"Powerful indeed is the empire of habit" – Syrus
The New York Yankees are a franchise synonymous with winning at all costs. If you take a trip to the Cathedral of Baseball and purchase one of their larger refreshment sizes from the concession stands, you will receive a souvenir cup with pictures of all 27 Yankees World Series rings dotting its circumference. At every corner of the stadium, there is constant reminder to the fans that you're in the home of the winningest franchise in professional sports.
Banners line the Great Hall emblazoned with Mantle, Rivera, Jeter, Williams, Pettitte, Mattingly, Dimaggio, Gehrig, Ruth, and other names etched in Yankee lore; words like “tradition” and "pride" are thrown around like profanity is at the Osbourne residence. The old saying goes, “the Yankees don't rebuild, they reload,” and it is this very thought process that has left us with the 2013 New York Yankees.
The Yankees are old, this is not a new realization. Due to injuries and age, the starting line-up for the Bronx Bombers is not what it used to be. The traditionally vaunted Yankees lineup consists this season of names such as Thomas Neal, Chris Stewart, Lyle Overbay and David Adams – cast-offs, spare parts, scrap heap pick-ups and general “who the f*** is that?” guys abound. It is a cast that is the most decrepit and rudderless Yankees lineup in a generation.
But the Yankees have been “old” since they set off on a run that saw them make the postseason for 17 of the last 18 years, get to the World Series seven times, and win the whole thing five times. Between 1996 and 2001, when the Yankees made the World Series five times in six years, and rolled out what is perhaps the greatest baseball dynasty in the history of the game, the “Evil Empire” averaged roughly 30.65 years of age between their pitchers and batters.
The average age of the 2013 Yankees is just over 31.5, a bit higher, but not by much. In fact, last year's team was even older, exceeding 32 years of age – that team made it to the ALCS.
The problem with the Yankees is not the age of the team as a whole, but of certain players in particular. The Yankees dynasty was built around a backbone of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada, the “Core Four” as they came to be dubbed. Bernie Williams also served as an excellent homegrown player to compliment the “Core Four” for almost his entire career.
With that strong, young core of players and a seemingly endless pit of money, the Yankees were able to engage in “Too Much Moneyball” with reckless abandon, re-signing the aforementioned homegrown talent, overpaying for top-of-the-line free agents like Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia, and trading for All Stars with expiring contracts (David Cone, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Curtis Granderson, Chuck Knoblauch) to later extend at a market value.
The Yankees knew full well that extending veteran All Stars and giving free agents top dollar was investing in a series of declining returns, but they didn't care because they were the Yankees. When one aging star had been used up, they just threw in another one to add fuel to the fire and keep the machine working. So long as the heart of the Yankees was young or in its prime, the train kept rolling along.
Eventually though, despite countless upgrades and replacements, the heart of a machine ages to the point of being irreparable. You can continue to add RAM or new GPUs to a computer, but once the motherboard is outdated, you might as well scrap the whole thing and get a new rig. That's the Yankees in a nutshell: an old computer beyond the point of upgrading. Jeter is injury-plagued and approaching 40, Pettitte and Rivera are on their way out, and guys like Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada departed long ago.
With the Yankees shipping off the majority of their prospects to acquire veteran talent, and the duration of their success outcasting the Yankees from the ability to draft franchise-changing players to re-tool around, their farm system is barren. The reason the Yankees were able to draft Jeter was because of just how terrible they were during the Mattingly Era (New York had the sixth pick that year).
For almost two decades, the Yankees sold away their farm system to feed the winning-hungry culture and fan base they have fostered, and now it appears the repercussions are starting to surface.
Sure, Rodriguez, Jeter and Michael Pineda may come back and give the team a boost down the stretch. They may even make the playoffs, but the Yankees' dominance is all but over. Until New York can find its next slew of young talent to supplement with veteran All Stars, you're going to see a similar collection of over-the-hill veterans and a bunch of four-A ballplayers.
By: Ryan Gilmore