Marching into the unknown is a gamble

With the Ellsbury deal still ringing in the ears and filling angry anti-Yankee Twitter news feeds (apparently dubbed by Red Sox fans as a “trader”, way to show off your education), and McCann’s official signing press conference coming tomorrow, a year-signing of a lesser-known infielder isn’t really enough to make a ton of news. While the deal isn’t fully official, Kelly Johnson has played with the Braves, the Diamondbacks, the Blue Jays, and (in 2013) the Rays. Signing Johnson could definitely signal that the Yankees are nailing in a utility player, someone who can play and cover for most of the infield depending on the health and contract/arbitration results of certain star infielders.

Now, over at the March of Dimes luncheon, Mariano Rivera was named “Sportsman of the Year”. (Congrats! Obviously very well-deserved!) Rivera also gave some interesting interviews, half-jokingly about some of his favorite former teammates, but also about recent pick-ups Ellsbury and McCann. And much like so many of people (and by people, I mean me), Rivera also noted all these additions are great, but would love to see what the Yankees plan to do with their pitching.

There are a number of options that the Yankees can pursue with 7 of the top 10 free agent pitchers still up for grabs, including Kuroda. But the Yankees have a bullpen they need to fill in addition to the two or three spots on the starting rotation. And while the idea of getting the salary under that $189 million line, it’s definitely becoming less of a reality and more of an unrealistic “goal” with each and every signing. There is still too much in the air for anything definite as far as goal vs. reality as far as that much-discussed budget. Here’s the bottom line of the situation: getting the Yankees into the postseason (and hopefully all the way to another World Series win) certainly makes up for in profits alone what they will have to spend on a luxury tax for going over the $189 million mark.

It’s the job of the owners and the front office to be thinking not just of this 2014 season, but down the road. I was thinking about the farm system currently in place, and remembering the show of force from the young guys at last year’s Spring Training. New York isn’t an easy place to play for even your average major league player, let alone those still in the minor leagues. And while a number 1 draft pick could play very well in high school and college and even into the minor leagues, you just never know when he’s going to peak. That may happen while he’s hitting for AA Trenton or it may happen when he’s at the Core Four level (most players are certainly somewhere in between).

This makes every signing, whether a draft pick or trade or free agent or arbitration-eligible, a gamble and not just for the team, but also for the player. Players hitting around .200 know they’re not living up to what the team expects from them, and they certainly know they’re going to hear about it from the fans or the media or even other players. They realize a poor performance could also be a cut or demotion or trade or even involuntary, semi-permanent free agency (also known as being forced into early retirement). The lucky ones get a chance at a change of scenery (like Hughes or Swisher) or even a temporary demotion to rebuild their skills (like Nova or Cervelli).

And those teams are really taking a chance on those players. Because with any luck, that starting pitcher who just doesn’t seem to have a wide range of pitches can become the World’s Greatest Closer (or as you may know him Mariano Rivera). Or that young upstart rookie shortstop, who made so many errors in the minors that everyone questioned his long-term defensive abilities, becomes Derek Jeter.

Go Yankees!

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