• Are Yanks & Tigers Being Smart?

    Posted by on December 12th, 2007 · Comments (12)

    Years ago, I recall seeing, regarding having the proper model for building a baseball franchise, a philosophy that said you should draft, sign, and develop position players and trade for, or sign free agent, pitchers.

    The logic behind this went as follows:

    1. There is less risk and greater ROI when you draft and develop hitters, over pitchers, because position players are easier to project forward than hurlers – and less likely to become injured and/or derailed before they reach the majors.

    2. Position players had a shorter learning curve at the big league level, over pitchers, and you have a quicker ROI with them. The case here was supported by all those “prospect” pitchers who went years, and often switched teams, before reaching stud status…such as Curt Schilling, Dave Stewart, etc.

    3. Having position players coming up in your system allowed you to let you current major league position players be traded, or have them walk, and not requiring you to have to pay big bucks to retain them…and you could then use the younger position players for 5 or 6 years before they had the hammer at the contract table.

    4. By trading for, or signing, “older” pitchers, it was a better ROI situation and a more favorable risk/reward ratio since it’s easier to predict what an “established” pitcher will do at the major league level – than predict what a kid may do in the bigs.

    Basically, the overall notion is “gamble” (a.ka. spend money) on higher percentage plays – meaning projecting young hitters over young pitchers and older pitchers over younger pitchers – and position yourself so that you can replace future huge cost centers (meaning free agent hitters) with cheaper and just as efficient models.

    In some ways, this is what the Boston Red Sox have done lately.

    How many position players from the 2004 Red Sox were on the 2007 Red Sox? Granted, some of the 2007 Red Sox “new” position players were acquired players (like Lowell, Drew and Crisp) – and not cheaper – but, where possible, older players were replaced with guys like Pedroia and Youkilis. And, the Sox let guys like Millar, Damon, and Nixon go – rather than spend the money to keep them.

    Further, the Red Sox starting pitching is just about all “bought” (or traded for because teams could not afford them) while guys were established. See: Schilling, Beckett, and Dice-K.

    Now, look at the Yankees.

    They’re doing it in a fashion that’s opposite of this “model” – they have older and high-paid position players, all locked up at the major league level – for the most part, sans a Cano or a Cabrera. And, New York has almost zero position players in the minors that are close to being able to step into the bigs.

    Further, the Yankees have focused their “draft” strategy around drafting, signing, and trying to develop pitching prospects. It’s probably not a reach to say that 80% of the Yankees best “prospects” are pitchers and not position players.

    So, are the Yankees making a mistake here – going with older and expensive position players, with no one to force them out of the picture for less money, and going very heavy with pitching prospects where it’s risky to project performance and health at the big league level?

    Would it be smarter for the Yankees to follow the “model” that I heard about, years ago, or, are they outside that box because they can afford to pay position players tons of money and can afford to go with a dozen pitching prospects with the hope of having three of them click in the majors?

    Perhaps the Yankees approach does work for them – and it’s just not a model that is cost-effective? (But, again, in Yankeeland, it’s not about the budget.)

    I can’t say either way what’s right or wrong in terms of an approach – meaning go the suggested “model” way or the Yankee way. But, I will offer that the Yankee way seems to be the lazy way out…pay through the gills for your hitters and play the lotto on pitching.

    Come to think of it, the Yankees did used to follow the “model” – when they brought up Posada, Jeter, Williams, etc. – and then went out and bought established pitchers like Cone, Clemens, Wells, El Duque, etc.

    But, somewhere, they got away from that plan…and now they have the “new” plan, Cashman’s plan.

    Actually, it’s not even an original plan for Cashman. It’s what the Tigers started doing when they got Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, and others on the batting side (for big bucks) and then started to pump the younger hurlers (like Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander) on the pitching side.

    Hey, it worked for the Tigers in 2006 – they won 96 games and the pennant. But, last year, it didn’t work so well for Detroit who won 88 games, with great hitting and about league average pitching.

    Great hitting and about league average pitching. Yeah, that sounds like Cashman’s Yankees as well.

    It’s probably too early to make a call on this whole thing. We really won’t know for another two or three years if what the Yankees and Tigers are doing is the right approach. Perhaps, because of the cost of free agent pitching, or trying to trade for an established (and good) pitcher, this really is the wave for the future – and the Yankees and Tigers are on the right track?

    What do you think?

    Comments on Are Yanks & Tigers Being Smart?

    1. YankeeMonkey
      December 12th, 2007 | 11:41 pm

      Um, Steve…You do know that Boston has Lester, Buchholz, Papelbon, Delcarmen – all homegrown pitchers, right? What Boston has is a balanced farm system, with both position and pitching prospects. And I’m sure they value them quite a bit since they’re not in any hurry to trade them away.

      You’re right that the Yankee system is not rich in high-level position prospects, but they are trying to rectify that with international signings and recent drafts…sure, those kids are a couple of years away, but they are coming. Considering the absurd contracts being given out to mediocre FA pitchers these days, it makes far more sense to develop your own. And you need lots and lots of them to make sure at least a few pan out. The farm system has been completely barren of any kindn of prospects, pitching or position, up until recently and you can’t magically make good prospects appear overnight. You have to give it time.

      Besides, all those “sure thing” free agent pitchers aren’t just going to fall out of the sky, are they? I don’t see that developing good young pitching and buying hitters is a lazy way out any more than doing it the other way around. If anything, you say it yourself, pitchers take longer and have a steeper learning curve. The lazy way out is, in fact, to buy up pitchers.

      Longtime reader, first time commenter. I usually enjoy your insights, Steve, but I really don’t understand why you’ve declared war on Cashman.

    2. December 12th, 2007 | 11:57 pm

      so buy/trade for good, established pitchers like Randy, Vazquez, Brown, Contreras, Pavano? or maybe they should have signed a sure thing like Zito.

      even trading for Clemens was somewhat of a disappointment. the only one that’s worked out has been Mussina (through 06).

      look, the point is that the Yanks have tried it that way with mediocre (for them) results. they’ve been burned too many times already this decade (really just 5 years!) to do it again (e.g. Santana, Haren, etc), or so I hope.

      i dont know how you can blatantly say ‘get veteran pitchers and produce your own hitters’ is the best way to build a team. if anything i would say it’s the opposite.

    3. Bob R.
      December 13th, 2007 | 12:01 am

      I do not know of any organization that drafts for need or position rather than taking the best player available. It is possible that the Yankees draft strategy has nothing to do with trying to find excellent hitters or pitchers, but simply taking the best talent available. For example, this year, at pick 30, who was left? The best hitters were taken and the consensus highest ceiling player left was Brackman. NY exercised its financial muscle and took him despite the risk because that is the way to use the advantage NY has.

      As a matter of fact, the Yankees under Cashman have sought established pitchers both for the rotation and bullpen. With the farm eviscerated by earlier deals, the rebuilding was focused around pitchers, it is true, but I think because they were the best players available. But in the past few years, the Yankees signed Clemens, Pettitte & Johnson, all established pitchers and all still effective in the year they were signed, as well as numerous relievers already mentioned.

      And simultaneously, they have promoted Cabrera and Cano and have given Phillips a chance as well. Much to my surprise, there are other hitters developing in the minors, and it appears one of the holdups in the Santana dealings has been the Yankees’ unwillngness to part with their better minor league hitters. In fact, they seemed more willing to give up Hughes to get the established pitcher than to give up Austin Jackson in that deal. So I don’t think your characterization of Cashman’s approach is necessarily accurate.

      As a matter of fact, in the 2007 draft 26 of NY’s 50 and 7 of the first 10 picks were non-pitchers and included some of the better prospects in the draft. In 2006, only 24 were non-pitchers, but when Kennedy, Joba, Kontos, Betances and Melancon are available, it seems right to grab them rather than lesser hitting prospects.

    4. jesseharoldkreist
      December 13th, 2007 | 12:34 am

      I think that by using the phrase ROI you’re immediately conjuring market-based thinking, Steve, and that should indicate your next logical step: Invest in undervalued stock, i.e. pitching prospects. Buy low, sell high. I think this is the Moneyball approach, and Cash has bought in.

    5. mehmattski
      December 13th, 2007 | 12:35 am

      Further, another facet of the premise was proven wrong this year when both Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain cracked the major league roster roughly 14 months from their draft time. This may get at another issue- high school pitchers versus college pitchers, but that’s a debate for another time. What’s false is that pitchers always take forever to develop, some come quite quickly.

      Also I think it was clear for the Yankees, as a franchise, that the whole system was very barren. They did what Bob R suggested and drafted the best player available, and many of them happened to be pitchers. To fill the position player ranks, the Yankees turned international, signing players who are 18 or even younger. Therefore it is going to take a while for the prospects to make it- I think next year we’ll see the breakout of quite a few of them, and get as excited about them as we were about Hughes, Joba, and IPK this year.

      Finally, about the Red Sox teams- I’m guessing you’re only comparing the Yankees to the Red Sox post-2004, when they only had two (Tek and Nixon) completely homegrown players on the final roster. The removal of Nixon and the addition of Pedroia and Youkilis means the Red Sox added just one new home grown position player in three years. By comparison, the Yankees in 2004 had 3 homegrown position players: Posada, Jeter, and Williams. In 2007, they too subtracted an outfielder and added another (Melky) along with a second baseman- Robinson Cano. That seems like a very similar level of position player development, doesn’t it?

    6. Yu Hsing Chen
      December 13th, 2007 | 3:34 am

      The issue is, this modle probably assumed that those established pitchers could be signed for 3 years deals or less, which simply isn’t the case anymore, and any pitcher signing long deals is almost guarnteed to have a few dissapointing years where they will REALLY hurt the team. on the other hand positional players tend to be somewhat more reliable in this regard.

    7. gonz
      December 13th, 2007 | 10:01 am

      What the hell? How can you say “sans a Cano or Cabrera” but include Youkilis and Pedroia?

      Yeah, aside from the Yankees’ starting centerfielder and second baseman they have no young position players. This is a fun game, lets play. The Red Sox have failed in developing position players if you don’t count Youkilis and Pedrioa. All they have is light hitting, speedy center fielder Ellsbury. Developing their own players?? Who did they sign last offseason JD Drew and LUGO. Oh, sorry they also went after Mr. Established 4.5era Daisuke.

      The Yankees have players like Ajax and Tabata ~1 yr away both who have higher ceilings than any of the current home grown Sox. Jesus Montero was/is destroying people in fall/winter ball.

      Back to the players currently in the majors, Cano is undoubtedly the best of the 4 (5 if you count the indian) with real superstar potential.

      You’ve jumped the shark.

    8. Raf
      December 13th, 2007 | 10:03 am

      Come to think of it, the Yankees did used to follow the “model” – when they brought up Posada, Jeter, Williams, etc. – and then went out and bought established pitchers like Cone, Clemens, Wells, El Duque, etc.

      But, somewhere, they got away from that plan…
      ===========
      No, they’ve continued to bring in established pitchers; Pavano, Wright, Johnson, Vazquez, etc.

      They’ve been international players as well; Wang, Contreras.

      I think the change is in the thought process of acquiring mid and end of the rotation starters, and paying premium money to do so.

    9. Rich
      December 13th, 2007 | 10:07 am

      The Yankees have signed a ton of young, high ceiling position players via Latin American free agency. One reason that they put a heavy reliance on drafting pitchers is that so many fell in the draft as a result of signability concerns. This year, they drafted position players that fell, e.g., Romine, Suttle, Weems, Angelini, etc. They are a team in transition. In a few years, the pipeline will be producing both. Their abundant resources will enable them to acquire whatever they need to fill in the gaps.

    10. December 13th, 2007 | 11:17 am

      Steve,

      I understand the “logic” of that model, but then again, how do you necessarily explain the success of teams like Minnesota, Oakland, Cleveland, Detroit, and Los Angeles from among AL teams? With the Twins they were using Santana, Silva, Radke, Bonser and the like when they were making the playoffs. I know Bonser originally was with the Giants, but not before he got to the majors. With Oakland a lot of their success came with the homegrown trio of Hudson, Zito and Mulder and they would have had a lot more by now if Rich Harden would have been healthy combined with Joe Blanton and Dan Haren, a couple of guys from the minors although Haren was acquired from St. Louis in the Mulder deal, but Haren was essentially a minor league product for Oakland. With Detroit they’ve been relying on Bonderman, Verlander and Robertson with an assist from Kenny Rogers in 2006, but their bullpen was so good because of two homegrown players in Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney and I think it’s a little unfair to say the Detroit model wasn’t any good in 2007 because Zumaya and Rodney were out for pretty much the entire year, Bonderman completely lost it in the 2nd half and Kenny Rogers never played.

      The Indians are getting it done with guys like Sabathia, Carmona, Westbrook, Lee, Betancourt and Cabrera, all minor league arms not to mention other minor league guys liek Garko, Martinez, Sizemore, Peralta and a guy they fleeced from the Rangers by the name of Hafner. They also have Adam Miller coming up who they are really high on. The Angels are getting it done with Lackey, Weaver and Saunders along with Rodriguez and Shields in the pen and those are minor leauge players.

      If anything, a lot of teams are relying on home grown pitching. It’s not as apparent in the NL I don’t think but you could easily point to the Cubs and say Zambrano, Hill, and Marshall are homegrown talents. The Diamondbacks with guys like Owings and Webb. Milwaukee is putting together a lot of home grown talent with Parra, Sheets, Gallardo, and Capuano and possibly even Dave Bush since they got him from the Blue Jays before he really was in the majors.

      So a lot of the “model” today is going with your young homegrown pitching. With the Red Sox, they didn’t really go out and get lockdown aces. Beckett was still considered quite an injury risk with this blisters when the Red Sox aquired him and Matsuzaka was an unknown quantity. That left them with Schilling and Wakefield as their hired guns? Back in 2004, they had Pedro Martinez for quite awhile.

      I think if anything is wrong with New York it’s player evaluation. Right now what with Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlein, there is no reason to get all agitated about Johan Santana. I’m starting to come around to your way of thinking he might be hands off.

      Plus, saying the Yankees followed the “model” by using Jeter and Posada is a bit shortsighted. They brought in Tino Martinez to play 1B when Mattingly left. Knoblauch was hoped to play 2B before he had his meltdown. Brosious played 3B and wasn’t homegrown and the outfield was always rotation. O’Neill was brought in from Cincinnati to play RF and LF always seemed to be revolving door as was DH.

      Of those teams only Jeter, Posada and Williams were mainstays and that’s hardly following the model by bringing up young talent to replace veteran players. Even in 1996, Girardi was catching and not Posada knocking the homegrown position players down to 2 instead of 3 and even Williams was 27-years old at that time and was in his 6th year in the league.

      I think what is missing in a lot of this talk is how lucky Boston has gotten with Youkilis and Pedroia. Let’s be honest, those two guys were college players who fit the “Moneyball” mode and made good on their talent and skill level. However, the landscape is littered with players just like them that screwed it up. Think about Russ Adams and Aaron Hill up in Toronto. Those guys were supposed to be the middle of the Blue Jays infield for the next 15 years and Adams is awful and Hill is barely adequate. Look at Jamie D’Antona. He really worked out didn’t he?

      Boston is an interesting squad becuase it’s all going to come back to them and I think what Epstein and the boys are hoping is that the pitching works out and that the ol’ adage of good pitching beats good hitting works out. I can’t believe Ramirez will stay in Boston after 2008. Big Papi’s knees can’t hold up forever. Mike Lowell won’t produce like he did in 2007 and Varitek is already sliding. Ellsbury isn’t going to provide any pop and relying on JD Drew to be your run producer is a bad idea. That leaves them set up for 2008, but what happens in 2009 and beyond? That is where I think Boston has to hope and pray Buchholz and Lester pain out and that Matsuzaka gets better. If it doesn’t pan out, where is the hitting going to come from? They’ll be forced to go buy a lot of it and then they’ll be doing the exact opposite of the “model”.

    11. alvarof
      December 13th, 2007 | 12:20 pm

      Cashman has been truly under control only since the off-season 2005 … the starting pitching free agent market has been very poor … you can’t expect allt this problems to be fixed overnight … so he really HAD to draft starting pitching mainly … all the mess before that is going to take year to fix … I’m guessing the Yankees will be a true powerhouse again in 2011 or 2012.

    12. December 14th, 2007 | 3:51 pm

      I think you have it backwards. The Yanks need to grow pitching and sign hitting. Check this out: http://yankeegm.blogspot.com/2007/11/just-say-no-to-hughes-for-johan-yankee.html

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