The Yankees continue to ensure that their fans will be unhappy most years

38 Comments

George Steinbrenner started and perpetuated the notion that a New York Yankees season is a failure if it doesn’t end with a World Series title.  Not that winning a championship is the goal — it’s obviously every team’s goal — but that in addition to it being the goal, it is the only acceptable outcome. That a baseball season is a binary proposition: triumph or disgrace.

I get it. It’s motivational and, as the Yankees won a lot of World Series titles between 1996 and 2001, it served as a nice little way for Yankees fans to take pride in their team, its rich history and, of course, for the Yankees to build a unique brand identity.

But it’s also unrealistic. Even with all of their advantages over other teams, baseball is still tough enough and random enough to where nothing makes a World Series title even a close-to-good bet.  I mean, they’ve been among the best teams in baseball for the past decade and they have one title in that time. That’s awesome — better than most — but it’s evidence that no matter what you do, there is luck and chance and stuff that enters into the deal.

But in addition to “World Series or bust” being somewhat unrealistic, it also creates a sense of entitlement in some fans and a built-in disappointment-creation device for others. Think about it: if your old man tells you that nothing but the best will do, you’re likely to become either some hyper-competitive kind of person or an often-depressed one. While I’m fortunate to know several grounded Yankees fans, it’s not a stretch to say that there are many who are either really angry or really morose today.

And even though Steinbrenner is dead, the expectations remain the same. Just ask team president Randy Levine, who summed up the season thusly today:

“We are the Yankees,” Levine told ESPNNewYork.com on Friday as he and the franchise coped with being eliminated at home in Game 5 of the ALDS by the Tigers. “That is the way The Boss set it up. When you don’t win the World Series, it is a bitter disappointment and not a successful year.”

Let me ask you, Yankees fans: did you feel like you just wasted the last six or seven months of your life?  While, sure, the ALDS was a disappointing, are you bitter? Is it a dark time and do you face a brutal winter, or did you actually, you know, have a lot of fun following a damn good baseball team this year?

Don’t worry: if you’re not bitterly disappointed — if you actually can settle for less-than-a-championship most years — I won’t tell anyone.

Mike Trout says Harper and Machado’s free agency experience sent up “red flags”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mike Trout signed a record-setting contract extension last week, agreeing to ten more years tacked on to his existing deal at $35.45 million a year. It’s certainly nothing to sneeze at and, I’m quite sure, Trout will not lose any sleep over financial matters for the rest of his days.

One wonders, though, what he might’ve commanded had he hit free agency. If he had been bid on by more than one team. Sure, there is some upward limit to how much even a guy of Trout’s caliber might get, but you have to assume that if a couple more teams were able to get in on that action that that $35.45 million a year could’ve been topped.

Did he give any thoughts to testing the market? Maybe not serious ones, but he certainly observed the market this past winter and didn’t much care for what he saw. He said this to Fabiran Ardaya of The Athletic last night:

“I kind of saw what Bryce and Manny went through and it drew a red flag for me. I talked to Manny and Bryce. It was a tough couple months in the offseason. They put it perspective in my mind.”

He added, “I obviously want to be an Angel for life. That was a big key,” so it’s not like this was purely some matter of Trout being scared off the market. But it’s also the case that the market has become fraught for even the best players in the game and has influenced their decision making to a considerable degree. Part of Mike Trout’s decision to sign that deal was how unwelcoming the free agent market looked like it’d be even for him.

And it’s not just Trout. To see how unpalatable free agency has become one need merely look at the bevy of contract extensions agreed to over the past week or two. Each one of those, however lucrative they may be, represent a player foregoing the open market in favor of negotiating with a single bidder with greater leverage as a result. While some of those choices, like Trout’s, do not cost the players much more than, perhaps, some rounding error on his ultimate contract, others, like pre-arbitration players, are likely foregoing tens of millions of dollars in order to make a deal now instead of a few years later. And, of course, each team that signs a player to an extension is less likely to be active in an upcoming free agency period, reducing the number of bidders and thus applying downward pressure on salaries for those players who do hit the open market.

For the first century or so of baseball history the Reserve Clause ruled baseball economics. Under that system, a team which possessed the rights to a player could not be deprived of that player’s services if it did not want to be. When it came time to decide what to pay a player only one team could bid, giving it all the leverage. Then free agency came. Owners fought like hell against its implementation. They lost that battle and then attempted to roll it back as much as they could, even employing illegal tactics at times in an effort to do so, but they didn’t have much luck.

In the past two or three years, however, they have done what decades of efforts could not do: they have effectively taken away a full and open free market for players and have returned the game to a state in which the team which holds a players’ rights is, effectively, the only bidder for his services and has the power to retain him on favorable terms.

It’s not the restoration of the old reserve clause, exactly, but when the best player in baseball since Willie Mays is wary of the open market, you have to admit that it’s far, far closer to it than anyone thought the owners would ever get.