TAMPA, Fla. -- Gone are the days when the New York Yankees would in one calendar year single out a slew of baseball's best free agents and pledge bank-busting contracts to them.
As general manager Brian Cashman likes to say, the game has changed. A series of competitive-balance measures has been implemented in the sport in recent years -- in part because of the Yankees' free-spending ways of the past -- altering the way the team does business.
The focus in the Bronx has shifted, even if the expectations of some fans haven't. This past offseason and these early days of spring training are proof of just how vast the change has been.
The current Yankees mantra echoes one from the 1990s dynasty years: Identify young, high-potential talent, both domestically and internationally, sign those players early or collect them through savvy trades (see Paxton, James for this winter's example), groom them through the minor league system, and retain them as early in the pre-arbitration window as possible.
It worked with the "Core Four" of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte -- and the rest of the gang that helped key five World Series titles between 1996 and 2009.
"It's huge to have a core group and guys who know how to win and want to win and are doing things the right way," Pettitte, a new special adviser to Cashman, told the New York Daily News earlier this week.
"I know Aaron came over from Minnesota, but when you have a core group of guys, but I know you are talking about me, Mariano, Derek and Jorge. We were all in the minors together, we were on bus trips together, just gives you a little bit different feel."
The Yankees' front office hopes in the next year or two that it can start forming that core without getting crushed financially. To use another Cashman-ism: "Every dollar affects other dollars."
That's part of the reason why there hasn't been much hand-wringing going on at 1 Steinbrenner Drive this spring over Manny Machado signing with the Padres and Bryce Harper almost certainly signing elsewhere, too.
"We imported a big-ticket item the previous year in [Giancarlo] Stanton," Cashman said last week. "We have big-ticket items on this club now and they're going to become more and more costly sooner rather than later."
They certainly will.
If you followed certain fans on social media this offseason, you saw scenarios that had the Yankees paying big money in the years to come for Stanton, Harper and/or Machado (or even both), Nolan Arenado and Aaron Judge (not to mention the money Jacoby Ellsbury still is making despite having not played a major league game in 17 months because of various injuries).
The Yankees' ability to pay a penalty for going over the final threshold of the luxury tax aside, that's a lot of dollars, with much of it going to players coming from outside the organization.
That's moot now, with Machado and Arenado (and soon, we assume, Harper) no longer in the picture because of their recent deals. Arenado signed an extension with the Rockies earlier this week.
"It's good for him, I want to be like that one day," Yankees third baseman and homegrown talent Miguel Andujar said Wednesday, laughing when asked about Arenado's eight-year, $260 million deal. Despite being the American League Rookie of the Year runner-up last season, Andujar, who will turn 24 Saturday, has been chided over his defense, and Arenado was seen as a possible upgrade.
After his excited proclamation in English, the Dominican Republic-born Andujar slipped back into Spanish, through a interpreter: "Joking aside, that does impact the position where I find myself. But I'm going to keep enjoying the game, and playing hard and giving my best and enjoying everything that happens around the game."
This time next year, Andujar and his fellow sophomore, Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres, could be answering the same questions another Yankees superstar has already faced this spring.
Asked on the first day of full-team workouts whether his representatives have spoken with the team about a possible extension to avoid arbitration next year, Judge shook his head.
"Nah, nothing," he said. "I'm focused on the season."
Judge's pending situation will further highlight the Yankees' grow-and-groom credo, albeit with likely far superior numbers than the four-year, $40 million extension Severino agreed to, and the seven-year, $70 million deal Hicks signed.
After all, Judge isn't simply another star player on the Yankees' roster. The two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year is viewed as the face of the franchise, if not the entire sport.
"Those are real dollars that have taxable consequences because we're already in a tax threshold," Cashman said of the new deals for Severino and Hicks. "But it's also an example of our owner [Hal Steinbrenner] trying to walk that line of the present and the future and make good, sound business decisions that invest in this franchise so we can be the best we can possibly be."
Sure, the Yankees haven't quite made it to the World Series after knocking on the door two years ago with a trip to the ALCS, and then winning 100 games and getting bounced in the ALDS last season. But their present still looks promising.
In addition to Severino and Hicks, the organization has arguably baseball's best bullpen, anchored by Dellin Betances, a six-year veteran who also could be closing in on a new Yankees contract. Betances said earlier this month his agent has begun talks with the team.
Didi Gregorius, another key player acquired, like Hicks, via trade, also has reportedly been the target of preliminary extension conversations. He's currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but could seem a logical re-signing once he returns later this summer. Enjoying a career year in 2018, Gregorius was growing into his prime before suffering a right elbow injury in last year's ALDS.
"We're making great choices so far, especially Severino," Judge said about the recent extensions. "What he brings to this ballclub as our ace, it's impressive."
Earlier this week, Hicks echoed Severino in saying he agreed to his contract -- both were largely viewed as team-friendly -- because he believed the Yankees had the potential to go on a string of championship runs.
"This team has World Series potential," Hicks said. "I want to be here. The guys in the clubhouse, I want to fight for them. I want to go to war for them."
While the next few steps in this retention plan are murky right now, the Yankees appear pleased with the overall strategy.
"I like the plan that we're executing. It's sound," Cashman said. "Does it guarantee anything? It doesn't guarantee anything, but it's a healthy road that we're walking. And I hope when the dust settles with all the personalities and characters and the talent, the most important part of it, that it's going to have that big payoff for the fan base again."