If your name is Lonn Trost or Randy Levine, the numbers that are important to you are not the 84 wins the Yankees managed this season, or the nine-year World Series drought, or the fact that they have not won a playoff game since Derek Jeter broke his ankle in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS.
No, the numbers that concern you are as follows: 3,063,405 fannies in the seats at Yankee Stadium in 2016, and 218,000 average viewers per game in front of their television sets.
If your job is to monetize the New York Yankees, those are tragic numbers. The first represents a 20 percent drop in attendance since Yankee Stadium 3.0 opened in 2009, and the second represents the first time in their shared 10-history of dueling regional sports networks that the Mets beat the Yankees in TV ratings.
In fact, SNY was baseball’s most-watched regional sports network in 2016, besting the YES Network, according to Bloomberg.com. The Yankee numbers were skewed somewhat by the ongoing dispute between Fox and Comcast, depriving YES of a potential 900,00 homes.
Nevertheless, it is clear that right now, the two New York baseball teams are moving in opposite directions in terms of popularity and fan-base excitement. Remove the inaugural seasons of both ballparks — when many fans come to the games simply to see the new digs — and it is the Mets who are trending upward, their attendance up more than 10 percent, while the Yankees are in a ticket-buying spiral.
For an organization whose financial health depends on a full, or nearly-full Stadium every night, with robust luxury box and merchandising sales, those are ominous numbers indeed.
So how do the Yankees reverse the trend?
Simple. Go out and get Yoenis Cespedes. Today. Spare no expense, but leave yourself an escape hatch in the form of, yes, an opt-out clause.
But go get this guy, because if there is one thing the Yankees are lacking, aside from enough wins to keep them playing deep into October, it is a face to put on their franchise and a name to hang on the marquee.
Face it, fans, as bright as Gary Sanchez’ future appears to be and as strong as their farm system looks after GM Brian Cashman’s trading flurry last July, this is a team that lacks true star power.
There is no more Jeter or A-Rod or Mariano Rivera to lure fans in, especially the casual, star-struck, well-heeled fans the Yankees chose to seduce with their new ballpark, and on whose repeat patronage they now depend.
Because in one of the great marketing blunders of all time, the Yankees business operation has priced the joint for sizzle while the baseball operation is selling you steak. Over the past nine seasons they have charged you for glamor while fielding some of the blandest, least colorful Yankee teams in memory, systematically weeding out players with any semblance of flair or personality.
That may work well with hardcore, purist baseball fans, but it is clear the Yankees no longer want them in the ballpark, as evidenced by the ticket prices, and confirmed this off-season by the decision to tear out yet another chunk of bleacher seats to make room for “amenities” that appeal mostly to people who aren’t all that interested in the game.
A player like Cespedes could, in fact, appeal to both ends of the fan spectrum. For people like us, who care about wins and losses, a power bat in the outfield — Cespedes has hit 66 home runs in his past two seasons despite playing at Comerica Park and CitiField, both decidedly not hitters ballparks — would add a much-needed jolt to the Yankees offense.
Sources have told me that the Yankees are leery of Cespedes because of his reputation, which seems odd considering they are hot and heavy after Aroldis Chapman, whose rep is probably 10 times worse. And to add Cespedes would probably mean the end of Brett Gardner’s days in pinstripes.
But both those “problems” can be easily rectified.
As good a guy and as loyal a soldier as Gardner has been for the Yankees, the 1-2 punch envisioned at the top of the lineup with him and Jacoby Ellsbury has never materialized, and with both of them turning 34 next season, it probably never will. Ellsbury, with four seasons and $89 million left on his contract, isn’t going anywhere, but there is enough interest in Gardner around the league that the Yankees could likely move him and get some prospects in return.
That clears a spot on the field for Cespedes, and how tempting is it to think of a 2017 Yankees lineup with Sanchez and Cespedes hitting 3-4, or vice versa?
Plus, Cespedes brings the kind of color and personality the Yankees have been lacking since they allowed Robinson Cano to leave for Seattle via free agency in 2013.
Yes, I know what you are thinking: Cespedes is an indifferent fielder at best, a lazy baserunner, and with the emergence of Sanchez, a more seasoned Aaron Judge and a recovering Greg Bird, the Yankees will have enough pop in their lineup already.
To the first, you would need to ask Ellsbury to cover a little more ground to his right. To the second, Cano didn’t exactly burn it to first base either, but who would you rather have at second base next year, him or Starlin Castro? and that’s why I propose that any Cespedes deal come with an opt-out clause after the first season, so that both the player and team know they are on a trial basis. For the player, it can act as a motivator. For the team, a safety net. It’s a no-lose situation for both.
And if there is any lesson to be learned from 2016, it is that it is foolish to assume that a rookie’s success over two months of a season will automatically continue the following year, witness Luis Severino. There will be adjustments made for Sanchez, and it will be up to him to adjust back. Severino, even more highly-touted than Sanchez as a prospect, wasn’t able to do it last year. Sanchez may be able to, but it will be a lot easier with another long-ball threat in the Yankees lineup.
As for Judge, his 50% strikeout rate (42 in 84 ABs) last year was more than alarming; it was disastrous. He, too, needs to make major adjustments. And Bird missed all of last season with an injury, so it may be overly optimistic to expect him to excel right away.
Besides, none of them has the star power of Cespedes, who by reputation and name value alone can put a lot of those fannies back in the Legends Seats and on the living room sofa.
Plus, it deals a blow to a crosstown rival that for one of the few times in its history is actually posing a threat to the Yankees dominance.
It’s not often that the Yankees need help from the Mets, but the numbers don’t lie.
One of the New York baseball teams is trending upwards, the other downwards. For the Yankees, signing a player like Cespedes could be an important step in reversing that trend.