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The new formula for success in Major League Baseball

By Robby Sabo,
The Yankees need to wake up

Day after day, the New York Yankees are becoming increasingly more difficult to watch. Halfway through the season they currently sit with a 41-42 mark, a half-game under .500 if you could believe it.

This is the same team that went out and bought Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. All said and done they came close to the $500 million mark in total spending during the off-season, according to USA Today Sports.

How could the New York Yankees, the kings of the baseball-universe, be so miserable?

Well, injuries have plagued this team for a while. When a team relies only on signing big-name free-agents then the roster will turn old quick. It takes six years of MLB service to become a free agent, so by the time they get to the Bronx they are nearing 30 years of age. Three-fifths of the starting rotation is injured: C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda. While Nova and Pineda are on the right side of 30, Sabathia’s decline started last season and the rest of his contract will bring a poor return on investment, clogging salary space.

Signing big free agents usually provides production the first few years, but as time goes on and players age, the contract turns sour, as seen so many times in baseball. Once these start adding up it becomes trouble, even for the Yankees who seemingly have hit their budget (around the $200 million mark in annual salaries).

The discrete negative, which nobody brings up in this conversation of how to build a winner, is when signing big-named free agents, it leaves very little room to develop young players. When your entire lineup is filled of aging, accomplished hitters, then where’s the room to plug a guy in and watch him succeed or fail? If a big-named guy struggles to adapt to the new city, then very few options remain. He cannot be benched because he’s making a ridiculous amount of money; and he cannot be traded because only a few teams in baseball can afford that type of contract. Therefore, the only option is to let it play out and that is exactly what’s going on in the Bronx right now with Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.

The most obvious reason the Yankees are in this predicament right now is the dreadful job they have done with developing young talent and scouting.

2013 was an admittedly down year for the franchise. They endured a plethora of injuries which was a golden opportunity to plug in some youngsters; problem was, there were none ready to take that step. Instead of youngsters injecting some youth into an old and tired bunch, they sit in Tampa, Trenton or Wilkes-Barre with slim opportunities to make the big club.

While New York has some self-proclaimed blue-chippers in the system (Mason Williams and Gary Sanchez to name a couple), none of these big names are close to major-league ready. To have that kind of in-balance in the system is tough to overcome, and many major outlets have ranked their system in the bottom third of baseball.

Look at some of the top teams in baseball right now. The Oakland Athletics have been far and away the best in baseball with a 51-33 record, according to MLB.com. They lead the league by a lot in run-differential and look like a juggernaut to the eyes, the way the Yankees should look. Their superstars of the franchise do not play on the field, they are in the front office, and these front-office "geeks" are quickly becoming superstars.

Where on this great Earth did Josh Donaldson come from? The 28-year-old was not a top prospect or in the minds of many when he broke out in 2013 (chosen by the Chicago Cubs in the 2007 amateur draft). He seemed to be yet another first-rounder to come and go without making any significant noise in the history of baseball. But the man comes to Oakland and suddenly develops into a star like Beane sprinkled magic fairy dust on him. He currently has 18 home runs and 61 runs-batted-in on the season.

Who was the last Yankee position player of any prominence to go through their own system? Robinson Cano maybe, and that was a long time ago.

Developing talent and attacking the system intelligently is the way Billy Beane and company do it in Oakland with their $83 million payroll (ranking them 25th in the majors). Developing players the right way allows “control” of that player for a longer period of time which can produce on the field or acquire many assets for the franchise as his impending free-agency approaches. It is the model that has yielded the Tampa Bay Rays so much success and the Houston Astros are using to target 2017 as their arrival to the big times.

The top four salary teams in baseball: The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox have a combined record of 163-176 this season.

While small-market teams like the Rays and Athletics use this philosophy out of necessity, one big-market team seems to have perfected it out of choice.

The Boston Red Sox have realized that big-market teams need to scout and develop talent more successfully. Although they rank in the top five in salary, they make calculating decisions on players which allows room for growth. Case in point is Jacoby Ellsbury this past off-season. Allowing Ellsbury to walk freed up a spot in the outfield to see if Jackie Bradley, Jr. could assume it. While Bradley has not taken control of it just yet, and the team is struggling, it is this philosophy that’s landed them three championships since 2004.

The times are changing and big-market teams like the Yankees and Dodgers must realize that having a high salary helps, but choosing wisely and developing young talent the right way is needed to build that strong foundation to be a true baseball force.

Scouting and developing has always been a key part to building a winner, but it is now more than ever, becoming the rage of Major League Baseball.

 

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