The recent news regarding the retirement of Mark Texeira and Alex Rodriguez marks the official end of the George Steinbrenner era. The Yankees are now entering the Hal Steinbrenner era: where every risk is calculated, and money is being spent more wisely. Rodriguez and Texeira are remnants of an era in which the Yankees shelled out top dollar for players based on past performance. More often than not, the second half of these massive contracts had the Yankees overpaying former stars whose best days were behind them. Texeira because of injury, and Rodriguez because of age, but neither of these former stars have played well enough to warrant consistent playing time this season. George wanted to win, and decided the best way to go about this was to shell out top dollar to acquire premier players. The biggest problem with using this strategy recently is that the MLB has employed a revenue sharing system. The teams that exceed a certain payroll figure (The Yankees have every season since the adoption of this rule) must pay a luxury tax, which is then distributed amongst the teams below the luxury tax threshold. Revenue sharing has effectively evened the playing field of Major League Baseball. The first signs that outspending everybody in order to win is not a sustainable strategy is the 2003 World Series. The Yankees, having the highest payroll in baseball by a wide margin were outplayed by the Florida Marlins, a small market team with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. The Yankees were literally paying for some of the Marlins’ salaries due to luxury taxes being distributed to the Marlins.
With the recent trades of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, and Ivan Nova, the Yankees got younger, and have set themselves up quite nicely for the future. The Yankees of the 1990’s (Jeter, Bernie, Pettitte, Mariano, Posada) were built during a time in which George Steinbrenner was banned from the daily operations of the team. The Yankees were able to pull themselves out of the worst era in franchise history (mid 1980’s- mid 1990’s) by building through the farm system. This has been a successful strategy because it allows the team flexibility in terms of money. Younger players that are under team control have contracts that were negotiated long before they reached the big league level. These are players trying to prove themselves on a daily basis in order to earn a lucrative contract extension. In the upcoming years the lineup will be set with players that are young, durable, and cheap. With a solid foundation of younger players there is also flexibility to pay for top free agents or to acquire established veterans via trade. This was done in the cases of Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Roger Clemens, and David Justice, all key pieces to championship teams of the late nineties. In case you weren’t sure, I love the moves that the Yankees made. The contracts of Beltran, Chapman, and Nova were set to expire at the end of this season anyway, and in receiving top prospects such as Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, and Dillon Tate The Yankees finally have eyes towards the future. The one trade that I thought twice about was Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians. Miller has 2 more years on his contract around $12M per year. That amount is well below his free agent market value. The Yankees took a top down approach and realized that a poor offense combined with a strong bullpen wouldn’t win enough games to compete for a championship, and that two premier prospects in Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield would favorably shape the future. This outweighed having Andrew Miller around for the next two years. The Yankees traded everyone that was tradeable, with the exception of Didi Gregorious, Starlin Castro, and Dellin Betances, all young players on team-friendly deals that will play a part in the future of the franchise without clogging up payroll flexibility. Among players that were un-tradable: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, CC Sabathia, and Chase Headley will continue to clog payroll flexibility until their contracts expire.
The sudden news of Mark Texeira’s retirement came as a surprise to most of us. Just this February he said that he wanted to play until he was 40, but watching him play this season showed that his body wouldn’t allow him to reach that goal. His offensive skills have diminished in both power and average as he is batting just .201 with 10 home runs and 28 RBI (as of 8/14). He was once one of the most feared hitters in the Major Leagues, and only just recently was able to get his batting average above the dreaded Mendoza line. He has been hurt on and off all season, and is only playing because he provides value on the defensive side at first base. He is still one of the best in the game at scooping up poorly thrown balls by other infielders. If Greg Bird was healthy I doubt we would be seeing much of Texeira for the rest of this season. I would not have been surprised if he and A-Rod both stopped playing altogether after the game last Friday if Bird were available. Mark Texeira is a classic example of paying boatloads of money to a player based on past performance. Texeira seemed to be one of the best first basemen in the league when the Yankees signed him to an 8 year/ $180M contract before the 2009 season. In that first season he did not disappoint, leading the AL in homers and coming in second place in voting for the AL MVP. It was all downhill from there as he could never replicate the batting average he was capable of in Texas, Atlanta, and Anaheim. Although his batting average diminished he was able to sustain his power numbers up until recently.
The case of Alex Rodriguez is an entirely different story except for the ending. Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees before the 2004 season in exchange for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later. Rodriguez put up astronomical numbers early on for the Yankees and won the 2005 and 2007 MVP’s. He even had 13 straight seasons with 30+ Home Runs and 100+ RBI’s from 1998-2010 dating back to his time with the Mariners and Rangers. At one point, A-Rod was on pace to break a lot of career records, and people were contemplating whether he could break the international home run record, that of Sadaharu Oh’s 868 home runs in the Japan Central League. When the MLB and its fans came down hard on Barry Bonds around 2007, A-Rod was viewed as the golden child and steroid- free savior of Major League Baseball; The guy who was able to crush home runs and play entire seasons without the help of steroids. On two occasions Rodriguez denied using steroids, and that ended up coming back to haunt him. Before the 2009 season, Rodriguez held a press conference, not because he wanted to, but because Sports Illustrated reporter Selena Roberts uncovered classified information that confirmed he had used steroids in the past. The worst part about this was not that he used steroids, but that he had been dishonest multiple times when questioned. If Alex had never lied to any members of the media about his steroid use, this would not be as big of a deal. The fact that he tried to cover it up for so long when he had the opportunity to come clean on various occasions is what angered fans most, and permanently tainted his legacy. In the 2009 season after admitting to using steroids it seemed as if A-Rod had set some of his personal demons free. He was playing like he had something to prove, and he had the best playoffs of his career in leading the Yankees to their 27th world championship. It seemed like every big late inning situation that Alex was at-bat he would come through with a clutch double or home run. This cleared his name as a choker in the post season, which he gained during the playoffs of 2004-2007. In one instance he was demoted to the eighth spot in the lineup against the Detroit Tigers during the 2005 ALDS. When the Yankees beat the Phillies in game 6 of the 2009 World Series Hideki Matsui won the World Series MVP, but if there were such thing as a playoffs MVP A-Rod would have easily earned it as he batted .365 with 6 home runs and 18 RBI throughout the 2009 postseason. Following the 2013 season Alex’s name was linked to steroids again, as he was mentioned in the Biogenesis Scandal. As a second offender of the MLB’s performance enhancing drug policy, he was given a 211 game suspension, which was then reduced to 162 games and the entire 2014 postseason. There were rumblings that he would just retire, or that the Yankees would release him outright, or they would try and find a clause in his contract so they could release him without owing him a dime. None of this happened, and after sitting out all of 2014, Alex set the world on fire the first half of 2015, and ended up with 33 home runs and 88 RBI, his best season since 2010. The entire year off allowed for him to heal his injuries, and his legs were fresh for the first time in years. The second half of 2015 and thus far in 2016 Alex looks like the 41 year old that he is. Unable to play the field in any capacity, he is strictly a designated hitter. Alex has not done much this season when given the opportunity, batting only .200 with 9 home runs and 31 RBI’s. The Yankees have changed gears to give the younger players at bats so that they learn the ropes. Sadly, Alex can’t even finish out the last year and a half of his contract, the Yankees will be paying him $27M next season to sit around and instruct younger players, something he would be doing if he were playing anyway. Instead of chasing the home run records of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds, Alex is stuck at 696, 4 away from the monumental 700. The lesson to be learned from Alex is to own up to your mistakes, because if you don’t at first, the repercussions of admitting them later will be much worse than if you just admit them early. Alex was one of my favorite players, and it saddens me to see him go out this way. He is not held in the same regard as Derek Jeter, who was given a farewell tour and showered with gifts from every team. Alex is going out as a steroid user with inflated numbers, when he once had the potential to become so much more than that. The retirement of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Texeira put the Yankees rebuilding mode in full effect, and they are now geared to give opportunities to younger players in order for them to improve their skills. This is a much more viable option than filling the lineup with aged players who have recognizable names but diminished skills. I wish that A-Rod and Tex aren’t retiring in such sad fashion, but I am sure excited to see what the future holds for the Yankees next season and beyond.