The Reds made a bit of news yesterday when they announced a fairly standard procedural roster move. Pitcher Rookie Davis was activated from the 60-day disabled list, cleared through waivers, and was sent to Louisville. It isn’t a huge deal, but a few people noted that Davis is the last player in the Reds organization who was acquired from the Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman trade back in December of 2015. Everyone else the Reds got has been cut without making any real contributions at the big-league level.
It strikes me as odd that the New York Yankees play in Major League Baseball, the very same league in which my favorite Cincinnati Reds play their baseball. They seem to be from a completely different planet, a planet where the rivers flow with rich red wine and the hills are made of sumptuous cheeses. Everyone drives Cadillacs and wears name-brand jeans and all of the children’s textbooks are up to date. All the while we live down here on little old planet Earth.
The Yankees have been good for basically my entire conscious life. I was just 12 in 1996 when they won the World Series. That was a big deal for them because they hadn’t won it since 1978. That’s apparently a substantial drought or something.
They have had zero losing seasons since then.
We down here on planet Earth tend to piss venom in the general direction of New York to show our antipathy. They buy up all the best players and basically just bully the rest of the league into submission with their unfathomable wealth. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves. The system isn’t fair. We can’t really explain their dominance any other way.
But c’mon: as much as we complain about it, it cannot be so simple as that. The Yankees currently have the second-best record in baseball and I really want to know how they’ve done it. And the answer isn’t “go buy Giancarlo Stanton.”
Let’s go back to 2014. It might surprise you to learn that the Yankees and Reds were in very similar positions that year. Both teams were holding together a core of players in hopes that they had one more go at it in them. But of course, they didn’t have it. They missed the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since The Strike and the likes of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Ichiro, Brian Roberts, and Alfonso Soriano were very old and got significant at-bats. The Yankees needed to reboot.
Of course, they would wait about a year too long to start theirs, just as the Reds did.
This is all familiar, isn’t it? Looking at the Yankees of today, it is wild to think that they were basically in the same spot as an organization as the Reds were back in 2014. Obviously, the Yankees have trod a far different path than the Reds have in the intervening years, but how? How did they build their currently successful team and how did they do it so quickly?
Well, it turns out that they did it in pretty much the exact same way the Reds have built their current team. They just did a much better job.
Looking at their top contributors (as measured by bWAR) this season, they acquired three of them via the regular old Rule IV Draft. One is Brett Gardner, the old battleship of an outfielder who has made a decent career for himself by playing great defense and getting on base a little bit. But he was drafted way back in 2005 in the third round. That same draft and same round also produced Micah Owings, Matt Maloney, and the Reds selection, Zach Ward.
Dellin Betances was taken in the eighth round in 2006 and he has been one of the best relief pitchers in baseball for five years.
The towering battle elephant in the room here is Aaron Judge. He is currently on the DL, but he is following his Rookie of the Year campaign with a perfectly respectable 5.2 bWAR and a slash of .285/.398/.548. He was a first-round selection in 2013 after Phil Ervin, Jonathan Crawford, and Eric Jagielo.
My goodness, the Yankees are really, really good at making trades. Four of their top performers were acquired via trade and only one of them is Giancarlo Stanton. It is unequivocally true that the Yankees and only the Yankees, because of their mythos, stature, and wealth, could have pulled off such a trade as the Great Giancarlo Stanton Heist of 2017. So yes, you are completely justified in shouting curse words into your pillow because of that. They are lucky, but they are also really, really good. Turns out, it is better to be lucky and good. But the fact remains that the Reds would be worse off if they were the ones hijacking the Marlins for Stanton. He’s good, but not so good that I want to pay him $30 million a season until he is 37. So let them have it.
No, the Yankees’ brilliance is more prominently on display when you take a look at the other less-prominent trades they have made in recent years. Aaron Hicks was a top pick of the Twins and a prospect of some renown back in his day. But he never really clicked for them and the Yankees got him for faceless back-up catcher John Ryan Murphy just six weeks before that Aroldis Chapman trade at the end of 2015. Hicks is now basically Scott Schebler with more walks.
You know Didi Gregorius. They Reds traded him in a three-team deal back before the 2013 season to get one year of Shin-soo Choo. He spent two years with the Diamondbacks before they sent him to New York in a three-team deal.
The Yankees only gave up Shane Greene to get him. Greene has exactly one good season out of the Tigers’ bullpen.
Didi, of course, has become the Yankees everyday shortstop and has hit 20 or more home runs for three straight seasons. He even earned some down-ballot MVP votes last year.
And then there is Gleyber Torres, who kinda brings us back to my opening paragraph. The Yankees got Aroldis Chapman in hopes that he could anchor their bullpen for the 2016 season. They fell short, so at the deadline that season they sent him to the Cubs in exchange for Torres and a few other players. The length of this whole piece here is trying to answer the question “what do the Yankees do differently from the Reds?” but the short answer to that is that when the Reds trade Aroldis Chapman, they get Rookie Davis. When the Yankees trade him, they get Gleyber Torres.
International Free Agents
If you were to ask my personal opinion and kindly suggest that I not go on and on writing about it, I’d say this is where the Yankees really separate themselves from the Reds. Their staff ace Luis Severino and their Rookie of the Year candidate at third base Miguel Andujar were both signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011. And if you look at their list of top prospects, four of their top ten were signed as international amateur free agents.
The Reds went nuts to the baseboards during the 2016-17 international signing period. They spent millions and millions of dollars on Alfredo Rodriguez, Jose Israel Garcia, Vladimir Gutierrez, and others. Unfortunately, as Tony Wolfe pointed out last month, that has not really turned out well for anyone involved.
But that actually distracts from what exactly the Yankees are doing here. Back in 2011, Severino signed with the Yankees for just $225,000. Andujar signed for just $700,000. Their top prospects, Estevan Florial, Jonathan Loaisigna, Domingo Acevedo, and Luis Medina signed for just about $500k put together. It is not the case that the Yankees dominate the international market by simply outspending everyone. What they do better than basically every other team is identify and develop the most talented ballplayers out of Latin America. They are the best at scouting and they are the best at development.
The Reds haven’t really developed a Latin player since Johnny Cueto.
The Yankees were able to rebuild their major league team and turn it into a World Series contender without even posting a losing season. Meanwhile, the Reds are well on their way to a fourth-straight season losing more than 90 games. This comparison isn’t meant to disparage the Reds’ ownership and front office, but rather to show how impressive the Yankees organization is. They have not gone through a rebuild cycle to build their winner the way the Cubs and Astros and Phillies and Braves and so many other teams have done in recent years. They did it by walking and chewing gum at the same time. They have been able to focus on adding talent to their major league roster while also focusing on stocking their minor league system with premium talent and developing those young players into all stars. They are wearing bifocals while everyone else is getting by with squinting.
All of their money is just icing on the cake.