The New York Yankees committed $490 m to player acquisitions this offseason. They have added $101.9 m in 2014 payroll on acquired players.
The New York Yankees are also running out an infield on Opening Day that will consist of the recently injured Mark Teixeira (34), the recently injured Brian Roberts (36), the recently injured Derek Jeter (40), and the not-recently injured (but also not very good), Kelly Johnson (32). The Yankee rotation after the newly-signed Masahiro Tanaka consists of 33-year old C.C. Sabathia (drop in velocity and worst statistical Major League season in 2013), 39-year old Hiroki Kuroda, the inconsistent Ivan Nova, and likely Michael Pineda who is two years removed from last throwing a major league pitch.
We could run down the Yankee’s outfielders as well, but the point is clear – the Yankees went on a carefree spending spree largely because they had to in order to fill massive holes. Even after spending so freely, the team is still a team with a lot of performance question marks.
Offseason moves are context based. I loathe offseason grade articles because the vast majority of the time they either ignore this fact or downplay it. The Yankees are a team with a lot of money that had a lot of holes to fill. They were (are) an aging team so there was little upside on their current roster (more downside) and their minor league system offers almost no immediate solutions for 2014. Their only hope was to browse the free agent market and spend big there, which they did. It is clear they are a better team than when the offseason started but is that improvement enough given the base team they went into the winter with? That remains to be seen.
This relates to the Orioles in a very specific way. First, I am not suggesting that the organization has had a great offseason in terms of player personnel moves. Even when taking into account the Birds’ situation entering the offseason and the fact that they are not going to spend like their rivals in New York they still have certainly not done enough to warrant glowing reviews.
At the same time, we can go around the Orioles infield and see that (almost) to a man they compare far more favorably to the Yankees. Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, and Manny Machado unquestionably trump their New York counterparts. At second base, an argument could definitely be made that Ryan Flaherty offers more value than Brian Roberts on defense alone. Flaherty’s offensive upside – while Roberts is in an age-induced decline – also likely tips the scales in Ryan’s favor.
That is a bit unfair since infield was a weak area for the Yankees entering this winter while the Baltimore infield was far more stable. A better comparison might be to look at corner outfield and starting pitching. The Yankees needed to upgrade at corner outfield and in the rotation – which they did with the signings of Carlos Beltran, Masahiro Tanaka, and Hiroki Kuroda – just like the Orioles wished to. The O’s have addressed their corner outfield need by signing a veritable motley crew of low-risk outfielders while the need for a starter has gone unfulfilled thus far.
Some of that is failure on the O’s part but some of that decision-making process can be attributed to the fact that the Orioles have alternatives (to high-priced free agents) that the Yankees just do not. Those alternatives are largely internal – improvement from existing players and from the farm system.
Even if the Yankees had a player returning from injury, an intriguing minor league acquisition, and a promising prospect as corner outfield options, they still might have gone the free agent route to address that outfield need. However, they didn’t have those options which no doubt forced their hand to going down the free agent path. The upper reaches of their farm system offers no immediate corner outfield help and there were no injured players they could hope for a return to form from. The Orioles have some upside in Henry Urrutia and Nolan Reimold that they can rely on in lieu of signing a high-priced free agent. They had alternatives whereas the Yankees really did not.
Does that mean the Orioles were right to avoid the upper levels of the free agent market like the plague and rely on a mix of internal options and low-risk acquisitions? Not necessarily. Only time will tell the story on that. However, it is also too early to declare that they are wrong to pin their postseason hopes on a guy like Urrutia who has hit at every level he has played at for any period of time or to place a bet on Reimold being the solid hitter he has always been in the majors when healthy. It was a reasonable alternative they had and should not be foolishly condemned for choosing that path.
Not to beat this point into the ground, but the starter situation can be looked at the same way. The Yankees entered November with really two definitive, healthy Major League starters on the roster: Sabathia and Nova. The Orioles entered with four (Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris). The Yankees had one injured starter returning (Pineda) but no help in the organization beyond that. The Orioles had Kevin Gausman as a viable opening day alternative and varying degrees of Major League ready depth between T.J. McFarland and Steve Johnson. Once again, the Orioles and Yankees entered the offseason in different positions in terms of starting pitching needs which has been reflected in the opposing ways they have addressed those needs this winter.
Money is a factor – it always is – but that is part of the context. The Yankees have very little actual spending limitations. The O’s have far more. Whether self-imposed or not on the Orioles’ part, that is the reality of the situation.
At the end of the day, what really matters is how the Orioles’ roster stacks up against the competition rather than how much money they spent relative to their competitors or how many moves they made relative to their competitors. The Yankees won the spending and move battle because they started with far less. A side by side comparison of the two rosters reveals a different story – one where the Orioles are arguably equal or ahead of their AL East rivals from New York.