What the Yankees Can Learn From the Cardinals and Red Sox

This is a little painful to write, but here goes:

For the first time since 1999, the teams with the best records in their respective leagues met in the World Series. The Boston Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals four games to two to win their third World Series title in 10 seasons. Both teams finished with 97 wins , but their roads to the Fall Classic were very different.

The Cardinals were in the World Series for the second time in three years. After surviving a tough five game series against upstart Pittsburgh, they clinched their 19th NL pennant after disposing of the star-studded Dodgers in six games thanks to some homegrown prospects, including NLCS MVP and 21 year-old rookie RHP Michael Wacha.

Despite the loss, the Cards will continue to be one of the top teams in baseball for a long time, thanks to a plethora of young aces like Wacha, Joe Kelly, and Shelby Miller. Their bullpen is loaded with power arms who throw close to 100 mph. They also have young studs coming up like OF Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong, who got some burn in the Fall Classic.

Let’s not also forget that the Cardinals’ haven’t even been in position to draft so high. Wacha was drafted with the pick they received from the Angels when Albert Pujols left in 2012. He and Miller were selected 19th overall in their respective drafts (2012 and 2009). Kelly was a third rounder in 2009. Oscar Taveras was an undrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic as a 16 year-old in 2008.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, completed one of the most stunning turn-arounds in sports in years, going from last place in 2012 to World champions. After they dumped over $270 million on the Dodgers, Boston signed scrappers like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and ALCS MVP Koji Uehara to short-term deals, and had several underachieving players have bounce back seasons, lifting them to their best record since 2004.

Everything went right for Boston this year. They could have easily settled for 85 wins in maybe a wild card spot, but they won the whole darn thing. Their three top pitchers, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and John Lackey all bounced back big time this year. David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia managed to stay healthy. Finally, of course, all their short-term investments came up paydirt.

So what does this have to do with the Yankees? Well, a lot. The Yankees missed the playoffs winning just 85 games this year, as you all know. A lot of that has to do with the injuries, but a common theme every season for them, the age and lack of young talent, finally started to bite them in 2013. Instead of young guys, the Yankees regularly started has-beens and never-beens like Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki, and Chris Stewart every single day.

The Cards and Sox (dare I say it) have provided the blueprint for greatness for the Yankees. Both teams, while having high payrolls, were built by bright GMs with smart short-term deals and outstanding minor league development, both of which the Yankees currently lack.

The surplus of pitching the Cardinals have from their own system is absolutely ridiculous, featuring three young aces and several power arms in their bullpen. Of course, don’t forget Oscar Taveras, a top five prospect in baseball. The Yankees have had young arms too, but poor development and bad luck had minimized their impact in the last several years. Let’s just say Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, and Shelby Miller could end being what Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy did not become.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox, after paying much less than they did during their fateful shopping spree in the 2010-11 offseason. But also, they have plenty of homegrown guys on their roster as well. Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Jacoby Ellsbury were Theo Epstein products all first making their marks in their last title run in 2007.

Now, they have plenty of young talent coming up next year led by Xander Bogaerts, who hit .296/.412/.481/.893 in 34 plate appearances in these playoffs. He’ll likely be right at home on the Red Sox’ left side of the infield, possibly Pedroia’s double play partner. The Yankees need a Xander Bogaerts.

Basically, the Cardinals and Red Sox are trying to become what the Yankees have been since 1995: a long run of success sustained by homegrown talent from within as well as some high priced talent. The Yankees need to find a way to get back to that.

The Yankees don’t have a Michael Wacha or a Xander Bogaerts. They need one with Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and soon Derek Jeter gone to retirement. There’s no youth movement coming in next year, maybe the year or two after. That’s totally unacceptable. Like Boston and St. Louis, the Yankees need a strong young core like in the 90s if they’re going to get back to being legitimate World Series contenders over the long term..

If the Yankees are going to be competitive in 2014, they have no choice but to be big spenders. Their likely targets include catcher Brian McCann (enough of Chris Stewart already!), Jacoby Ellsbury or Carlos Beltran (no more Ichiro and Vernon Wells! Please!), Matt Garza or Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka (easy upgrade over Phil Hughes!), and of course, Robinson Cano. Cano is by far the best second baseman in the game, and he demands big money like A-Rod or Teixeira, so the Yankees are damned if they do sign him and damned if they don’t.

But that’s another problem in itself. Is solving the problem on the short term again still worth it if it means they aren’t immediately focused on rebuilding? Keep in mind what the Red Sox did this season was nothing short of amazing. They had everything go right for them, and the risk was minimal, since they signed several mid-range free agents to short-term contracts.

Signing guys to long-term deals into their mid to late 30s is a huge risk that the Yankees are willing to take on. But is it worth it? Everything will also need to go right for them for them to win in 2014, as it did this year for Boston. Like Lackey, Buchholz, and Lester for Boston, the Yankees need a bounce back season for their ace CC Sabathia. They also need whoever is left on offense to be healthy, especially Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira.

But hey, if the Red Sox could go from 93 losses to World Champions, it’s not impossible for the Yankees to return to glory next year.

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