After years of spending big on the free agent market, the Yankees have become increasingly frugal to the point where they did not sign a single player last offseason. Since their decision to spend less, they have missed out on quite a few young players who have gone on to look like worthwhile additions for their new teams. With an international draft on the horizon, the Yankees may already be out of time to add international talent, and they will ultimately regret their recent actions.
It’s only early November and already the Yankees have missed out on an exciting, young talent. After defecting from Cuba earlier in the year, 23-year-old second baseman Lourdes Gurriel was considered the top international prospect in the game with praise being attributed to his bat speed, approach at the plate, and strike zone discipline. He has also been projected as a 20-home run guy with high-OBP potential. On Thursday, it was announced that he was signed by the Blue Jays to a seven-year, $22 million deal. That amounts to around $3 million a year, which–even if he ends up being bad–is absolutely no money at all.
Maybe the Yankees just weren’t impressed with what they saw, which could certainly be the case, but this has become a reoccurring theme for them over the last few seasons. It would seem that Hal Steinbrenner is willing to offer money, but he often has a hard cutoff where he will not go any further. In theory, this isn’t a bad idea, but in practice it just doesn’t work when dealing with the uncertainty around prospects. It’s hard to definitively say who is worth what without any relevant statistic, so you have to be willing to negotiate. The Yankees do have scouting who should be able to evaluate these players, but instead, they continually undervalue the best international talent on the market.
In the offseason before the 2012 season, the Yankees offered Jorge Soler $27 million before he ultimately signed with the Cubs for $30 million. Before the 2015 season, they were in negotiations with Yoan Moncada, originally offering a $25 million signing bonus before Hal reached his hard ceiling of $27 million. The Red Sox ultimately swooped in with a $31.5 million offer, and that was that. Understandably, the reason the Yankees didn’t go any higher was that penalties following their 2014 spending spree meant they would have to pay double on any contracts they signed. Meaning a $27 million contract would become $54 million, but when Boston seemed to have no problem paying $63 million, your argument is kind of shot.
It would seem that the Yankees are willing to dish out a few thousand dollars to unrefined teenagers–something they have done well with–but they want nothing to do with the high-dollar talent that can come out of the international market. Hal has even said that unproven players don’t deserve that kind of money, but regardless of whether or not he personally believes that, this is the way the market works. To be honest, this seems like the way he handles everything to do with payroll. He doesn’t think he should have spend too much, even though the actual market he does business in says otherwise. It would be like if he was looking to rent an apartment for $500 a month when the neighborhood he’s looking in doesn’t go under $1,000. This is just how it is.
Somewhat forgotten was the fact that the Dodgers signed Kenta Maeda just last offseason after he was posted by his Japanese team. The Yankees played no part in the bidding for his services, instead choosing to stick with their projects of Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi. Maeda ultimately signed an eight-year, $25 million contract, which like Gurriel, works out to be about $3 million. With all the rotation trouble the Yankees are having, you can’t tell me they didn’t miss the boat on Maeda, who was worth 3.3 WAR with a 3.48 ERA in 175.2 innings this year.
The Yankees rotation sure could have used his help, but they were unwilling to go after him, possibly due to the added $20 million that would be tacked onto his final contract. But this notion makes absolutely no sense when you consider they just went big on Masahiro Tanaka only a few years ago, and that has worked out wonderfully so far. Again, perhaps this came down to scouting, but the recent trend of spending, even in the domestic market, makes me think otherwise. There is a chance that 22-year-old Shohei Otani could be posted this offseason, but would the Yankees even bite? I’d like to think so with all the money coming off payroll, but I don’t know.
Their disinterest in signing the talent they should be pursuing could end up hurting them as the door to the international market is shut in their face. Talk about an international draft has picked up steam over the last month, and if one were to be implemented it would seriously limit New York’s ability to add talent, even if they finally decided they wanted to do so. The vast amount of money the Yankees have has always been their strength, and even though Hal has nullified that strength, a draft would severely limit their power.
A slotting system has existed for a few years now, which is where the bonus pool money comes from, but everyone is still free to go after the players they want. In an international draft, the Yankees would potentially be limited to the same restrictions of the June draft, preventing them from going after the best players directly if they have a better record than other teams. A draft could also make signing practices more restrictive, disallowing bonuses and implementing harsher spending penalties. We just don’t know yet.
The question, then, needs to be ask, is this what the Yankees want? Is this what Hal wants? An excuse to spend less, so it’s no longer his fault? A draft is a threat to the team’s long-term sustainability, considering how much they have relied on international players in the past. The Yankees not doing their best to add as much talent as possible could set them up for disappointment when access is eventually denied. It was said they would spend more now that they have money coming off the books, but who are they going to spend it on this offseason? Their narrow-minded spending plan has left them vulnerable after years of ignoring the inevitable. It might not be completely their fault, but they have definitely not helped themselves.