The New York Yankees spent last October with time on the golf course and other activities, courtesy of missing the postseason for only the second time in 19 years.
Evidently, they didn’t like the extra time off.
With their signing of Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees have now committed a whopping $491 million towards new free-agent contracts this season. Apparently, the need to win far outweighed owner Hal Steinbrenner’s desire to get under the $189 million tax threshold for the 2014 season.
And who can really blame him? Steinbrenner obviously didn’t like being on the outside looking in during the playoffs.
The Yankees have been somewhat passive over the past few offseasons, keeping in mind Steinbrenner’s stated goal. In the offseason following the 2008 season, the other season in which they missed the postseason, the Yankees spent $423 million in acquiring the services of first baseman Mark Teixeira and pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.
Not coincidentally, they captured the World Series title in 2009, their first in nine years. But the following four seasons netted nothing while the team got older and during which time three of their Core Four players—Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte—retired. Derek Jeter is the only remaining player left from the Yankees’ formative years.
So, time to start a new championship era for the Yankees, and Steinbrenner wasted no time in shelling out big dollars.
He first acquired free-agent catcher Brian McCann, signing him to a five-year, $85 million contract, with an option for a sixth year that could put the total value of the deal at $100 million.
Next, he approved the signing of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million deal, and quickly followed up by further fortifying his outfield with the signing of Carlos Beltran to a three-year, $34 million deal.
Hiroki Kuroda was brought back on a new one-year deal for $16 million as well. And now, the singing of Tanana for seven years and $155 million blows the plan to get under the tax threshold completely out of the water.
In addition, the Yankees strengthened their infield with the signings of Brian Roberts, Brendan Ryan and Kelly Johnson. Johnson and Roberts will likely split time at second with Robinson Cano no longer in pinstripes, and Ryan acts as insurance at shortstop should Derek Jeter suffer any setbacks from his rehab of a fractured ankle that limited him to just 17 games last season.
And the Yankees still have a hole to fill at third base with Alex Rodriguez now suspended for the entire 2014 season, so their wheeling and dealing this offseason may not be complete.
The Yankees are about one thing—winning. And Steinbrenner clearly wants to start a new winning era. They sent a message in the offseason following as disappointing 2008 season, and they’re sending the same message now.
The problem for the long-term future of the Yankees is that while they’ve spent a boatload of money to aid them in 2014 and possibly 2015, the farm system has suffered. According to prospect expert Mike Rosenbaum of Bleacher Report, the Yankees’ farm ranks No. 24 in MLB, with their biggest weakness being a lack of quality pitchers.
The Yankees have always been a team with deep pockets and have never been afraid to use their financial muscle to acquire top talent. But until they develop a farm system that can feed the major league club with supplementary talent, they can never really be considered a team that can stay at the top year after year.
Money can help a lot of things, but development of talent also goes a long way towards the long-term plans of any successful team. The Yankees made it pay off in 2009, but it’s no guarantee for 2014.