Here at Beyond the Box Score, we're kicking off the playoffs by writing about each team lucky enough to play in game 163 and beyond. Welcome to the Yankees article! Ten years ago, this would've been the easiest of them all to write. In 2005, the Yankees' opening day payroll was $210,000,000. There were only two other teams that needed nine digits! The Yankees single-handedly made up about 9.5 percent of spending league-wide. In 2015, that figure has fallen to 5.8 percent. Not only are there plenty of teams in the same range as the Yankees, there is another playoff-bound team outspending them by more than $60 million. These are not George Steinbrenner's Yankees.
In recent years, the Yankees brand has shifted, so that the name calls to mind not crushing financial might, but instead surgically-repaired joints. Or at least more surgically-repaired joints and less crushing financial might than in the past. In the last five years, the Bombers have made the playoffs three times, losing in the ALDS once and the ALCS twice. So what makes this year different? You know the answer.
In many ways, A-Rod represents the marriage of the old Yankees with the new: a heinously expensive, old-as-dirt, formerly excellent player, successfully returning from a lengthy steroid suspension and trolling the crap out of all your cranky uncles. He is the hero the Yankees deserve, and if they win the World Series, he will inevitably play a major role. I'm not just talking about poetic justice and giving Bud Selig ulcers; Rodriguez has been an important cog in this year's recovery from a lost 2014.
|Position||2014 WAR||2015 WAR||Diff|
At DH this year, A-Rod was a massive improvement over the 2014 Yankees' strategy of "Alfonso Soriano and leftovers." The only larger improvements on a positional basis came at RF, where Carlos Beltran has remembered how to hit, and at shortstop. Hmm, what changed at shortstop? Oh, that's right; Didi Gregorious ends the 2015 regular season with 2.9 WAR, or better than any of Derek Jeter's marks since 2009. In their own way, both Rodriguez and Jeter are responsible for this year's success in the Bronx, the former by returning and the latter by leaving.
There are of course other reasons to think the Yankees could keep playing for a couple more weeks. They're an extremely well-rounded team, as can be observed in the above chart; the worst position player is probably Stephen Drew, and everyone else is at least competent. Not having to give plate appearances to any truly terrible hitters, or put someone in the field who barely knows which hand their glove goes on, is a good thing. Their starting pitching situation is similar; while they don't have a true ace, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda can both do a pretty good impression of one from time to time. And while it gets somewhat thin behind those two, being able to give Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller the ball for three or four innings means that not much is required from Luis Severino or Adam Warren if and when they end up starting.
Rationally, the Yankees are a decent team and probably face pretty steep odds in the playoffs. After 2014 it would be foolish to dismiss any team outright, but the Yankees truly aren't one of the best teams playing in October. But if they win the World Series, it will manage to feel totally unsurprising, and there will be one man to thank: the emblematic Yankee for the postmodern age, Alex Rodriguez.
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Henry Druschel is a Contributor Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @henrydruschel.