Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Yankees Land Tanaka... and Find Themselves in More Trouble Than Ever.

Earlier today the New York Yankees made some waves by signing Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka to a seven year $155 million dollar deal. The 25 year-old right hander is coming off a season in which went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Japanese Series title winning Rakuten Golden Eagles.

The Yankees hope that Tanaka can sure up a starting rotation that is projected to feature CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova. The Yankees missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2008 largely because of a lack of depth in their starting rotation. Yankees starters boasted only a 55-62 record and landed in the bottom half of the AL in most statistical categories.

Tanaka figures to go a long way in alleviating the Yankees starting pitching woes. While he is unproven, Japanese pitchers have experienced success in the majors during the past couple seasons. Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers has established himself as one of the best pitchers in the league. His 29-18 record over the past two years is impressive and his 277 strikeouts this past season were tops in the league.

Hisashi Iwakuma's continued emergence this year helped to Seattle Mariners establish themselves as a potential threat in the AL West. Iwakuma's 14-6 record showed continued improvement from his 9-5 mark in 2012 and his 2.66 ERA was good for third in the AL.

Darvish and Iwakuma have emerged as two of the best pitchers in the AL.
Even ex-Red Sox great Daisuke Matsuzaka found relative success over a somewhat tenuous stay in Boston. While most fans remember the anxiety and frustration that came along with Dice-K they tend to forget his 18-3 record in 2008.

The questions that must be asked then is will the addition of Tanaka be enough to get the Yankees back into the playoffs? Taken out of context the Yankees off-season looks to be one of the best in recent years. In addition to Tanaka the Yankees also signed catcher Brian McCann and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Any time your team is able to add four perennial all-stars it generally bodes well for your post-season prospects. This could not be any LESS true for the New York Yankees.

Am I the only one who thinks that GM Brian Cashman has forgotten how the game of baseball works? Brian you can only have three outfielders playing at once. Yeah, Beltran and Ellsbury are good additions, but what about Ichiro Suzuki? What about Alfonso Soriano? What about Brett Gardner? Yes, you have a DH position to fill, but McCann, shortstop Derek "yeah Jeets" Jeter and first basemen Mark Teixeira are all coming back from injury plagued seasons and will likely be inserted into that spot to prevent overuse and further injury. On a team where every projected starter is over the age of 30 the DH position will be more of a revolving door than an established position.

The excess of outfielders is not necessarily a bad thing in of itself, but when coupled with a complete lack of anything resembling a major league infield it becomes a real problem. This is no slight to Jeter or Teixeira, who have proven that they were elite players, but both have significant health issues, Jeter in particular, and have seen substantial drops in production over the past several seasons. Taken in conjunction with the suspension of third baseman Alex Rodriguez and the loss of second baseman Robinson Cano (who led the team in EVERY MAJOR OFFENSIVE CATEGORY) and the Yankees infield is more exposed than a thermal exhaust port on the original Death Star.

Many Bothans died bringing Cashman this information.
What's more troubling is that Cashman has done NOTHING to rectify the Yankees infield problems. (Yes I would love to insert the Mugatu clip right here, I won't, but you get the idea.) Cashman's strategy as a GM has been throw money at big name guys and hope that the Yankees problems go away. To a certain extent it has worked, the Yankees playoff record is impressive, however lackadaisically throwing cash around will eventually come back to bite you when your team has no depth to speak of and the free-agent market doesn't offer what you need.

While they may be one of the largest markets in the league the Yankees need to embrace a rebuilding strategy if they want to meet with long term success. Think about the great Yankee teams of the late 90s and early 00s. These were teams founded on home grown talent. Jeter, Soriano and Cano all came up with the Yankees during this period. Additionally the Yankees' farm system gave rise of guys like Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada just to name a few. Over the past several seasons the biggest player to come out of the Yankees farm system has been Nova, who looks to be an above average major league pitcher at best.

We're watching a dying giant. A glutinous fiend that has fueled itself on unsustainable investment and constant growth while simultaneously neglecting to establish a strong foundation upon which to build. It's not too late, Cashman can change his tactics, accept that his team needs a season or two to rebuild and begin to invest in player development and young talent, or he can continue to irresponsibly spend money on the biggest available free-agent on the market regardless of how this individual fits into the Yankees' system.

The Yankees franchise is going in one of two directions, the signing of Tanaka may help delay the inevitable, but at some point Cashman and the Yankees have a decision to make. Will they continue to blindly through money at their problems and ultimately deny themselves long term success, or are they willing to bite the bullet, accept that the dynasty is at an end and rebuild for another dynasty five years hence? Only time will tell, but unfortunately for Yankees fans it's not looking good.

(Feel free to read this as an allegory for America's dependence on fossil fuels and lack of investment in clean renewable energy.)

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