Organizational Rankings: #1 – New York Yankees

I have a lot of respect for Brian Cashman, and I think he’s tremendously under-appreciated as a GM. Under his watch, the Yankees went from an erratic money pit into a dominant machine, and he’s put processes in place to ensure that the team is permanently good. Everything I said about the Red Sox is also true about the Yankees now. They do everything well.

And, yes, they’re disgustingly rich. They outspent the #2 team in 2009 opening day payroll by $52 million. They outspent the Red Sox by $80 million, or, essentially, they spent as much on their 2009 team as the Boston and Milwaukee combined, and the Brewers have a league-average payroll. It’s just a monstrous advantage, and they take full advantage of it.

This isn’t to say that the Yankees haven’t earned their championships. The Mets have access to the same media market and spend money like drunken sailors, but they don’t win, because they’re not using their resources well. The Yankees are using their resources very well, and there is no reason to disrespect their accomplishments simply because they have access to more capital than every other MLB team.

But there’s a reason I said that the Red Sox were the model franchise for a big market team. The Yankees aren’t, because they don’t fit into that category. They’re a you-can’t-build-a-market-like-this team, and there’s no point for anyone trying to recreate what they’re doing, because it’s impossible. You can’t recreate 100 years of history. You can’t fix your organization’s past and make sure it includes Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra. The Yankees have a tie to the roots of the game itself that no other club ever will.

It’s not just the size of the Big Apple that gives the Yankees the advantage they enjoy. It’s their place in the history of the game, and how well they’ve leveraged that into developing a fan base that perpetuates itself constantly. The combination of the market, the nostalgia, and the winning have created a perfect storm, and the result is a franchise that towers over the rest. The Red Sox do everything right, and they still aren’t the Yankees. They can’t be. No one can.

We talk about dominant eras in sports history. The Brian Cashman-era Yankees are going to take their spot someday, because with the way the organization is structured, they’re going to be scary good for the foreseeable future. This is what happens when you spend $200 million really, really well.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

41 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: #1 – New York Yankees”

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  1. MBD says:

    What?! How could you give the Yanks this poor a ranking?

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

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  2. H.W. Plainview says:

    Dave Cameron, Yankee hater. Obviously.

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  3. Excellent, Dave. This covered really my only complaint (in the other thread) which I probably should’ve bit my tongue about, because this was the more appropriate place for such discussion anyway.

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  4. YC says:

    Amen to that. Excellent conclusion to an excellent series.

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  5. Omar says:

    You left out Gehrig, asshole.

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    • timo says:

      “You can’t fix your organization’s past and make sure it includes Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra.”

      I was going to say the same thing. How could you not mention Lou Gehrig?

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  6. Dan Lewis says:

    I’m a die-hard Mets fan and agree that the Yanks are, easily, #1; that they deserve to be #1 despite their market size; and that the Mets spend money like drunken sailors. That said, you’re crazy to think that the Mets have access to the same media market as the Yankees. If anything, one of the Mets’ biggest institutional (i.e. non-Minaya, non-Manuel) problems is the existence of the Yanks.

    We see this everywhere. The Mets are, unfortunately, the MLB equivalent of the Clippers or Nets, with the sole advantage of a pair of magical seasons which bred two generations of loyal fans. There’s no reason for a player who wants to play in New York to prefer the boys from Queens. Pick your preferences: (A) A team whose history is marked with imprimatur of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Reggie, and yes, Jeter; and can afford to have an off-season like they did in 2008-9, or (B) a team whose history is so bleak that of the four numbers they’ve retired, two belong to managers; and whose budget is comparable to the Phillies and Orioles.

    Players are going to prefer the Yankees to the Mets, and probably, other teams to the Mets as well. We saw that exact event happen with Carlos Beltran, who reportedly (via Boras) told the Yankees he’d sign with them — for less money. And I’m sure there are other examples we don’t know about. If anything, the Yankees presence acts as a tax on the Mets.

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    • Tom Wilson says:

      True but when the Yanks were so down and the Mets up they didn’t do enough to make it equitable. Coming out of the 1980s the Mets were in position to level the playing field and never capitalized.

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    • Bob says:

      Maybe the Mets will never quite be able to match the Yankees, just like Dave said the Red Sox really can’t and probably shouldn’t, but there’s also no reason with some better decision making that the Mets shouldn’t be in a position more like the Red Sox, Angels, Phillies, etc. The Yankees didn’t make the Mets sign Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, Jason Bay, and Francisco Rodriguez to all that money.

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      • Dan Lewis says:

        Yep. It’s a total waste. A person who was 8 years old in 1986 is going to be 32 this year, which means that the most impressionable fans from that era are past their MLB prime.

        Agreed, minus the Red Sox. I think the Sox have a distinct advantage over the Mets. They’re in a big baseball market which isn’t New York (but may be just as brutal) and an incredible history the Mets can’t match

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      • Reuben says:

        I don’t think he said that they shouldn’t, simply that they can’t without 50-100 years of baseball history to support them.

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  7. marcello says:

    Great series. It’s nice to see well written, intelligent capsules for every team. I hope you continue to do this series. Just maybe turn the comments off for them in the future.

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  8. Omar says:

    On a serious note Dave, another small quibble: The Yankees spend the largest percentage of their revenue on payroll (second largest last year because the economy in Detroit ate a dick). Furthermore, what areas can the Yankees improve on? They spend gaping assloads of money in the draft, they’ve had plenty of success in Latin America, and they make pretty good trades. If you look at just the difference final roster that they fielded in 2008 and the opening day in 2010 the difference is massive:

    They’ve replaced: Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina (was sad to see him leave), Jason Giambi, Melky Cabrera, Chein Ming Wang, Johnny Damon, and Hideki Matsui (also sad to see him leave) with: CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Javier Vazquez, Nick Swisher, and Curtis Granderson. Yeah, four of those were free agent signings (and one’s probably pretty bad, AJ) but Brian Cashman made some schrewd trades managed to not trade away too much for Javier Vazquez (while buying high!) and bought low on Swisher and Granderson. He turned: Jeff Marquez, Wilson Betemit, Melky Cabrera, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Dunn, Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Coke into Swisher, Granderson, and Vazquez…that’s some high class wheelin and dealin.

    Furthermore, the scouting department has been completely reorganized, and now they’re big players in the draft and Latin America. Sure, some of their grads have struggled, but they’ve all contributed in a big way to the team. They have some raw high ceiling talent in the minors that may be ready to contribute soon.

    I know the Red Sox are the SABR community’s darling, because of their recent embrace of defense and past moves. Rob Neyer, wrote an article a while back with the thesis that the Yankees “don’t care about defense,” I had a hard time with this. They have players like: Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, and Curtis Granderson…all around averagish defenders. They’ve worked with Jeter and Cano on their defense…they acquired a fantastic defender in Teixeira (UZR isn’t the best tool to evaluate first base defense, if you watched the Yankees with any regularity he’s great at the scoop, IMO the first basemen’s most important job). However, when you have players like the ones previously mentioned, (with the exception of Posada due to age) you’re really not looking to replace them…they’re all all-stars. You don’t want to replace Alex Rodriguez with Adrian Beltre, and you’re not looking to get rid of Robinson Cano anytime soon. Going into this offseason they were simply in a better position than the Red Sox, Epstein recognized that he needed to improve his team, and he, wisely, looked at defense. He went all out for run prevention, once he figured out Bay wasn’t going to agree to 2/30 (why it took him long to realize that is beyond me), he took the best road available to him. Much like Cashman chose the best road available to him…just so happens that they were different paths.

    Overall, great series, great way to wrap up the offseason and get me psyched for the upcoming season. See ya next March.

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    • TerryMc says:

      “The Yankees spend the largest percentage of their revenue on payroll”

      I would guess that the Yankees as divert or fail to report the largest percentage of revenue as well. Do they have the richest broadcast deals? No, but they conveniently own the distribution companies.

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      • Omar says:

        That’s true too…they’re a money machine. As a business model there’s several teams that can do what the Yankees do in terms of branding throughout the city. No one comes close to the machine that is the New York Yankees though in terms of a business. They’re beyond a sports brand, everything that organization does perpetuates success. They acquire an Alex Rodriguez? Not only does that help the team on the field or in ticket sales, they have another marketing superstar too. They’ve got that shit down.

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  9. LibertyBoy says:

    If the Yankees don’t win last year, do they get the #1 ranking this year? Just a thought…

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    • Teej says:

      I would imagine so. At least for me, the Sabathia-Burnett-Teixeira offseason sealed it. That kind of muscle-flexing was frightening, and it became pretty clear that the Yankees were ready to start winning World Series again, no matter the cost.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        I think the Granderson + Vazquez for Melky and then basically nothing was even more frightening.

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      • Zack says:

        “I think the Granderson + Vazquez for Melky and then basically nothing”

        Way to misrepresent the trade

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      • Omar says:

        I liked Arodys Vizcaino…though the rest really didn’t have much of a chance to contribute in the Bronx, lets be real Zack.

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      • Zack says:

        “though the rest really didn’t have much of a chance to contribute in the Bronx”
        That means they have no value?

        Arodys is listed as the Braves #3 prospect right now on BA IIRC.
        And while Melky is not an All Star, he is their starting CF last time I checked.

        As for the Granderson trade, Austin Jackson is the Tigers opening day CF and CF of the future, while they spun Ian Kennedy in a package for Scherzer, Kennedy is now the Dback’s 3rd starter (4th when Webb returns.)

        So how was Granderson and Vazquez traded for Melky and “basically nothing”?

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      • Andrew says:

        They didn’t have any real value to the Yankees. Granderson > Melky or Jackson. I won’t dispute they have value to other teams, but from the Yankees’ perspective the value was zero, yes. I also think Austin Jackson is wayyyyyy overrated so I wasn’t sad to see him go.

        Melky was competing for starts with Brett Gardner and would’ve had almost no playing time last year if Gardner hadn’t been injured.

        IPK couldn’t really contribute to the Yanks this year either. Their starting rotation is full and arguably the best in baseball top-to-bottom.

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  10. Sam says:

    A hearty thanks to everyone involved on a fantastic series. I especially liked the fact that despite repeated provocations, Cameron did not get involved in the quagmire of shouting match with others in comments. That really was commendable.

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    • LibertyBoy says:

      Plenty of Seattle monkeys did that for him. I’m shooting for -78, please vote LibertyBoy!

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      • word is bond says:

        There’s always this sentiment that the yankees are expected to win, and I can’t argue with projecting them at #1, but as a Yankee fan, I want to remind those in the shouting matches that even if you spend the most, and buy the best talent, you still have to win the games. Every championship during the 90s and 2009 was special for me. I may have a demanded a championship, but that doesn’t mean I expected it every year. I always believed we had a chance, but was never sure we could do it.
        The only one I expected was 2001. After 9/11 I really thought the city needed it and I just couldn’t see the story ending any other way. Those walk-off miracle wins off of Byung Hung Kim only solidified it in my mind. After watching Luis Gonzalez’s bloop single fall in, I made it halfway up the stairs before I burst into tears.
        Yes, us Yankee fans have a swagger and an arrogance. A confidence that we just are the best. We do demand Championships, but that doesn’t mean they mean less to us.

        love the Reggie Bar avatar, got myself a Tshirt w/ that on it and 44 on the back from no mas nyc

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      • LibertyBoy says:

        I’m flattered, but I’m taken!

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  11. PhD Brian says:

    I just hate the Yankees! Just hate them and their fans! I believe they are going to win 110 games or more this season and will go back to winning just about every year for years. Somebody put a franchise in Newark please!. NYC is just to darn big and full of money for baseball to ever be fair to the small franchises.

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    • LibertyBoy says:

      Just what Newark needs, another tax-funded debacle that no one will visit. See “NJPAC”; “Newark revival”; “Newark gentrification”.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Yet again, your ignorance shines through. The current downtown revitalization, centered around the Prudential Center, is definitely so far, so good, and the Rock is far from a “debacle.”

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      • LibertyBoy says:

        Tell that the humps that bought houses in “gentrified” neighborhoods on speculative prices who are about to see budget cuts in education and law enforcement. You live there?

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    • Jeff says:

      Or you can move to NYC…

      Better yet, don’t ask somebody to do it. Start your own team! I hear Dye and Washburn are still available.

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  12. Preston says:

    When considering the Yankees’ payroll, I think they do face some constraints that other teams do not, at least to the same level, and while this does not level the playing field, or even come all that close, it does to some extent diminish their financial advantage. Here are the constraints, as I see them:
    1) NYC is easily the most expensive place in the country to live – not sure whether this makes a huge difference for ballplayers who have homes elsewhere, but they do at least have to spend a large amount of time in the city. This could mean the Yanks have to pay a little more to make up for the difference in cost of living.
    2) Everyone knows that the Yankees can afford to pay big bucks for players, and so it becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. When there’s a player they want, they inevitably pay significantly more than the next best offer. ARod’s new contract is one of many good examples. Another would be Sabathia’s – the Yankees started at 6 years, $140 million before upping it to 7 years, $161 million, when by all accounts the only other clear deal on the table was the Brewers at 5 years, $100 million. Now, the Red Sox may have also gotten involved, but it’s hard to see them topping even the Yankees’ initial offer
    3) The very history of the team that helps them bring in money makes it much more difficult for them to let go of their aging stars. Can you imagine the reaction if Jeter or Rivera, or possibly even Posada at this point, finishes his career elsewhere? When the Yankees have these transcendent franchise players, their great history (and large pocketbook) compels them to keep them around their entire career, and inevitably that means 4 year contract extensions at $13 million a year (Posada) when it’s likely his next best offer would have been something like 3 years, $30 million. Jeter will get far more money from the Yankees at the end of his career than he’d get anywhere else.

    Overall, that could easily add up to $20 or 30 million a year, a not insubstantial portion of their financial advantage.

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    • awayish says:

      A reply to your third point, note that the very team’s own history includes plenty of examples of leaving aging stars out to dry. Recent examples are not lacking either, from bernie to the guys last year. The condition you describe certainly exists, but it’s not a hard and fast rule by any means. Jeter might get an oversized contract out of it, but I don’t see the likes of posada etc getting that treatment.

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  13. MichaelCoughlin says:

    The Yankees have a lot of money and this diminishes their financial advantage.

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  14. SF 55 for life says:

    I don’t think anything will convince me that the Yankees are a better organization now than the Red Sox.

    Does anyone ever get the feeling that the Yankees are so big right now because of a single man? I feel if Babe Ruth went to, oh I don’t know, the New York Giants. More than likely the Yanks would have been the team to move out west and the Giants would be in the Yankees position. Ah, what could have been.

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    • t-lonious munk says:

      You are pretty correct. A lot the of team’s aura comes from the fact that the most important players in the game’s history (Maybe #2 to Robinson) made his biggest impact with the Yankees. He turned them into The Yankees. No other team can be like them because no other team had the ungodly mashing machine they had in the 20s, centered around the Michael Jordan style player (though, and I don’t know how to make this comparison, but I would bet Ruth dominated his era more then MJ did). If you want to know how massive that was, think that we’re still debating the psychological impact that had on the country, sport and team today. If Ruth wasn’t Ruth for the Yankees they would still be important, but not nearly the team they are, just because that history and tradition means so much, and has often been sell-fulfilling.

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      • Ntrokel says:

        Well I won’t dispute that Ruth has had a huge impact on the identity of the Yankees. But they have had so many other huge players like Gehrig, Mantle, Maris, Berra, etc. That the franchises success cannot be credited to one man. Even without Ruth the Yankees would still have had the rest of the ‘murderer’s row’ lineup. Yes Ruth was the centerpiece, but they still win most of the championships they won in the 20’s without him.

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      • Bill says:

        The Yankees won 16 championships from 1936-1962, that’s an incredible string of success, and by far their most successful era (16/27 championships). Obviously Ruth had a tremendous influence, but it’s not as though the Bulls are dominating now because they once had MJ.

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  15. Dave S. says:

    As a Yankee fan, I am well aware that they have every advantage over all the others financially. As all Yankee haters know – and most real Yankee fans will admit – there is no reason to cry for the Yankees. The only two obstacles I can see that persistently dog the Yanks are 1) the media pressure to win all the time and 2) the resulting inability to punt/get any real draft pick.

    The Yanks basically don’t allow themselves to rebuild, because doing so would be bad for business. Personally, I think it would make them more formidable overall if every few years they’d take one or two off to restock and develop…but they manage the perception that they’re in it for the big prize every single year and as such never let an offseason go by without trying to stockpile every available bit of talent, even if overcommitment to currently elite players might weight them down in the future. I think 2008 was the closest they’ve come in over a decade to punting – basically starting the year with youth in the rotation and sticking to it – and even then, a late surge almost had them in it. Regardless, they never get a good spot in the draft. People like to complain that the Yanks don’t develop their own talent…but I’d like to know of any impact position player in the last ten years that the Yanks could have drafted and didn’t. The fact is, by the time they get their turn, it’s risky pitchers and longshots who are left over.

    Nonetheless, the Yanks are in a different stratosphere. It’s true that Cashman has managed the resources well…money is no guarantee of success. But it makes it a lot easier, and certainly helps to cover up expensive mistakes that would leave other clubs reeling for years (Kei Igawa, anyone?) Lucky for baseball and the fans of other teams, the postseason is a serious game of dice, and the Yanks are just as likely to roll craps as the rest.

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  16. Yankees says:

    New York Yankees,
    With their rich history,
    Will remain always towers,
    Of sports, and friends of victory.
    As fans, we love them.
    As fans, we follow them.
    If they win we appreciate,
    If they lost, we keep support.
    Long live Yankees!
    You deserve big prizes!
    Yankees Tickets we do buy.
    For the price we do not cry!

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  17. Ash says:

    “The Yankees have a tie to the roots of the game itself that no other club ever will.”

    The statement above saddens me. The writer must be extremely young, and must know little about baseball history.

    The Yankees by baseball standards, have a young franchise. If you want to talk about a franchise being tied to the roots of the game, the conversation begins and ends with the following franchises….

    Chicago Cubs
    Cincinnati Reds
    Atlanta Braves
    San Francisco Giants
    Philadelphia Phillies
    Pittsburgh Pirates
    Los Angeles Dodgers
    St. Louis Cardinals

    In all, there are 14 current franchises with histories that pre-date the Yankees.

    Tied to the roots of the game my ass.

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