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.