What I'm thankful for around the holiday season Yankees edition

Everyone likes to talk about reflecting on their lives this time of year so in the spirit of the holiday that a lot of us just celebrated and the holidays that some of us are already decorating for, I would like to share some thoughts on things about the Yankees that I’m thankful for. Now, as Yankee fans we have extremely high and very often unreasonable expectations for the team year after year.  This is probably even more true for people like this 26-year-old who was just old enough to watch them dominate postseason baseball at the turn of the century.
Photo Credit: Adam Hunger | USA TODAY Sports

These past few seasons, and this past season especially, have been very different from what we expect and what we are accustomed to. We always expected them to be in the 90 to 100 win range and competing for division titles instead of grinding their way to 85 wins and in a battle for a wild card spot. Although the Yankees brass still talks about expecting to be a contender year in and year out, those expectations have not been met on the field and there a lot of different reasons for that. In the years following the championship in 2009, they had some playoff successes but the core of that team continued to age and they began to fall back to the rest of the pack. Although the team continued to make splashy, high dollar free agent signings, they did not have the young prospects from the farm to supplement them. That of course left them right where we all saw them these past few years - in the middle of the pack. This brief history leads me right into my first thing that I am thankful for as a Yankee fan.

The Yankees showed more direction this year than they did in the last three to five years. The Yankees descended from the top of the baseball world to their current position because they did not have the next generation of players ready when they needed them. This year they obviously made huge strides to remedy that and Brian Cashman deserves a lot of credit for some moves he made before this year too. Brian Cashman was able to buy low on several talented players like Didi Gregorious and Starlin Castro in an effort to add more young talent to an aging roster. At some point this year though, maybe in the hours before the trade deadline, the Yankees made the decision to stop “reloading” an older roster with more old and expensive players and committed to a rebuild. I was very conflicted watching it happen because I enjoyed watching players like Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller but if the Yankees have aspirations of building another dynasty, it was the right move. The fact they fully committed to their plan of getting younger is definitely something I am thankful for and if it works out, you only have to go through the cycle once in a long while.

The next points I have are also ownership related and although we have been given reasons to grumble about ownership, we still have it better than most as fans. Although the Steinbrenner family has talked consistently about lowering payroll, they are still willing to spend to bring in talent and they are using their big name players with big contracts as assets instead of anchors. The Andrew Miller signing and the trade that sent him to Cleveland is an example of both of these things. Hal Steinbrenner talked numerous times over the last few years about getting payroll to the $189 million dollar threshold to bring the team some tax relief but that talk did not bring about a dramatic change in their spending. They have still made free agent signings and been willing to take on salary in trades such as the one to bring in Chapman last year, and then signing Matt Holliday and resigning Chapman this offseason. We don’t have to look any further than the team that resides in Queens to realize that this is not something all owners do. So we should all be thankful that the Steinbrenner family is usually willing to spend a few more dollars rather than trying to save a few.
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Although the Yankees have been willing spend their money, the trade deadline this year and their commitment to getting younger has led to them seeking new homes for some of their pricier players. Last year it was Miller, Chapman and Carlos Beltran who saw their tickets punched out of town. In years past I believe the Yankees would’ve clung to these players and probably brought in a few more to make a run at a playoff spot. After a few years of middle of the road finishes, this year they changed their approach. They have not let dollars or talent dictate the trades they have made. This year, they have used every trade as an opportunity to bring in young talent instead of just finding a team to dump the salary on. 

The recent trade of Brian McCann is a good example of this because they are pitching in some money over the next two years, but also received two very talented pitching prospects in return. The team has been very good over the last year or so of turning assets into young talent and with the possible exception of Jacoby Ellsbury, there are still players that can be moved. There have been rumblings of them attempting to move Brett Gardner and Chase Headley. Regardless of what happens with those two or any others on the roster, this past year especially was a good example of the teams willingness to spend on talent and their ability to turn their big contracts into a talented young group of players instead of just more money in their pockets and for that, I am thankful. 

Finally, after so much talk about ownership and money, there is a lot to be thankful for in terms of the product on the field. This year’s Yankee team will be very different and very entertaining. It will probably be very strange to watch at times. There is always of course the chance of a splashy signing or a Brian Cashman surprise trade but for the most part the Yankees are turning over the keys to the young kids in their system. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann are all gone in favor of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge and several more spread throughout the roster and triple-A.

This will be a very different Yankee team than the ones we are used to watching and there will be tough games and growing pains, but if Gary Sanchez’s last two months are any indicator these young kids will bring excitement, passion and energy to the ballpark every day. I expect them to supplement the roster with some solid veterans to serve as backups and mentors but it will be the kids who will get the majority of the opportunity to take their hacks and get experience every day. The Yankees ownership has done a great job of stockpiling talent recently and now all that’s left to do is put them on the field and let them play and earn their spots. If this season goes well, we will see some young faces start to establish themselves and some even younger faces making their first appearances in pinstripes. That is something we should all be hoping for and looking forward to.

These last few years have not been all that fun or easy to watch for Yankee fans. There have been a lot of frustrating stretches and games, but after these past few tough years they are now well positioned to begin their climb back to the top. Brian Cashman and his front office have worked diligently to acquire the young, talented pieces to build a team around. All that we have to do now is wait and see what they can do. I will be looking forward to watching these young guns take the field this spring. There have been a lot of long nights these past few years but it looks like we are finally about to see that sun start to rise and that is something that this Yankee fan is thankful for as the holiday season is here.

Article by: Matt Graziano


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