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Don’t Panic, the Yankees Are Already Back

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The second: Alex Rodriguez made Bud Selig very angry. It’s possible that within a week of his appeal hearing, an arbitrator will come up with a ruling on MLB’s suspension of A-Rod. Now, the Yankees aren’t going to get what they ­really want: A-Rod kicked out of baseball for good, with his salary wiped off the books forever. (The Yankees’ aggressive anti-A-Rod PR campaign this summer, which at one point included general manager Brian Cashman saying “Alex should just shut the fuck up,” because A-Rod had excitedly tweeted he would be available to return from injury soon, was one of the moral low points of the franchise. That’s acting like Steinbrenner.) But they are gonna get some relief next year. Even if A-Rod receives something less than a full-year suspension, the Yankees will get back some of their $26 million committed to A-Rod next year, which makes it that much easier to stay under the $189 million. The Yankees couldn’t have anticipated they’d receive any break on the A-Rod contract: Selig is handing them a big, big favor.

The interesting thing is that the Yankees probably don’t have to sign another A-Rod to replace him; playoff teams aren’t built with high-priced long-term contracts anymore. (FanGraphs listed the five worst contracts in baseball this year, and they were all hitters signed to big contracts through their thirties or longer, just like Cano is about to be.) For a model, look at those hated Boston Red Sox, your 2013 AL East champions. The Sox shipped out their overpriced, cripplingly extended contracts and signed a bunch of mid-tier, short-term, inexpensive veterans like Stephen Drew, Mike Napoli, and super-closer Koji Uehara, among others. These vets, now basically living contract to contract (and thus constantly in need of proving themselves, as opposed to long-term contracts like the one Cano’s about to get), almost all had career years, leading to Boston’s breakthrough. This is the new model: You can go up on the amount you pay a player, as long as you don’t go long on the years.

Being in this position allows the Yankees, improbably, to reload on the fly. They have franchise-building to do to return to the machine they’ve been over the past two decades, particularly in the farm system, which regressed this year with the underperformance of some key prospects. But they now have the money and the time to do it. And once they clear the luxury-tax threshold, they’ll be able to spend even more in the coming years … and could even get themselves in a position to sign some huge long-term contracts that won’t blow up in their face: The Nationals’ Bryce Harper and the Angels’ Mike Trout, two of the best young ballplayers in baseball history, are scheduled to hit free agency after the Yankees’ salary-cap tax resets. What a coincidence! That’s the thing about the Yankees: They can retool their roster with these short-term-­contract veterans and still have the money, later, to pay big long-term contracts that are worth it. And when Trout and Harper hit the market, both will be in their mid-twenties, far younger (and thus less risky) than players like Cano. Those are the type of contracts that don’t wreck your franchise. The Yankees can have everything they want now.

This season felt like an ending, and in many ways it was. But do not be confused: The Yankees are still the Yankees, and will always be the Yankees. This is a team that’s going to win, and spend, and win, and spend some more. When other teams decide to cut back, to let go of the past and try a new plan going forward, it can take as long as a decade to pull together: It’s an organizational implosion. The Yankees don’t have to do this; their reloading period is only a year or two, and they even contend in those years. They’re going to be fine. They’re going to be better than fine: They’re going to be the Yankees.

You can write to Leitch at will.leitch@nymag.com.


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