Once the premier team in Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees have since fallen from grace. Long gone are the days when Derek Jeter ruled the infield, Jorge Posada captained from the backstop, and Mariano Rivera was untouchable out of the bullpen. We used to see them send out the game’s top pitchers, and sign the world’s best batters, but lately they are just a run-of-the-mill team–one that pays an unimaginable amount of money to players who rarely see the field.
There are a lot of reasons why the Yankees have sunk so low, and it’s not good for baseball. There was a time when every game the Yankees played was sold out, home or away. Now they sometimes struggle to fill their needlessly expensive stadium, and fans just aren’t as enthusiastic as they once were. It used to be every kid’s dream to play for the Yankees, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. They can’t even keep their best players when it comes to free agency, and have been losing almost every free agent that they go after.
Maybe it’s the front office, who have alienated some players and fans. Maybe it’s that they play in the toughest division in baseball. Maybe it’s that their players still aren’t allowed to grow beards for some weird reason.
Here are 15 reasons why the Yankees have faltered.
15. Fame Can Be Found Anywhere
Once upon a time if you wanted to be amongst of the most famous athletes in the World, you had to play in either LA, Chicago, or New York. There were a few exceptions; Boston for baseball and Dallas or Pittsburgh for football, but for the most part fame was closely tied to those three cities. That’s not even relatively true anymore. Because of the influence of social media and the 24 hour news cycle, it’s easier to reach that level of fame. Fans in Utah can watch and follow Bryce Harper in Washington, or Many Machado in Baltimore. In 2015 not a single Yankees player was amongst top 20 in jersey sales, but there were guys from the Reds, Mariners and Astros topping the charts. The Yankees had a better 2015 season than any of those teams, yet they had at least one player with a higher level of fame than anyone in New York. As recently as 2000, fans could only watch their hometown team or whichever game the national networks would choose to put on. The Yankees were the best so they would always draw more viewers. This made it so that networks would give the Yankees the nod to be televised. Because of this the Yankees had players that most casual sports fans would idolize, guys like Jeter, Posada, and Rivera. However that has changed and now a majority of the Yankees team is comprised of unlikable guys and underperforming ex-stars. It used to be understandable that people would chase fame and money in New York, but with players finding that anywhere now, why would they choose to play in pinstripes?
14. CC Sabathia
It wasn’t all that long ago when they Yankees really were able to steal the best player off any team. That’s what happened in 2009 when the Yankees signed CC Sabathia to an 8-year deal. He was 2 years removed from winning a CY Young Award in Cleveland, and had just pitched the Brewers into the playoffs with one of the greatest runs by a starting pitcher ever. Everyone knew that CC was going to be a Yankee by the end of the season and it was no surprise when he inked his record-breaking deal. At first everything was going exactly as planned; from 2009-2012 CC made 3 All-Star teams, never finished outside the top 5 in CY Young voting, and helped the Yankees win a World Series. It was in the 2013 season when everything came crumbling down. There were some signs of cracking during the previous playoff runs as the Rangers and Tigers embarrassed him in back-to-back years (2010, 2011) and then he finished off 2012 while needing surgery for bone spurs in his elbow. From 2013 to 2015 CC had by far his three worst seasons in his career. He posted ERAs all above 4, had some of his career low strikeout totals, and was consistently hurt. He made $24 million each of those years. Counting this current season, CC is still on the books to make more than $50 million to be the fifth starter in the Yankee’s rotation. Yu Darvish, Johnny Cueto, and Chris Sale will all be making less than CC next season. He is the 6th highest paid starting pitcher in the MLB and isn’t amongst the top 50 most talented at this point in his career. The good news is only 2 more seasons until he is no longer in New York.
13. Brian McCann
Brian McCann has played for 2 full seasons with the Yankees and we are nearing halfway into the 3rd. That means he’s about halfway through the 5 year $85 million deal that he signed. Through those seasons he hasn’t hit above a .232 average. They’ve been the worst years of his career and right now it doesn’t look like he’s getting better. Unlike CC Sabathia he can’t blame injuries or even age; he’s just underperforming. He is the second highest paid catcher in the MLB, but playing at a below average rate. Of catchers with 200 or more at bats, only 4 have a lower batting average and all but one of them are playing on low money deals. Signing McCann was supposed to fix that the Yankees haven’t had a reliable backstop since Jorge Posada held the role. Instead they got a sub-par hitter who hinders the team’s chances of growth.
12. Mark Teixeira
The man just can’t stay on the field. Many of the highest paid first basemen are amongst the biggest jokes in the MLB, with the list of names including guys like Ryan Howard and Hanley Ramirez, so Mark Teixeira doesn’t get the same kind of criticism that many other over paid guys on the team do. He’s finally on the final season of the 8-year deal that the Yankees gave him in 2009, so fans can have a huge sigh of relief. During the 8 years Mark only made 2 All-Star teams, lost much of the defensive prowess that made him so dominant, and only played more than 123 games 3 times. Injuries have destroyed Mark’s once illustrious career, and the Yankees have paid for it dearly. His contract is part of the reason they have missed out on many great players including Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Abreu, Matt Holiday, and Nelson Cruz. They had too much money tied up in Teixeira. It wasn’t too long ago when people believed the Yankees had an endless amount of cash to blow, but between Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and CC Sabathia, the Yankees have spent $451 million and can’t open their wallets too much more. Guys like this, who haven’t played to their full potential, are hampering the Yanks from winning or at least signing better players.
11. The New York Media
The New York media is famous for being heartless when it comes to sports. In today’s media world athletes already have their lives on display for everyone to see, so why invite more of that? In New York, the media find stories to run about players’ families, they mercilessly insult players over poor games, and will call for people to be fired over nonsense. Remember, these are the people who said New York Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin should be fired a year after he won the Super Bowl. Players have no time to grow, get over injuries, or even rebound from a poor performance without front-page stories calling them worthless, overrated, and pathetic. It’s why so many of the Yankee’s prospects fail, and why all of the players who received huge deals are considered failures even if they play well. It’s been said that players like Cliff Lee, Zack Greinke, Robinson Cano, and Tim Hudson may have chosen to play elsewhere in part because they didn’t want to deal with New York media. The bright light of the city that never sleeps is just not for everyone.
10. Tradition Doesn’t Matter
Yes the Yankees have far more World Series wins than any other team, almost 20 more than the next best team. They have 20 more World Series appearances than anyone else, and have won the World Series 5 times in a row, 4 times in a row, and 3 times in a row. No other team in any American sport can boast numbers like this. Back in the day, everyone wanted to play for the Yankees and they had the best of the best. From Babe Ruth to Lou Gehrig to Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson to Yogi Berra. They have a tradition of winning and getting the best of the best to do it. Hoever, players don’t give a damn about that anymore. Since 2010 the Rangers and Tigers have been the most dominating teams in the AL, and the Royals have represented the league in the past 2 World Series. The Giants have won the most World Series, and they have done it with a rotating group of different players. Players no longer care about what team used to win, and only care about playing for the right team.
Kansas City has no players making $100 million, the Yankees have 5. Who has a more recent ring? The whole concept of moneyball has dominated the MLB since Billy Beane took credit for it in the early 2000s (never mind that he had the greatest starting rotation of all time). Oakland has not been able to win playing a pure moneyball philosophy, but teams like the Red Sox and Giants seem to have perfected it. The Yankees, for whatever reason, have stuck to their guns believing that signing every superstar free agent is the way to win. Their team is full of the stars from the mid-2000s, but have very little to show for it. Winners have been putting together teams of good players as opposed to giving a lot of money to superstars and hoping they can gel together. Why the Yankees have been doing the opposite is baffling and really shows why they are struggling. This past offseason, the Yankees had to sit on their hands and watch player like Daniel Murphy and Johnny Cueto go to other teams so that they can finally clear some cap space and reboot their team in the next few years. Maybe then they’ll start playing moneyball.
8. Ellsbury vs. Cano
The 2014 free agent class was a turning point for the Yankees. They came out looking like bandits as they were able to sign 4 of the top free agents including Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Hiroki Kuroda. They were also able to lock up Masahiro Tanaka and get some quality veterans to help bring the Yankees back to the playoff after they missed getting there for the first time since 2008. However, the biggest moves from the entire offseason was when the Yankees let Robinson Cano sign with the Seattle Mariners and gave Jacoby Ellsbury a whopping $153 million contract. Ellsbury’s contract wasn’t all that surprising as it was on par with other similar players’ contracts. Ellsbury had some good seasons including an MVP worthy 2011, but had been a career .280 hitter who was good for 20 homers, but rarely drove in a substantial amount of runs. Robinson Cano was one of the best hitters in the game and the cornerstone of the Yankees offense, letting him walk was one of the most devastating things that could have happened to the team. From 2009 through 2013 Cano was knocking in close to 100 or more RBIs, he was a Gold Glove winner, a perennial MVP candidate, and was regarded as one of the top second basemen in the league. Since the two men received their respective contracts, Cano’s batting average has been 30 points higher, he’s hit twice the amount of homers, has nearly 100 more RBIs, and has played in 60 more games at much more important position. The Yankees expected Ellsbury to replace their MVP since signing him, but he never ascended to that level and it looks like he never will.
7. Depleted Farm System
The Yankees strategy has led to a major issue with their farm system, as in they don’t have one. They don’t have a single player in the top 15 MLB prospects and only 2 in the top 50. That is a terrible sign for a team that is full of aging players. The other problem is that their top prospect, Jorge Mateo, plays shortstop, the same position as Didi Gregorious. Didi may be a free agent at the end of this season, but the Yankees expected to have found a replacement for Derek Jeter in him so the trade that brought him there now looks like a waste for them. Mateo also may have to come up early if Didi walks as most analysts don’t expect the prospect to be ready until 2018. Aaron Judge will most likely take over Carlos Beltran’s spot when he moves on at the end of the season, but that’s where the prospect watch really stops. Because of a lot of past trades that didn’t help the team (more on this later) and bungled draft picks, there’s no one waiting in the wings for the Yankees. The teams that are currently winning have done it by building up their farm system. The Ranger have “too many” prospects and may “have” to trade some of them, almost the entire Royals squad was brought up through their farm system, same with the Giants and Cardinals. The Cubs have one of the best young core in baseball with Rizzo, Bryant and Schwarber, and they have been grooming those three for years. Not to mention that Chicago has the same number of prospects in the top 50 as the Yankees. Which team do you think is better poised for success?
6. “Win Today” Mentality
Since 2010, the Yakees seem to be in the mentality that they are just a couple pieces away from winning the world series. Some years they were, but more often than not the team has been in desperate need to rebuild. Instead of promoting prospects or unloading contracts, the Yankees kept bringing in more players to “put them over the top.” They made moves like trading for Vernon Wells who had two very bad seasons with the Angels and was owed a ton of money. Other strange trades included getting an injured and aging Lance Berkman from Houston for Mark Melancon (currently the star closer for the Pirates), sending young catcher Francisco Cervelli to the Pirates for setup man Justin Wilson in 2014 (Cervelli just signed a 3-year extension), and getting over-the-hill versions of Ichiro and Alfonso Soriano to ignite their offense. Those were all terrible moves and we didn’t even mention that they signed ancient guys like Andruw Jones, Kevin Youkilis, and Andy Pettite, and expected them to make a real impact or even start for the team. Look no further than the Michael Pineda, Jesus Montero swap. Admittedly, the Yankees got the better deal with this one, but their logic was so backwards that you have to question the idea. The Yankees felt like Montero was a couple years away from “being ready” and Pineda was the missing piece to winning a World Series. It turned out Pineda didn’t play that season, but they trades a potential future star for a noted hot head with injury concerns. The Yankees weren’t a piece away from winning and fans have seen their decline because of moves like this.
5. No Homers
The Yankees currently rank 23rd in team home runs through 77 games played this season. That is completely unacceptable for a team that plays in a stadium once dubbed “The Launchpad.” Currently only Carlos Beltran and Brain McCann are consistently hitting homeruns while “weak hitting” Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorious are trying to pick up the slack. Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headly combined have less homers than Carlos Beltran, and at age 39, you just can’t expect him to keep preforming at that level. The Yankees need for some of their $100 million players to do something in the batter’s box, but they just aren’t. This hasn’t been a long term issue for this team, they ranked 4th last year in homers, but this year is another story. They don’t have a great home record, and unless they find their power stroke, it’ll only get worse as major leaguers have an easy time hitting the ball out of the park in New York.
4. The Division Caught Up
The AL East right now is the best division in Baseball. The Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Yankees are all threats to make the playoffs and go deep. For many of the Yankees dominating years throughout the 90s and early 2000s, they were helped by the fact that most of their division was average at best. It wasn’t until 2004, when the Red Sox won the World Series, that the Yankees’ front office noticed that they had some real competition. From 1998 until 2006 they won their division outright. Since then every team in the AL East has won the division. This is due to a lot of reasons, but a big reason is that the teams trusted their farm system, made smart trades, and didn’t over pay for stars. Since 2008 the Yankees have been stuck with the same aging and injury prone lineup, for the most part. Even though initially it worked, this gave the Red Sox, the Blue Jays, the Orioles, and the Rays an opportunity to look past the present and realize that they Yankees would be vulnerable 5 years down the line. They all loaded up on young talent and used it to either trade for stars or win games. Look at the Orioles and Red Sox who are dominating with a group of young hitters who have been with the franchise for a better part of a decade. The AL East was patient, the Yankees weren’t, and this is the repercussion.
3. Front Office Is Out Of Touch With Fans
The average ticket price for a Yankees’ game is $51. For comparison, the Mets are almost half that with an average price of $26. They play in the same city and the Mets just went to a World Series. Also to note, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium are not vastly different as far as attractions. People weren’t thrilled that the team decided to build a new Stadium, but the Steinbrenners wanted one, so they got one. It was one of the most expensive stadium every built, and to supplement the cost, ticket prices went through the roof. The parking at Yankee Stadium is the most expensive in the league (at least $10 more than the cost at Citi Field), and the concessions are above the league average. Huffington Post named Yankee stadium the third most expensive stadium to go to behind only Fenway and Wrigley (both are classic, historical stadiums). Worst of all is that the management seem almost happy about the fact that many fans can’t afford to go. Yankees COO Lonn Trost said that he wanted certain fans to not be allowed sit in premium seats, and implemented rules to help make that possible. This prompted a fantastic prank campaign by Last Week Tonight. However the message was heard loud and clear; The Yankees do not want people from a lower tax bracket in their stadium. Why should fans support that?
2. They Aren’t That Bad
In all the talk about the decline of the Yankees organization, we haven’t once mentioned that they really aren’t that bad. They are currently sitting at a .500 record in baseball’s toughest division, made the playoffs last year, and won a World Series more recently than all but 5 team in the MLB. The problem is that from 1996-2003, the Yankees went to the World Series 6 times. They currently have a streak of 23 years without a losing record, no other professional sports team can claim that. They have more winning seasons during that streak than the Diamondbacks, or Rays have total seasons. Yes, it looks like it is time for the Yankees to cut their losses and rebuild, but this is a good franchise that has had a lot of success over the past few year. We look at a 85-win season as a terrible season for the Yanks, but take a look at some of the team that have been good while the Yankees have been bad. The Rangers had 8 seasons below the 85 win mark between playoff appearances, and the Tigers had 16. If the Yankees somehow bounced back and started winning 100 games a season again, no one should be that surprised.
At one point Alex Rodriguez was the best player in the MLB, now he is arguably the worst. It’s not that his numbers are so horrible (he had a pretty good 2015 season), but everything else he brings to the team is terrible. Ignoring the fact that he’s making more money than many of the game’s best players (by a landslide), A-Rod is a walking nightmare for any PR department in pro-sports. He is a convicted “cheater” who has lied so much and so often that it has made him the most hated player in baseball. The Yankees tried to trade him to any one for any offer, but had no takers. His story has been synonymous with the Yankee’s ineptitude over the past few seasons. He is one of the worst playoff performers in recent MLB history, was suspended for all of 2014, and is being paid more money than almost every great player in the league (by a landslide). It’d be one thing if he could put up astounding numbers to match the awful contract he was given, but he hasn’t hit higher than .300 since 2008, and hasn’t had more than 35 homers since 2007. Every time he comes up to bat the fans boo him. He is not worth keeping on the team.
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