The Yankees can win the A.L. East, but, in order to do so, just about every question has to be answered affirmatively. And, the Yankees have plenty. Until recently, the Bronx Bombers’ offseason strategy was to eliminate doubts by wielding its financial strength like a bludgeon on the free agent market. Nowadays, there is a much a greater tolerance for uncertainty, and, as a result, the Yankees enter the 2015 season with a range of possible outcomes that runs the gamut from a last place finish to winning the A.L. East crown. All are possible, but what is likely (click here for 2015 predictions for all teams)?

The Yankees won 84 games in 2014, but, based on run differential, they played more like a 77-win team. If you split the difference, that makes last year’s Bronx Bombers about breakeven. Considering Brian Cashman did not make any major upgrades, it’s fair to begin an assessment of this season at that level. Of course, last year left plenty of room of improvement. Infield defense is one area where the Yankees will be much better. With Chase Headley returning for a full season and Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew joining him up the middle, the Yankees infield promises to be one of the best in the game when it comes to catching the ball. In addition, the Bronx Bombers can reasonably expect Brian McCann to perform closer to his career norm. Otherwise, the Yankees’ fate is very precarious. If the same team that struggled so much last year can prove triumphant in 2015, it will not only need to reap the reward of the reasonable, but also the benefit from the unexpected. Continue Reading »


American League East

Despite a questionable starting rotation and injury concerns in the bullpen, the Red Sox clearly have the strongest and deepest offense in the A.L. East, and, in today’s low run scoring era, that gives Boston a distinct advantage. The Red Sox are also buoyed by a strong farm system that boasts several prospects who could either supplement the major league roster or be used to acquire a veteran in a trade (Cole Hamels anyone?). If everything goes right, Boston could win 90-95 games, but because of their pitching questions, they may have to set their sites just below that bar. Still, 89 wins should still be good enough to pace a division full of flawed teams.

The Orioles won 96 games last year, but the departures of Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz should put a major dent in their offense. It’s also hard to imagine Steve Pearce replicating his 2014 performance, and JJ Hardy and Matt Wieters are starting the year on the disabled list. Overall pitching depth and the wisdom of Buck Showalter should be enough to keep Baltimore in contention, and a favorite to win a wild card, but their position is much more precarious this season. The Blue Jays upgraded their offense with two big additions. Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin bolstered an already potent Toronto lineup, but with the preseason injury to Marcus Stroman, the team’s pitching staff could prove too thin for a postseason bid. The Yankees could make a run at the division title, but they could just as easily finish in last place. A more likely scenario for the Bronx Bombers is somewhere down the middle, which would mean a third straight season watching from home in October. Continue Reading »

The business of baseball is booming. In stark contrast to trite reports about the game’s demise that have been common for over a century, Forbes’ annual look at the financial health of major league baseball once again revealed a thriving enterprise with no signs of slowing down.

According to Forbes’ 2015 survey, which is based on estimates for 2014, baseball franchises cumulatively increased in value by over $11 billion dollars, or nearly 50%. Even coming off a trough, such exponential growth would be impressive, but, following three years of almost double-digit gains, it is truly remarkable. At the heart of the game’s surging valuation is the steadily increasing revenue streams derived from cable TV and internet sources. In addition to robust rights fees being realized across the board, which Forbes estimates now account for nearly 40% of industry revenue, the sport is also uniquely positioned to profit from the proliferation of content streaming. Thanks to the strong business model of its MLB Advanced Media subsidiary, baseball is potentially sitting on a goldmine that some believe could one day rival the combined value of the 30 franchises.

MLB Financial Snapshot, 2003-2014
Note: Revenue for each team is net of stadium debt and revenue sharing.
Source: Forbes.com

Not only did MLB enjoy a spike in “paper profits”, but the sport’s top and bottom line also received a jolt. Net revenue, which excludes exempt stadium debt and revenue sharing payments (so there is no double counting), increased over 10%, while EBITDA, which Forbes uses as a proxy for operating profit, more than doubled. With total payroll costs increasing only 8.5% year-over-year, the sport’s 30 franchises continue to enjoy an increasing percentage of the financial pie. Continue Reading »

Chris Borland’s decision to turn his back on a multi-million dollar career as a hard hitting linebacker may have sent shockwaves throughout the NFL, but the implications could be just as significant for major league baseball.

If Borland’s early retirement was the headline of yesterday’s sports news, MLB appointing Tony Reagins to the newly created position of senior vice president for youth programs was a footnote. And, that’s being generous. However, there is a strong link between the two stories…one that Reagins would be wise to exploit in his new job.

According to Commissioner Rob Manfred, one of Reagins’ mandates will be to increase youth participation in amateur baseball, whether it be on the local, high school or college level. Presumably, Reagins will be responsible for coordinating the operational and financial support of youth-based initiatives across the country, but the most important message he and MLB could send to young athletes is one Borland may have benefited from when he was a kid: baseball doesn’t ask its athletes to choose between a successful career and a healthy life.

Injuries are a part of every sport, but the relative risk faced by football players is much greater, especially when you consider the shorter playing careers and lack of guaranteed contracts faced by those who toil on the grid iron. Granted, baseball does not provide immediate fame on the NCAA level, and spending several years in the minor leagues lacks instant gratification, but for those athletes who persevere, the rewards are much greater and, more importantly, the risks are much less. That’s the message Reagins should hammer home every chance he gets. Providing more opportunities for America’s youth to play baseball should be paramount, but once they are involved, a little evangelization could go a long way.

Chris Borland’s retirement is the NFL’s loss today, but at some point in the future, it could be MLB’s gain. Who knows whether Borland is a trailblazer or an anomaly, but if other top athletes decide to follow in his footsteps, MLB should be eager to provide them with an alternate path. Baseball’s overriding goal should be to attract as many great athletes as possible into the fold, and if that mean’s exploiting the inherent dangers of other sports, so be it. Doing so would certainly be good for baseball, but it would be even better for the health of the young athletes who make the transition.

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

For 19 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

Continue Reading »

(This post has been updated from its initial publication on April 26, 2010).

Yanks politicsAt the risk of getting too political, President Barack Obama’s second term has been a disaster…for the Bronx Bombers. After racking up an impressive .602 winning percentage during his first term, the Yankees have struggled after President Obama’s re-election. Not only have the pinstripes posted a mediocre .522 winning percentage over the last two years, but they’ve also been outscored in each season, something that hasn’t happened to the Yankees since George H.W. Bush was in the White House.

Although President Obama hasn’t been kind to the Yankees during his second term, the Bronx Bombers have still done better under a Democrat commander-in-chief. Since 1901, the franchise’s winning percentage is nearly 30 points better when the President has been a Democrat. The Yankees have also won nearly three times as many World Series when the oval office was Blue instead of Red. This advantage has been particularly evident over the last half century. Since the Eisenhower administration, the Yankees have not won a World Series when a Republican has resided at 1600 Pennsylvania, but have claimed nine championships with Democrats in charge, including at least one in every administration but Lyndon Johnson’s.

I never like to mix politics and sports, but perhaps the Yankees’ drought under the GOP is something to keep in mind the next time you enter a polling booth during a presidential election. Then again, if President Obama doesn’t get his act together, it just might be time for an Independent.

Yankees Record by Political Party

Democrats 4870 3512 44 0.581 41248 34216 23 20
Republicans 5161 4136 49 0.555 45171 40354 17 7

Yankees Record by Presidential Administration

Warren Harding 257 146 0 0.638 2227 1706 2 0
John Kennedy 309 176 1 0.637 2358 1839 3 2
Franklin Roosevelt 1156 677 17 0.631 10355 7705 7 6
Dwight Eisenhower 761 468 4 0.619 6140 4695 6 3
Herbery Hoover 375 240 4 0.610 4030 3157 1 1
Harry Truman 747 483 3 0.607 6279 4860 5 5
Jimmy Carter 392 255 0 0.606 3120 2567 2 2
George W. Bush 775 518 2 0.599 7048 5994 2 0
Calvin Coolidge 493 331 5 0.598 4522 3680 4 3
Bill Clinton 724 504 1 0.590 6738 5659 4 4
Gerald Ford 215 156 0 0.580 1644 1344 1 0
Barack Obama 559 413 0 0.575 4728 4106 1 1
Ronald Reagan 677 562 0 0.546 5854 5345 1 0
Richard Nixon 468 444 2 0.513 3526 3419 0 0
William McKinley 60 59 2 0.504 67 69 0 0
Lyndon Johnson 401 406 6 0.497 3010 2945 1 0
Woodrow Wilson 582 598 16 0.493 4660 4535 0 0
Theodore Roosevelt 504 535 21 0.485 4876 5172 0 0
William Taft 288 318 9 0.475 2529 2709 0 0
George H.W. Bush 288 359 0 0.445 2708 3064 0 0

Presidential Performance

  • Best Winning Percentage: Warren Harding (.638, from 1921 to August 2, 1923)
  • Worst Winning Percentage: George HW Bush (.445, from 1989-1992)
  • Most AL Pennants: Franklin Roosevelt (7, from 1933-1944)
  • Most World Series Victories: Franklin Roosevelt (6, from 1933-1944)
  • Best Season (By Win%): Calvin Coolidge (1927, 110-44)
  • Worst Season (By Win%): William Taft (1912, 50-102-1)
  • Best Run Differential: Franklin Roosevelt (1939, +2.70 runs/game)
  • Worst Run Differential: Theodore Roosevelt (1908, -1.63 runs/game)

Presidential Trivia

  • Lyndon Johnson and Woodrow Wilson are the only two Democrats under whose administration the Yankees have not won a World Series. The Yankees have failed to win a championship under nine different Republican presidents.
  • There have been three presidential successions during a Yankees season: McKinley to Roosevelt in 1901; Harding to Coolidge in 1923; and Nixon to Ford in 1974.
  • Yankee pitchers have thrown eight no-hitters under a Democrat president and four no-hitters under a Republican.
  • Yankee batters have hit for eight cycles under a Democrat president and seven cycles under a Republican.
  • Of the Yankees five Cy Young award winners, three came under a Democrat president and two came under a Republican.
  • Of the Yankees 20 MVPs, 11 came under a Democrat president and nine came under a Republican.

James Shields is headed to San Diego, and it didn’t take a mountain of cash to get him. Instead, the right hander signed a very reasonable four-year contract at a price commensurate with the value he has consistently provided during his career. So, why weren’t the Yankees interested in a player who would have fit well into their immediate plans?

At about $18 million per year, the Yankees could have essentially replaced Hiroki Kuroda with the much younger Shields at a very similar cost, albeit with a longer-term commitment. Adding that kind of stability would have helped mitigate the heightened risk that exists in the team’s rotation. As things stand, all five potential members of the Yankees’ opening day rotation come with substantial injury and/or performance risk, which means the Bronx Bombers are basically rolling the dice on 2015. That’s a part of the risk equation that often gets ignored. Signing any pitcher, much less one entering his age-33 season, to multiple years comes with potential peril, but so does entering a season without a starter who has a track record of both durability and success.

Signing Shields would have given the Yankees a chance to hedge the gamble they are taking in 2015. Instead, other priorities, like cutting payroll to below recent norms and accumulating drafts picks, have seemingly taken precedence. That doesn’t mean the Yankees are throwing in the towel, but they’re certainly not making every effort to win now.

Reasonable arguments can be made for and against the Yankees’ signing James Shields, but what’s beyond debate is the team has taken a much more laid back approach to setting goals. As Brian Cashman recently noted, “if a lot of guys stay healthy and live up to their potential”, the Yankees “could very well contend for a championship”. For a team that used to pride itself on demanding excellence, that’s a lot of ifs and buts.

If the Yankees are no longer committed to spending their resources to ensure success, they’d better have an alternate plan. Presumably, that blueprint involves stockpiling prospects and cutting payroll until several big contracts come off the books in 2017. However, in order to avoid alienating its season ticket base, the team is attempting to make this transformation while still maintaining an air of competiveness. To some, this approach might seem like a reasonable compromise, but by serving two masters, the Yankees could end up pleasing none. Continue Reading »

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