Yankee fans spend their winters doing one of two things. Debating the best way to retain yet another World Series Title. Or, like this year, they debate the best way for the team to get back to the top of the heap. There are many opinions. Some are valid. Some are not. But it is important to remember one rule when discussing The Hot Stove League. Shiny new toys are awarded in December. The World Series Trophy is awarded in October.
So as the big names started coming off of the board last week, it was easy to ask why the Yankees weren’t making any moves. There were CJ Wilson and Mark Buehrle. Each gobbled up by aggressive front offices looking to make a splash. Surely the Yankees needed pitching. Why not go hard after one, if not both of these men? And there were options in the trade market. Gio Gonzales, Phil Neise, and Jayir Jurrjeans were all made available by their respective clubs. But the reality is that the asking price was just to high for any of the three. Besides, it is a misconception to think that the Yankees were bounced out of the postseason because of their pitching. In Game 5 against Detroit the Bombers left the bases loaded twice. And if the breeze were just a little bit stronger in the eighth inning, the Yankees would have been moving on to their third consecutive appearance in the ALCS. The Yankees were a 97 win team. Champions of the AL East. That doesn’t happen with “bad” pitching. The second reason to not pursue Wilson and Buehrle is that while they are excellent pitchers, they are not the type of players that would normally command the money that was offered to them this winter. The reason they were able to cash in is because they were the best that was available and someone always gets desperate and overpays (Anaheim). I know most believe that the Yankees can just print money and eat even the most egregious mistakes. But the reality is that just isn’t true.
Cashman has stated that the Yankees would like to get their payroll down to $189 million by 2014. Adding bad contracts to pitchers over the age of thirty will not help that cause. Especially combined with the already enormous contracts of CC, AJ, A-Rod, Jeter, and Tex. So what is the answer? How to the Yankees, a perennial contender, maintain their edge?
The answer is a combination of things. The first is patience. Brian Cashman has worked hard at restoring a once depleted farm system and making it one of the best in the majors. And the time is almost upon us where the young arms, and bats, will be ready to help the big club in the Bronx. We witnessed the rise of Ivan Nova last year. This year it looks like Hector Noesi will have a similar chance heading into Spring Training. Also waiting in the wings are Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. Two stud pitchers who have been coveted at one time or another by almost every other club. It wasn’t that long ago that Gene Michael and Buck Showalter were finally able to stockpile talent and gradually ease them into the majors, laying the foundation for the most recent Yankees Dynasty.
The second requirement for a quiet offseason is an expected return to form. There is no reason, at least not yet, to believe that Phil Hughes can’t be the pitcher he was in 2010. His loss of velocity remains a mystery, but his commitment to training harder and being ready for the spring is promise enough to believe that he will be okay. AJ Burnette remains another enigma. His inability to put a string of successful innings, let alone games, together was something that has gnawed at the Yankees for two years now. But in Game Four of the ALDS, with his teams back to to wall, Burnette thre a gem that brought back memories of the 2009 postseason. Having already invested $86 million on his arm, it is at least worth seeing if he indeed has turned a corner under pitching guru Larry Rothechild.
The last requirement is due diligence. Brian Cashman must kick every tire and knock on every international door because you never know where a gem might be hiding. And though Nakajima might not seem to be an important move, he could be valuable in a sign and trade scenario. There is also the bidding for Yu Darvish. And the possibility of signing Hiroki Kuroda. While he may not be the biggest fish in the sea, he may be just what the Yankees need to bridge the gap until the prospects can contribute.
So remember, a quiet offseason doesn’t necessarily mean that it is an unsuccessful one. One only needs to travel north to Fenway to see what can happen to teams who are crowned champions before Christmas.