A Duke helmet and an Indiana helmet sat on a small table and bracketed the Pinstripe Bowl trophy that will be at stake for the first-time participants at Yankee Stadium the day after Christmas. As for the baseball team that plays there regularly, it sits in an overall state of transition.
The Yankees haven’t been diving into the deep end of the free-agent pool, with only $12 million or so coming off the books and having big dollars tied up with Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran in the final year of their contracts and with Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia having two years to go. But there’s a plan, according to team president Randy Levine, and it’s “to basically get younger, get more athletic.”
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“I think at the end of the day, this is becoming a young players’ game, and I think it’s important to recognize that,” Levine said Tuesday following the Stadium news conference to hype the bowl game. “I think that it’s been shown that you don’t need a $200-million payroll to win because I believe, except for us in 2009, nobody’s come close to that. Maybe the Red Sox did one year.
“So I think you can win — and I think you need a blend of good young players and veterans and a lot of luck to go through the playoffs.”
Last offseason, the Yankees acquired two younger guys who worked out, Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi. Luis Severino and Greg Bird arrived from the minors and made impressive debuts. This offseason, they have acquired outfielder Aaron Hicks. Brian Cashman, now at the winter meetings, has been looking for more younger, controllable players. Another starting pitcher is wanted.
So are the Yankees starting to rebuild? No and yes.
“We can’t rebuild here,” Levine said. “That’s not what we’re about, our fan base. We’re trying to win every year and we’re trying to get younger and transition. Most teams, they have two, three, four years to rebuild. We don’t do that.
“So the fact that we are rebuilding, all these young players being introduced while we’re being competitive — we were a game from going on — I think that’s very hard to do. I think it’s a real accomplishment.”
The Yankees won 87 games and drew the wild card, losing the elimination playoff game to Houston.
“We made the playoffs last year and were in first place for a long time, just faded there at the end,” Levine said. “So we have a really good team. I think the injuries to Tex and Eovaldi at the end put a brake on us.”
Asked if the Yankees will return to chasing big-ticket free agents after some of their present contracts expire, Levine said, “It all depends where the team is, what the market is. The philosophy is to build a team that’s sustainable and goes on for a long, long time. Very rarely you get like a Core Four and those type of players. The idea is to replicate that.”
How about keeping a potential new Core Three — Severino, Bird and Aaron Judge?
“I don’t think those guys are going to be traded, although you never say never to anybody,” Levine said. “ . . . I think the fans really like the fact that there are, for the first time in years, a lot of really exciting young Yankee players.”