Great stuff from Brian Costa -
Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran may help the Yankees return to the playoffs in 2014. But under the free-agent compensation rules in the collective-bargaining agreement, they will also cost the Yankees their first three draft picks next June.
The Yankees will forfeit their first-round pick along with the two compensation picks they would otherwise receive for losing Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson to free agency. As a result, their first pick figures to be somewhere in the mid-50s overall.
That’s significant because the probability of drafting a quality major-league regular falls dramatically after the first round. In July, Baseball America published a study of every draft between 1988 and 2008. It found that 39.1% of players taken in the first round (excluding those who didn’t sign) played at least three years in the majors. But in the supplemental round (between the first and second rounds), that rate fell to 15.8%. And from the sixth round on, the rate is just 3.1%.
“Listen, there’s still good players throughout the draft,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Tuesday. “You see that. There are examples all over the place. I’d like to have our draft picks, but it’s just not the way the system is set up. It is what it is.”
For the Yankees, it is the way it has been—and probably will be for years to come. That doesn’t necessarily make the signings of Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran foolish. It just highlights the cycle the Yankees have been stuck in for more than a decade: The way the Yankees compensate for a mediocre farm system is to reduce the probability of improving their farm system.
Since 2001, the Yankees have surrendered seven first-round draft picks in order to sign free agents ranging from Mark Teixeira and Jason Giambi to Carl Pavano and Paul Quantrill. Three future All-Stars were taken either with those picks or within the next 10, making it reasonable to say the Yankees might have at least considered picking them: Matt Cain (2002), Gio Gonzalez (2004) and Mike Trout (2009).
The Los Angeles Angels took Trout with the No. 25 pick they received from the Yankees as compensation for losing Teixeira. Four years later, Teixeira is in decline and earning $22.5 million a year, while Trout is the best all-around player in baseball and earning less than $1 million.
The Yankees have had enormous success in this cycle, winning more games than any other team since 2001. But to do so, they’ve also had to outspend every other team. At a time when the free-agent market is getting thinner and younger players are accounting for a greater portion of all production, it’s becoming harder for the Yankees to win without breaking the cycle at some point.
In theory, they could do that by going into rebuilding mode and landing a top-10 pick, but their business model would never allow it. And there are now spending limits in the international free-agent market, so the Yankees’ cash only gets them so far there.
That leaves only one way to break the cycle: outperform their draft order. They need to improve the way they choose and develop their young talent. That may already be happening: Baseball America ranked the Yankees’ 2013 draft haul the third-best in the game. But it takes years to fairly assess each draft class.
What we know now is this: The Yankees need to find a way to beat the very odds they have just diminished. Until they do, Steinbrenner’s vision of a cheaper, younger championship team will remain little more than a fantasy.
Until the Yankees get smarter, like Boston and St. Louis, this ugly cycle will never end. And, smarter means a new General Manager.