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The forgotten variable in comparisons to the Yankees core

The Yankees collected an impressive cache of young talent. Comparisons to the dynasty era core, however, overlook health.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees
Let’s pretend Bernie Williams is here, too.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Spring training provides opportunities for fans to expand beyond regional coverage. Certain games air exclusively on MLB Network, where out-of-market booths provide the announcing. It’s refreshing and fun to hear perspectives outside of the YES Network.

On Monday, the Yankees traveled to Bradenton where they played the Pirates at McKechnie Field. Root Sports Pittsburgh had the call, with Gene Michael joining announcer Steve Blass in the booth for an inning. With a number of Yankees prospects in the game, the conversation naturally steered towards Michael’s days in at the helm of New York’s front office.

One of the keys to the dynasty era’s success, Stick noted, was unusually good health.

Pinstripe Alley’s own Greg Kirkland wrote about this during the bleak days of 2014.

“Those teams, and the majority of Yankee teams after 1996, did not suffer the kinds of injuries we have seen the past two years. No fluke balls to the hand. No pulled hamstrings running down the line. Nothing. The dynasty era teams didn't lose 3/4th of their lineup or 4/5th of their rotation to the injury bug. We're through the looking glass people. It's coming up on the All-Star Break, and in half a season we've gone from David Phelps in a long relief role to David Phelps being our number two starter in the rotation. That should tell you everything you need to know about how important health is to any team, and why the Yankees of the dynasty era and beyond were so fortunate.”

I’m sorry that I had to remind you of a time when Phelps fronted a starting rotation. The point that the Yankees dynasty era players never suffered major injuries still stands. It’s unlikely that such talent will benefit from improbably good health ever again.

This is important to remember as the Yankees have the most impressive collection of young talent since the early-to-mid-nineties. In fact, it has become fashionable in recent months to make direct comparisons between the current crop of prospects and the Core Four.* It’s not just Yankees fans making these claims, either. Several respected baseball writers have speculated as much.

“There’s no weakness here,” wrote ESPN’s Keith Law when evaluating the club’s farm system. “They will trot out teams full of prospects at every level, and several of them will show up in the Bronx this year. I don’t know if Gleyber Torres is the new Jeter or James Kaprielian the new Pettitte, but I’ll take that bet.”

It’s important to remember that Andy Pettitte never suffered an arm injury during the dynasty era. He averaged 206.8 innings per season from 1995 - 2001. Kaprielian just narrowly avoided surgery last year. He’s on a deliberate, slow schedule this spring because of the injury.

The same idea holds true of the position players. Greg Bird is returning from a major surgery after tearing the labrum in his shoulder last season. Torres, Gary Sanchez, Clint Frazier, and Aaron Judge have all been healthy, but they’re still early in their careers. You can never take health for granted. The Yankees have to cross their fingers when it comes to their emerging stars.

One of the key themes of this spring training is to temper expectations when it comes to young talent. It’s an exciting time with top prospects playing well. Yankees fans have a lot to look forward to, but it’s in everyone’s best interest to slow down with the dynasty-era comparisons. Those teams had an uncanny ability to stay healthy. It’s not fair to project that on the upcoming players. We can only hope.

*Pinstripe Alley has written about the problematic phrasing of Core Four on several occasions. I won’t re-litigate the case for including Bernie Williams here, but he deserves just as much credit for the dynasty era as his teammates.