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Almost Yankees: When playing it safe pays off

Many times the moves a GM doesn't make are just as important as the ones he does make

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

There are a plethora of reasons the New York Yankees are one of the most disliked teams in all of sports. One of those reasons is the reputation they've developed over the years of being able to throw exorbitant amounts of cash blindly at whatever top free agent fills the positional void they may have at that particular moment. This reputation isn't entirely undeserved, of course. But as Miles Wray pointed out in his piece for FanGraphs on Thursday, as far as major-market billion-dollar sports organizations that consistently have one of the league's highest payrolls go, the Yanks tend to be pretty damn thrifty more years than not.

Sure, the Yankees are good for a spending spree every few years in which the top prizes of that year's free agent class make their way to the Bronx. Last winter was obviously one of them, when the team dropped nearly half a billion dollars for Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. The time before that was in the winter of '08-'09 when Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett were brought in. Surrounding those hearty offseasons though, is a whole lotta (relative) frugality in which the biggest name free agents went elsewhere, even if some of them seemed like a  potential fit for the pinstripes.

As is the case in most years, the Yankees enter the 2015 with a roster that's in a state of flux with players both on the front ends and back ends of big contracts. So far (I say "so far" because the destination of Yoan Moncada is still up in the air), this offseason has left many fans feeling less than satisfied. Aside from a couple of mid-range signings in Andrew Miller and Chase Headley the Yanks either struck out or didn't step up to the plate for Scherzer, Shields, Lester, Sandoval or Tomas. While it's easy to feel frustration that what appear to be the best available pieces aren't being brought in, it's important to remember the times that prudence has paid off for the Bombers.

It was just last winter that Cashman & Co. decided to forgo resigning Robinson Cano in favor of tending to several other needs the team had. In the first year of his 10-year/$240 million deal, Cano performed up to par for Seattle, despite losing a chunk of his power to Safeco Field. But the team knew what they were giving up, and the money was better spent spread out amongst the team. Plus, it opened the door for the eventual second-base takeover by Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela.

It was also last offseason that Shin-Soo Choo turned down a 7-year/$140 million offer. An upside of Choo deciding to sign with the Rangers is that it essentially removed them from the race for Tanaka, though it did also result in the Yanks turning to Beltran to take over in right field. All things considered, I would choose Tanaka + two more years of the ghost of Carlos Beltran over Choo, who raised a ton of red flags last season between injuries and diminished production.

Then there was Ubaldo Jimenez, who had seen a bit of a return to his old form in Cleveland. The consensus at the time was that he was destined for pinstripes. As we know, he went to Baltimore for four years and $50 million, a decision the O's would instantly regret as Jimenez regressed back to his older, ineffective form.

Looking back to the winter leading up to the 2013 season it was Josh Hamilton who was at the head of the free agent class. The Yankees had at least one of the outfield corners available due to the departure of Nick Swisher, and Hamilton seemed like a reasonable candidate to fill the spot. The Yankees tested the waters on Josh, but ultimately decided it just wasn't a good fit. Consider it a bullet dodged. Hamilton has been an albatross in his first two seasons with the Angels.

It was the 2010-'11 offseason when everyone believed the Yanks were in on the bidding for Carl Crawford. It wasn't until he signed a deal worth 7 years/$142 million with the Red Sox that Brian Cashman revealed he faked his interest in Crawford to simply drive his price tag up. His time in Boston could be described as disastrous up until he was sent to the Dodgers as part of the Red Sox' house-cleaning mega deal.

Then there was Jason Bay. Fresh off an All-Star 2009 campaign in which he posted a .921 OPS, his stock was high as ever. With Johnny Damon coming off the books the Yankees were in the market for an outfielder and Bay was an obvious target. In the end, Curtis Granderson filled the outfield vacancy in the Bronx while Bay went to Queens where he was a crushing bust in their lineup for the next three seasons.

The Yankees have certainly had their own share of occasions where they did pull the trigger on marquee free agents only to be left disappointed. There's nothing like the high of learning the news that your team has added a highly-coveted star. There's also nothing that makes you scratch your head like when a team that has the means to spend big money on an important piece decides to play it conservative. But it's worth noting the frequency at which these nine-figure contracts don't pan out, and how often the moves that GM's like Brian Cashman don't make are of equal importance as those they do.