Friday, January 16, 2009

The New York Yankees

I have been wanting to write on the Yankees ever since they acquired Mark Tiexiera, finishing off (are they done yet?) a spending spree that has some small market owners calling for a salary cap. If you're interested in a counter argument to the one I'm about to make there is an impassioned one at Grim Rippers Report, which you can click on from my blog list on the side bar.

First, let's look at how the Yankees did. From a pure baseball standpoint, putting dollars aside, they got the two best baseball players available in CC and Tex. Let's start with Tex. Has there ever (and I'm talking in the history of the game) been a more attractive free agent? He's young, but still has a lot of major league experience. Most free agents are at least entering the decline phase of their careers. (I'm planning a post on modern free agency and why it may be dead.) Plus, in addition to being a great hitter, he's a gold glove first baseman. By signing him, the Yankees improve in every aspect of the game. First, he solidifies first base for them. Second, he makes the other infielders better. No doubt Jeter and A-Rod will appreciate him not only snaggin' their errant throws, but he gives the two of them more confidence which will result in fewer errant throws. With improved infield defense, he also gives a boost to the pitching staff, especially Wang, who is a ground ball specialist (and a Blue Sock). And as a switch-hitting OPS machine in the middle of the line-up it's hard to imagine a better signing. The only negative, from a team standpoint, is that he is represented by Scott Boras. Finally, the Yanks kept him away from Boston, who arguably needed him more. Tex would have done all of the above for the Red Sox (no relation) just as he will for the Yanks. Roco Baldelli will not.

Skipping to A.J. Burnett (who the Blue Sox traded last year for Wang) I don't like this deal at all, and perhaps this is where my analysis below is the weakest. The Yankees, more than any other team, can afford this kind of terrible signing. Giving AJ that kind of contract is ludicrous when the only full seasons he's had (two) came in contract years. The guy is good when he pitches, but doesn't pitch enough. But does it matter to the Yankees? The Reds signed Eric Milton to a bad contract (I was excited at the time, so this is all hindsight) and suffered for three years, unable to do what they wanted for lack of payroll flexibility. (Jr. was also part of that problem.) But the Yanks sign Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano, both clearly disasters that would have crippled most teams, and they barely skip a beat.

I also don't believe Cashman when he said he didn't trade for J. Santana because he was waiting to sign CC and didn't want to trade the players to get Santana. But he now has CC, who had the most remarkable run at the end of last season for the Brewers since Orel Hershiser for the Dodgers in '88. Had Cashman traded Melky Cabrera and Phil Hughes for Santana and signed CC, think where they would be. And Santana might have made the difference last year for the Yanks in trying to keep their post-season string alive. (They wouldn't have missed Melky and Hughes, both of whom were big disappointments last year. By the way, the Blue Sox are sorely in need of a bounce back from Hughes (traded to the Blue Sox last year for Pettitte) but now it looks like he won't even get the chance to start.)

So where are we? I'm not sure. Tex is a big help, but will AJ and CC make that much of a difference? Last year, Mussina (who retired) and Pettitte (who declinded the Yanks' contract offer) are going to be hard to replace. Let's look at the four pitchers' stats from '08:

Pitcher: Starts - Wins - IP - K/W - era - whip - HR allowed

Moose: 34 - 20 - 200.3 - 150/31 - 3.37 - 1.22 - 17

Pettitte: 33 - 14 - 204 - 158/55 - 4.54 - 1.41 - 19

Total: 67 - 34 - 404.3 - 308/86 - 3.96 - 1.30ish - 36

CC: 35 - 17 - 253 - 251/59 - 2.70 - 1.12 - 19

AJ: 34 - 18 - 221.3 - 231/86 - 4.07 - 1.34 - 19

Total: 69 - 35 - 474.3 - 482/145 - 3.34 - 1.20ish - 38

Clearly AJ and CC had the better year combined. But by all accounts CC had a huge year, and there is at least a question as to whether he can duplicate that work load. He was clearly tired in the playoffs last year. And AJ hasn't had that kind of season ever. So if CC and AJ regress even a little the Yanks have only replaced Moose and Pettitte. If one of them gets hurt (my guess is AJ) then the Yanks have gone backwards. Put another way, I have a lot more faith that Moose and Pettitte, who turned in typical years (Moose's win total was atypical) could duplicate their '08's than I do that CC and AJ will duplicate theirs. Of course, the Yanks will have Wang back for a full season. As you recall, Wang broke his foot last year in June running the bases in interleague play and was lost for the year.

Here's my point (finally) the Yankees high spending is not the problem. The problem as I see it are two, the first being teams like the Florida Marlins who don't even spend on payroll what they get back in revenue sharing and teams like the Nats and Pirates that are "rebuilding" but don't have the competance to do so. (Note to Leather Pants: If you want to be the Rays and build through being the worst team and getting the best draft picks, you have to at least sign the picks.)

What happens if MLB adopts a payroll cap? What would it be? Most caps are based on a specific percentage of revenue going to the players. So let's say the cap is $150 mil. There has to also be a floor. What would that be, $100 mil.? (Remember a certain amount of revenue has to go to the players.) Do you really think teams like the Marlins and Pirates want a payroll cap? There's no way they want to spend $100 mil. on payroll. So the Yankees, who generate a ton of money not just for them but for all of baseball (road ticket sales, luxury taxes, etc.) get criticized for spending money they have and trying to put the best baseball team they can on the field, while teams that don't even spend what they get from revenue sharing (ie. the Yankees) get a free pass? That doesn't make any sense.

Baseball has proven over and over again that you can't buy a championship. Do the Yankees have a huge advantage? Sure. Does it guarantee victory? Absolutely not.

The second problem I see is this. Players want to win. So even if the Yankees don't outbid everyone (The Nats offered Tex more than the Yankees did) they still get their player. As does Boston. Look at Smoltz. He's clearly at the tail end of his career. Does he take a chance with the Braves, or go to Boston where he will almost certainly make the playoffs? So even on the little deals, the big guys get the player. Baldelli is another example. The Reds wanted him and can clearly afford him, but who would you rather play for, Boston or Cincinnati?

When all of the teams are spending near $100 mil. and the Yanks are doubling that, then talk of a payroll cap is legit. But until that starts happening, it's just sour grapes and propaganda designed to take the focus off of the incompetent teams and the cheap owners.


VeniceLover said...

Well, the Grim Rippers report has been deleted. Had I known you would reference it, I might have kept my blog post up a little longer. Must say I feel flattered that my post was referenced as a point-counter point on your blog about the Yankees.
To summarize, I realize that baseball is, has always been, and will always be, first and foremost a business. Damn, I hate that! As a baseball fan, my interests are limited to watching the strategies, the raw talents and the untapped potential in players erupt and meld into the greatest sport (in my not so humble opinion). When the teams that 'have' become richer at the expense of the 'have nots', their victories ring hollow to me. If the Yankees or Mets win the world series this year, it will not be as a result of developing talent rather than buying it. It is the equivilent, to me, of a player taking steroids. It is using an artificial means to achieve greater results.
The best quote I've read is that rooting for the Yankees is like hoping that Donald Trump wins the lottery. I have to hope that the pinstripers somehow manage to find a way to lose despite efforts to buy a championship.

Dave Zahniser said...

They've done it every year since 2000.

VeniceLover said...

Actually, they've been doing it since they signed Catfish Hunter in 1975. To my dismay, I'm old enough to remember that.

Dave Zahniser said...

I meant found a way to lose every year since 2000.

I, too, remember Catfish signing.

Sean Schmergel said...

I agree with Dave’s analysis on salary caps. I don’t see how it would rectify any issue of competitive balance that has not already been addressed by luxury tax and revenue sharing. After all the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Angels, Marlins, Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals, and Phillies have all won the World Series in this decade. Moreover, I don't see any way the MLBPA ever agrees to it. As Dave points out, it could only ever be implemented if there were a floor as well, something I'm sure most teams actually do not want. The present system with luxury tax and revenue sharing works. Even if the luxury tax is not as much of a deterrent to the Yankees as some would like, it does increase the revenue sent to all the other teams, for which they must be appreciative. Whether they spend it on player's salaries, or even how wisely those other teams spend it is another story, but many teams that have less than half the Yankees’ payroll have been very effective over the last decade.

On Burnett, I think Keith Law wrote a great analysis on that is worth reading: He essentially opines that Burnett's huge upside is worth the risk for the Yankees. He also writes that the risk on Burnett is far less than the risk on Pavano ever was, as Pavano had far less potential upside and was more injury prone before coming to NY.

If you gave any team the choice of AJ and CC or Pettitte and Moose in 2009 -- finances aside -- I don't see any of them choosing the latter duo. Regardless, Moose retired and Cashman had to fill the void from somewhere. So does this make the Yankees' rotation that much better than 2008? I think so, but that's not the question that matters. The question is: Would the rotation be better in 2009 without AJ and CC? The answer is clearly no. The addition of CC and AJ, hopefully a full year from Wang and Chamberlain, and perhaps fill the 5th spot with Pettitte or Hughes should give the Yankees an excellent rotation. . .one where they won’t have to waste a season’s worth of starts on pitchers like Darrell Rasner and Sidney Ponson. The Yankees did win 89 games last year even with those guys, so one would expect them to add at least a few wins to that total in 2009.

Dave Zahniser said...

Thanks for the top-notch analysis. I'll check out Law's post on A.J. I agree that teams would rather have AJ and CC then Moose and Pettitte, but mostly because of CC. I think the best option would be CC and Moose but, as you mentioned he retired.

Sean Schmergel said...

As much as I love the Moose, it was unlikely that he would repeat a 20-win season at 40 years old. It was, of course, the first time in his career he had done so.

I still think they ought to sign Pettitte, and follow the Red Sox example of having "too many" pitchers in case of injuries.

Dave Zahniser said...

I was hoping they'd sign Garcia to keep him in the American League. I think he'll have a decent 4th or 5th starter kind of year.