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?