It’d be foolish to say the Yankees are no longer an attractive destination for baseball’s free agents. They are only a couple of years removed from a free agent haul that netted them the 2009 World Series, but free agents going to NY was once a sure thing. Now, you never know. The Yankees haven’t lured a big free agent in the past two off-seasons. Last year it was perhaps mostly by choice. This year they clearly wanted Cliff Lee and he chose to go to Philadelphia. Add to that the extensions signed by Mauer and King Felix (two players people liked to project into pinstripes) and suddenly we’ve entered a baseball universe where the Yankees aren’t getting everyone they want. Not even close. Why is this happening?
I think the primary reason is the money has gotten huge. Back in the day when 5 million dollars a year was a gigantic deal, each million meant a lot more. As the salaries escalate into the high teens and twenties, it is a little harder to differentiate with just dollars. Some guys will still take every last cent, but I think more and more players are realizing that they can get by on a little less cash and the extra money from New York comes with a couple strings attached as well.
Another issue to consider is that in today’s landscape you don’t necessarily have to be in New York to be a superstar. Things are so well covered that it is hard to be anonymous. And, especially if you are still in a somewhat major market like Philly, Chicago, or Dallas, you are going to get all the attention that you want. A lot has been made over the years about players being “New York Guys.” These were supposed to be players who wanted the spotlight, thrived under it. And as much as that phenomenon kept some players away, I think it also attracted some big names as well. This is an ego business, and there are certainly guys that want to the biggest stars in the biggest city. I’m not sure that exists anymore. That innate desire to prove yourself, and do it in New York?
The last thing I can think of that might play a tiny factor in this is a bit of New York backlash. The Yankees are positioned as the goliath. That’s where they’ve been for years. For a lot of players they spend the early part of their careers doing everything they can to beat the Yankees. Look at Cliff Lee. He’s been programmed to beat NY for the last two years. He’s had them on his dart board. There has to be something to that. A switch that might be hard to flip for some guys. Especially when you take into consideration the other factors. The money isn’t overwhelmingly better anymore, the exposure isn’t significantly better, so what if some players just don’t like the Yankees? I think they don’t go.
Without free agents to sign the Yankees look to already be hitting plan-B pretty hard. The Yankees farm system has always partially existed as a tool for the major league club. Sell off pieces to help immediately. And, while several stars of their last dynasty were home-grown, they haven’t had as much success in that department of late. There is talent there, though, and I think it’s going to eventually be on the move.
The Yankees signed Russell Martin this afternoon. It’s a curious move. Martin has been down the last couple of years and the Yankees not only have Jorge Posada to think about, but they have a couple of young catchers who are going to demand a look. The biggest prize is Jesus Montero, a name that Yankee fans have known for some time, but perhaps you haven’t heard too much about. Depending on who you listen to, Montero is some level of sure thing. A top-flight catching prospect with power. He hit 21 homers in AAA last season and just turned 21. He’s the name that leads all Yankee trade rumors.
So, with Martin now signed. Cervelli on the roster and Posada lingering on his way to DH the logical assumption to make is that Montero or one of these catchers is about to sent out of town. If the Yankees are going after big fish, it will likely be Montero that ships off. The Yankees aren’t just going to give up now that Lee has gone elsewhere. They’ll just have to try to bring in an arm through a trade. The only question is who will they go after and how high will they set their sights?