As the American League Championship Series opens Friday night in Houston, and Orioles fans are forced to watch the division-rival New York Yankees play for a ticket to the World Series, there’s a lot to learn from the way the Yankees have constructed a club built to win for years to come.
The Orioles are talking about making one final run for a World Series with this core group in 2018. They’re not talking much about all the questions that lie beyond that, when they potentially face a mass free-agent exodus and the possibility of a difficult rebuild.
First, let’s make it clear. There isn’t a team in the majors that has more resources over the long term than the Yankees – they’ve owned an Opening Day payroll of $200 million in eight of the past 10 seasons – and those resources allow them to carry some bad contracts and still assemble a strong young core for the future.
When breaking down the Orioles’ future, executive vice president Dan Duquette highlighted a young core that includes third baseman Manny Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and shortstop Tim Beckham.
But Beckham is the only player who is still guaranteed to be under team control beyond 2019, as Machado becomes a free agent after next season and Schoop can test those waters the following season.
When the Yankees take the field for Game 1 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros, they will field a starting lineup that will likely include six position players who are in their age-27 season or younger.
The Orioles, meanwhile, had five starters over the age of 30, not counting shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was injured for most of the year. Some of that will change in 2018, with Hardy, 34-year-old Seth Smith and possibly Welington Castillo (30) heading for free agency.
Yankees ace Luis Severino is just 23, which makes him younger than both Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, the two young arms the Orioles are banking on to anchor their rotation in the coming years.
The staying power of the Yankees is impressive. Severino and first baseman Greg Bird don’t reach arbitration eligibility until 2019 with Aaron Judge and Gary Sánchez not eligible until 2020, which allows the Yankees to overcome being hamstrung by the big contracts of Jacoby Ellsbury and Aroldis Chapman, who are signed through 2021.
Still, the cheap young talent should allow the Yankees to be under the luxury-tax threshold next season for the first time since the tax’s current system went into play in 2003.
What might be one of the most impressive moves the Yankees made in recent years to retool for the future was having a succession plan at shortstop for replacing Derek Jeter. The Yankees orchestrated a three-team deal to acquire Didi Gregorius to be the club’s shortstop of the future, and it’s worked out well, with the 27-year-old growing into a middle-of-the-order spot much like Schoop has in Baltimore. It’s never easy to replace a special player, and the Yankees did it seamlessly.
The Orioles could have to face that same scenario next offseason in attempting to replace Machado, especially since there’s nothing to indicate his long-term future is in a Baltimore. And the Orioles have no real plans for how to replace a special player, other than moving Ryan Mountcastle to third this season when he struggled at shortstop.
The Orioles do have some promising prospects rising through the system, especially hitting prospects, among them outfielder Austin Hays, catcher Chance Sisco, Mountcastle and outfielder DJ Stewart. We’ll see whether they are impact players sooner than later, but it’s hard to compare them to the Yankees’ core group.
This year, the Orioles will be forced to watch the Yankees play in the postseason, and maybe they’ll learn a little from them along the way.