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These Yankees were built far differently than past playoff teams

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The Yankees look like they may be starting another era of success, but their path to contention was far different this time around.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

This Yankees team certainly feels different than many of the more recent editions of the club. It doesn't take an expert to notice the relative youth of the team, the number of prospects turned contributors, or the fact that this team generally seems more open to interacting with the human emotion known as joy.

Just how different is it, though? Turns out, when you compare this year's roster with the rosters of the Yankees' most recent title-winning and playoff-series-winning squads, it is completely different. The 2017 Yankees were assembled in a way almost entirely dissimilar to the Yankee teams of yesteryear.

Thanks to Baseball Reference, I was able to pull the amount of WAR the 2017 Yankees received from players that were acquired through trade, free agency, or as amateurs. I then compared the results to the composition of the 2012 Yankees, the last squad team to make the playoffs (beyond the Wild Card Game), and the 2009 Yankees, the last Yankees team to win it all.

There are some nuances to the ways that Baseball Reference categorizes a player's means of acquisition that can impact the data. For instance, Derek Jeter counts as an amateur acquisition for 2009, since he was signed to an extension that kept him from reaching free agency until 2010. Conversely, Alex Rodriguez reached free agency after 2007 and re-signed with New York, and thus is listed as a free agent for the 2009 club.

Regardless, it's easy to see the differences. Let's start with the 2009 team:

2009 Roster Construction

2009 WAR % of Total
2009 WAR % of Total
Amateur 18.6 33%
Free Agency 35.8 63%
Trade 1.4 2%
Purchased 1.1 2%

The last Yankees team to win it all got a staggering amount of production from free agents. This is no surprise, as the team guaranteed nearly half a billion dollars to CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett prior to 2009, and that trio combined for about 16 WAR.

The main homegrown contributors on that team were Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Brett Gardner. Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte count as free agents here, despite their status as members of the infamous Core Four. You may quibble with that classification, but it hardly changes the fact that that team was propelled by free agents.

Here's how the 2012 team looks:

2012 Roster Construction

2012 WAR % of Total
2012 WAR % of Total
Amateur 14.8 28%
Free Agency 27.8 53%
Trade 8.6 17%
Waivers 0.4 1%
Rule 5 Returned 0.6 1%

The 2012 team didn't rely as heavily on free agents as the 2009 team, but they were nonetheless a huge part of the club's success. Sabathia and Teixeira were still effective. Rafael Soriano played a big role as Rivera was injured. Russell Martin and Eric Chavez were capable contributors, and Hiroki Kuroda pitched like an ace.

Amateur acquistions did even less here. Pitchers like Phil Hughes, Adam Warren, David Robertson and David Phelps chipped in, and Cano played an MVP-level. Still, over half of the team's WAR came from free agents.

The 2017 team, however, stands out:

2017 Roster Construction

2017 WAR % of Total
2017 WAR % of Total
Amateur 25.1 47%
Free Agency 7.2 14%
Trade 20.8 39%
Purchased 0.1 1%
Rule 5 Returned -0.3 -1%

Free agents have hardly helped out at all on this squad. Sabathia is still hanging around, but free agent acquisitions like Aroldis Chapman and Masahiro Tanaka had lackluster years, while the likes of Chris Carter and Matt Holliday have made negligible impacts.

Homegrown players have carried the torch. Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Gary Sanchez form a trio of star-caliber players that the Yankees acquired as amateurs. That's without mentioning the production of Dellin Betances or Jordan Montgomery. Gardner also counts toward the amateur total here since he never reached free agency.

What also stands out is the remarkable amount of value the Yankees have cobbled together via trade. Part of this is attributable to the team's decision to buy at the trade deadline, bringing in Sonny Gray, David Robertson, and the like. Yet most of the production the Yankees received from players acquired through trade came via swaps from before 2017.

Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, Chad Green, and Starlin Castro all played prominent roles in the Yankees' resurgence this year, and all were brought in through past trades by Brian Cashman. Each cost the Yankees nothing more than bit players like Justin Wilson, Shane Greene, and John Ryan Murphy (Castro actually only cost Warren, who is conveniently a part of the Yankee bullpen again).

There's a genuinely stark difference between how this team was built and how the Yankees' most recent successful teams were built. The 2009-2012 squads relied mostly upon great free agent signings and the re-signing of key homegrown players. This team got its production almost entirely from amateur draftees, international prospects, and savvy trade acquisitions.

It's a testament to the work of Cashman and Co. that as the free agent market has become a less and less efficient way to expend resources, the team has retooled on the fly and returned to prominence using tactics other than signing the best free agent players. This isn’t to say that it’s better or worse to root for a team like the 2017 Yankees than the 2009 Yankees: the ‘09 squad included plenty of hired guns, but was still a blast to follow, just as the current team has been.

This analysis doesn’t focus on how this team’s construction compares to the rest of the playoff field: for that, check out Baseball Prospectus’ thoughts on the subject. When compared to themselves, though, it’s obvious the Yankees have arrived at success through entirely different means. Whether and how that impacts your enjoyment of the team as a fan is up to you, but it’s heartening that the team has shown it can build a fun, competitive ball club in a variety of ways.