I remember a debate as recently as this past Winter, and it went something like this:
If you could have the next 10 years of the New York Yankees or the Chicago Cubs, which would you take?
The choice included all of the financial advantages of the Yankees, and repeated playoff success; and all of the youth and focused direction of the Cubs. At the time, I’m not sure there was a consensus in favor of the Cubs, even if some of us argued vociferously then that the things we’re now seeing in August and September were coming, and the financial advantage of the Yankees was ever-shrinking as baseball changed fundamentally.
Now? The Yankees look old, expensive, bereft of top tier minor league talent, 9.5 games out in the AL East, and 4 games out of a Wild Card spot. The Cubs certainly aren’t faring better in 2014, but the horizon? It’s blindingly bright.
An important part of my syncing business and baseball / massive financial piece on the Cubs earlier this year was the idea that this front office, and this ownership group, recognizes the shifting economics of the game, and sees that simply trying to buy a championship by signing expensive and aging free agents is no longer a viable long-term strategy. Most folks have come around to that idea, but you still have stragglers here and there who, for example, point to the Yankees’ annual competitiveness as evidence that spending big and papering over your mistakes is a legit strategy if you just have the financial gumption to go for it.
Well, there’s a great Yankees blog out there called River Avenue Blues, and you’re going to want to read their take on where things stand for the former behemoth in the Bronx. If you read it from the perspective of a Cubs fan, it reads like a treatise on everything the Cubs are trying to avoid (and appear to have succeeded so far). I could snip out so, so many bits to highlight, but I’ll underscore only this one:
The Yankees are caught in a cycle of relying on free agency to remain in contention. When the 2008-09 Sabathia/Teixeira free agent class started to fade, there was the 2013-14 Ellsbury/Tanaka class. The Bombers missed the postseason last year and responded the only way they know how, by spending money. The players they invested in did not provide the desired impact — back to the playoffs! — and that means the Yankees are going to do what now? Agree to another $400M worth of contracts this winter? That only continues the cycle with no guarantee of a return to contention, as we’ve learned this year.
I’d that the danger of this cycle is that it becomes exponential when the most recent crop of (old) free agents don’t pan out, and the organization is more quickly forced to try and buy their way out from under its weight with new signings … before the previous group of signings has even entered its most expensive (and oldest) years. Even the Yankees aren’t going to have a $300 million payroll any time soon – and, even if they were, I’m not so sure they could buy their way back into consistent contention for certain – so difficulty looms. Baseball is probably better with a good Yankees team, and maybe they’ll figure it out. It won’t be easy, and it might not be swift.
Be grateful for the approach the Cubs are taking, both from ownership and baseball operations. I’ll take the Cubs for the next 10 years, thankyouverymuch.