The crumbling of the Yankee Empire

The Yankees aren’t scary anymore. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Bronx Bombers were an evil empire, led by George Steinbrenner, that crushed the hopes of any team that dared challenge them. They were an all-powerful and deep-pocketed dynasty that had won five World Championships, seven pennants and 13 AL  East titles. But the Yankees have fallen from their pedestal.

In 2013, they failed to make the postseason for just the second time since 1995. This year, they are competitive, but are hindered by issues like age, health and an inability to hit in the clutch. In 2012, the team as a whole hit an astounding 245 home runs, though that number went down to 144 in the following year.

About two thirds of the way through 2014, they have managed just 101. For a club that has traditionally been home to legendary sluggers like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Mickey Mantle, that is shockingly few. There are many reasons that help explain the Yankees’ fall from greatness, but age and the lack of a good farm system in particular come to mind.

A team built on aging stars

Out of all the starting position players on this team, not one is under the age of 30. Derek Jeter has been one of the greatest players of all-time, but he is 40 years old and about to retire. Mark Teixeira, 34, has 19 home runs, but is batting just .229. A career .276  hitter, the last time he hit over .256 was 2009. 30 year old catcher Brian McCann was signed in the off season for $85 million, and is batting a disappointing .236 with 12 home runs. Even the usually consistent outfielder/DH Carlos Beltran, another free agent signing at 37, has just a .248 batting average. Finally, former ace CC Sabathia, 34, struggled mightily in his first eight outings, then underwent season-ending knee surgery.

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The absurdity of long-term free agent contracts

Over the past several years in Major League Baseball, player salaries have risen, and with them, the value of free agent contracts. It seems that every offseason, players whose contracts are up or have become free agent-eligible for the first timed are increasingly hyped.

Teams fight over them, and they are eventually offered deals that will pay them big money well past their primes. Sometimes, they will live up to these contracts for the first few years, but eventually, reality sets in and the numbers drop. However, they continue to get paid like superstars, even when they are average players at best.

The problem is not that these free agents are good players. For the most part, recipients of huge, $100 million plus contracts have been amazing throughout their careers. But once they are free agents, they are often in the middle of or near the end of their primes. Most analysts agree that a player’s best years will occur between the ages of 25 and 32.

This period fluctuates, but the point is that once you reach your mid-thirties, your body begins to break down. The problem is that most players are not eligible to be free agents until their late twenties. Another possibility is that they were been signed to a team-friendly contract early in their careers, one that expires at around their thirtieth birthday.

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