

For Jeter, team goals have always come first, so there can be no better send-off than a championship. However, because of his stature, the Captain’s victory lap will probably overshadow the team’s pennant chase. Jeter probably won’t like it, but for many fans, getting one last glimpse of the future Hall of Famer will mean just as much as, if not more than, simply going to see his Yankees. Of course, that distraction won’t last beyond 2014. What comes after Jeter? Hopefully not the deluge.

If Mark Teixeira suffers another injury, it could leave the Yankees' lineup limp. (Photo: NY Daily News)

If Mark Teixeira suffers another injury, it could leave the Yankees’ lineup limp. (Photo: NY Daily News)

The Yankees have a lot invested in Mark Teixeira…much more than the $68 million remaining on his contract. Despite missing most of last season with what has gradually become a chronic wrist problem, Teixeira figures prominently in the Yankees’ plans for 2014 and beyond, a leap of faith that may not be justified, considering the progress of his rehabilitation and historical comparisons.

Mark Teixeira is a great player. Among the 1,460 hitters who have amassed 3,000 plate appearances before their age-33 season, the first baseman is one of only 180 to record an OPS+ of 130 or greater. He is also one of only 260 batters to come to the plate at least 6,000 times during the same span. This combination of being prolific and productive should make Teixeira a good bet going forward. However, because of specific injury concerns and general historical trends, his past doesn’t necessarily bode well for the Yankees future.

Playing Time Trends, Age-34 to Age-36 Seasons, 1901 to 2013

Note: Includes all players with at least 6,000 PA through their age-32 season.
*Includes only players from the first group that had 300 or fewer plate appearances in their age-33 season.
Source: baseball-reference.com Continue Reading »

The evaluation of minor league prospects is no longer a cottage industry. Every major media platform seems to have at least one analyst dedicated to tracking baseball prospects, and the highlight of those efforts are annual rankings compiled just before spring training. Although there are many reputable evaluators (as well as many who are not), former Blue Jays executive and current ESPN contributor Keith Law stands out as one of the most perceptive. What follows is a breakdown of Law’s rankings along with commentary about some of the selections (for last year’s breakdown, click here).

Keith Law’s 2014 Top-100 Prospect List, by Franchise (click to enlarge)

Note: Prospect Score is a cumulative total based on the assignment of a score to each ranking (100 for #1 to 1 for #100). It is a proprietary calculation not endorsed by Mr. Law and not intended to suggest the ranking is linear.
Source: ESPN.com

The Astros, who were first in Law’s organization rankings, boast seven prospects in the top-100, including three within the first 20 selections. However, the Pirates, who also have seven prospects on the list, actually edged the Astros in overall prospect score (see footnote above for explanation). Equaling both teams with seven prospects was the Red Sox. Despite having a lower prospect score than Houston and Pittsburgh, five of Boston’s blue chips are position players, including Xander Bogaerts, who ranked second overall. Continue Reading »

If the Yankees are expecting reinforcements from the farm, they’d better stock up on Miracle-Gro. At least that seems to be the consensus of the most respected talent evaluators in the baseball media.

Keith Law is the latest prospect guru to offer a less than sanguine view of the Yankees’ prospect pipeline. Coming on the heels of equally pessimistic reports by Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com, which respectively listed one and two Yankees’ prospects among the game’s top 100, Law’s organizational ranking places the Bronx Bombers at 20th, a steep drop from the last three seasons when the team’s minor leagues ranked within the top-10. Law attributes the Yankees’ drop off in his ranking to a combination of injuries and poor performance among the franchise’s best prospects, albeit one mitigated by a strong 2013 draft class.

Keith Laws’ Yearly Organizational Rankings for AL East, 2009-2014

Source: ESPN.com Continue Reading »

The Yankees are collecting stars from the land of the rising sun.

Masahiro Tanaka is joining a Yankees team already replete with Japanese star power.

Masahiro Tanaka is joining a Yankees team already replete with Japanese star power.

Several recent teams have featured three Japanese born players. Some have even had four. However, in terms of star power, none can match the 2014 Yankees, who have assembled the greatest collection of Japanese ballplayers on this side of the Pacific Ocean.

As one of the most heralded players in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), Masahiro Tanaka’s presence alone would be enough to make the Yankees one of the most relevant teams in Japan. However, the talented right hander will be joining two elite countrymen in the Bronx. In Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda, the Bronx Bombers already feature the Japanese hitter and pitcher who have had the most success in the major leagues, so, although Tanaka will likely take center stage, he won’t be the only focus of baseball fans in Japan.

Teams with Three or More Japanese Born Players
Japanese teammates

Source: baseball-reference.com

Merchandising and international media rights are shared equally among all major league teams, but the Yankees are likely to enjoy other residual benefits from having most favored status in Japan (except, perhaps, when Yu Darvish is pitching for the Texas Rangers). Between tourism and New York’s sizeable Japanese population, the Yankees could see an uptick in attendance, especially with 40% of their games being started by a Japanese pitcher. The team should also be able to sell increased television advertising and in-stadium signage to Japanese companies seeking to capitalize on the team’s exposure back in their home country. An increase in general brand equity is another potential benefit, not to mention the continued cultivation of a positive reputation among players who may be posted in the future. However, based on past performance and reputation, the biggest impact should be noticed in the standings, and that’s what usually matters most to Yankees fans, no matter where in the world they reside.

Does signing Tanaka really answer all questions about the Yankees' financial commitment? (Photo: Getty Images)

Does signing Tanaka really answer all questions about the Yankees’ financial commitment? (Photo: Getty Images)

The Yankees’ plan to slash payroll below the $189 million luxury tax threshold was destined to fail at inception. As early as last April, the Yankees were already back tracking toward the inevitable, even though many in the media remained fixated by the smokescreen that was left behind. However, with the signing of Masahiro Tanaka to a massive seven year, $155 million deal (not including the $20 million posting fee owed to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles), Plan $189 million, which had been on life support for so long, is now officially dead. But, what does that mean about the future of the Yankees’ financial commitment, both in 2014 and beyond?

Earlier in the week, I suggested that the Yankees’ luxury tax scheme was a financial smokescreen designed to distract fans and media alike from the franchise’s more subtle belt tightening. By defining expectations down, the Yankees put themselves in a position to be lauded for surpassing the $189 million threshold even though that limit was well below the team’s payroll structure over the last decade-plus. I also expected the organization to take a victory lap and say “I told you so” to those who doubted their financial commitment. It’s only been hours since the deal was announced, but it seems like the organization has already run a marathon. “I told you so” is right.

If the Yankees are lucky enough to sign Tanaka, it will be the crowning achievement of their off season. The move will give the team’s brass an opportunity to crow about their commitment to winning and willingness to spend well in excess of the $189 million luxury tax threshold.” – Captain’s Blog, January 20, 2014

“We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to win. Anybody that questioned our commitment to winning is going to have to question themselves.” – Hank Steinbrenner, quoted by AP, January 22, 2014

“I have been saying for well over a year now that it makes sense to meet [the $189 million threshold], but not at the expense of a championship-caliber team.” Hal Steinbrenner, quoted by NY Post, January 22, 2014

“Hal Steinbrenner decided winning games trumped saving money, and authorized his baseball people to forget the Yankees’ $189 million goal for the 2014.” Joel Sherman,  NY Post, January 22, 2014

“The addition of Tanaka validated Steinbrenner’s comments because Tanaka’s deal, which averages $22.1 million a season, will catapult the Yankees over that threshold.” Jack Curry, YES Network, January 22, 2014 Continue Reading »

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