Tipping Pitches: Sports: Yankees rebound, BUY a trip to the World Series


Monday, October 26, 2009

Sports: Yankees rebound, BUY a trip to the World Series

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Warning: The following is written by a bitter small market fan. It is not intended to be especially rational or insightful. It simply reflects what many fans like him of teams that have little chance at postseason success think about the New York Yankees.

I just received an e-mail from MLB.com with the following subject line:

"Celebrate the Yanks 40th AL Pennant"


It's a tired subject by now, not just from me but from other fans of small to medium market baseball teams. But, this time of the year, it bears repeating. While you can have some short-term success as a small to medium budget team, you have to be a big budget team to sustain that success. And only a big budget team can buy a trip to the World Series.

The Yankees did the latter.

The Bronx Bombers finished the 2008 season with 89 wins and no playoff appearance. Though they won more games than they lost, it was a colossal failure given their $222 Million-plus payroll. Not making the playoffs was inexcusable.

Meanwhile, my Milwaukee Brewers made the playoffs for the first time in 26 years. They did it on home grown talent (Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, JJ Hardy, Ben Sheets) and a shrewd midseason acquisition (CC Sabathia) that required having additional talent waiting on the farm.

After the season was over, the Brewers offered Sabathia a five year, $100 Million contract. The offer was modest considering what he was likely to command, and was possibly no more than a token gesture by the Brewers. After all, even a "low-ball" offer such as this was likely too risky long-term for the no-room-for-error Brewers.

Of course, the Yankees then swooped in and made Sabathia an offer he could not refuse of seven years and $161 Million. How could he refuse it? Rumor was that CC did not want to be a Yankee, but you can't fault him for taking the money.

The Yankees didn't stop there. They then "bought" first baseman Mark Teixeira at eight years and $180 Million. Not enough? Also went out and inked AJ Burnett for good measure at a price of $82.5 Million over five years.

Several levels of disgust here for the small to medium sized market baseball fan. Our team couldn't afford to sign one of those players without taking a major risk. The Yankees signed all three. Not to mention, any one of them could go down with a career ending injury, and the Yankees could still find a way back into the playoffs. Money wins.

So the Yankees bought three superstars and gained 14 wins and a spot in this season's World Series. The Brewers lost their ace (along with Ben Sheets, who they couldn't have afforded had he been healthy) and won 12 fewer games and didn't make the playoffs.


For a team like the Yankees, how many more wins is Sabathia worth over the alternative? They have the best offense money can buy. If they don't have Sabathia, they have another high priced arm. So how many more wins did he buy them this season? Six? Keeping in mind the Yanks also added the other two big named stars, you'd need to spread the 14 wins among three players (though the process is admittedly far from scientific).

Meanwhile, the Brewers were plugging in career minor leaguers and has-beens in place of Sabathia. How many wins did they lose as a result of not being able to sign him? At least 10, right? That's being generous. Pretty good argument can be made that they are a playoff team with him.

But signing Sabathia was never really an option for the Brewers. It never will be, barring a major change to the current collective bargaining agreement. And you can bet the house that they will never sign the equivalent of the Sabathia/Teixeira/Burnett trifecta during any offseason.

And why?  Did the Yankees earn the right to do what other teams cannot?  In good conscience, can you honestly say this is the case?  What did the other teams do to be punished and have to work with grossly different financials?

Gotta be honest. It takes a lot of fun out of being a baseball fan. I know that even if the Brewers win big next year by some miracle, they will not be able to keep their nucleus around. Prince Fielder is on the verge of his big payday soon, and he'll be on his way out. The team is currently built around a seven year contract (buying out only one year of free agency) for Ryan Braun. Even Braun will eventually be out of the Brew City.

According to ESPN.com, the Yankees had a payroll of $208,097,414 in 2009. The Mets, of course, were a rare example of money not being able to buy success, paying $145,367,987 for their roster failure (they finished with 70 wins). However, no team finished within $63 Million of the Yankees (to put that figure into perspective, six teams had total payrolls under $63 Million). All but seven teams had payrolls that were $100 Million or more below the Yanks.

The argument for the Yankees tends to be, "Yeah, but we have home grown talent, too!" Those players are as follows (salary in parentheses):

Derek Jeter ($21,600,000)
Mariano Rivera ($15,000,000)
Jorge Posada ($13,100,000)
Robinson Cano ($6,000,000)
Andy Pettitte ($5,500,000) - Although he left and came back
Melky Cabrera ($1,400,000)
Joba Chamberlain ($432,575)
Brett Gardner ($414,000)
Phil Hughs ($407,650)
David Robertson ($406,825)
Alfredo Aceves ($406,750)
Phil Coke ($403,300)
Francisco Cervelli ($400,000)

Were these guys home grown? Sure. But they could only retain Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte because they have the money. My Brewers, who have an "average" payroll at 16th overall, could not have signed those players to keep them on the roster at the same time -- completely ignoring generously paid All-Stars like Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia, Teixeira, Burnett, and Johnny Damon who complement them.

Take away all players who have been free agents (those players making $10 Million-plus who most teams would not be able to retain -- or at least not be able to retain more than one or two of those guys), and you have:

Robinson Cano ($6,000,000)
Melky Cabrera ($1,400,000)
Joba Chamberlain ($432,575)
Brett Gardner ($414,000)
Phil Hughs ($407,650)
David Robertson ($406,825)
Alfredo Aceves ($406,750)
Phil Coke ($403,300)
Francisco Cervelli ($400,000)

Now create a roster around those players and another $90 Million.  Do the Yankees go to the playoffs?  Of course not.

So the Yankees still spent about $200 Million to "buy" their playoff roster. Their "home grown" guys who were never a threat to leave via free agency make up a small minority, and are not considered in the top-10 stars of the team.

How can it be allowed that one team has the capacity to buy $100 Million (at least) worth of players that others never could? Don't want to be the whiny kid with a wooden bat, but how is that fair?

It's sickening to me to think that one team can always fix problems by buying more players. One team can always recover from financial disasters by buying more players. One team can sustain success by buying more players.

A small group, to a much lesser degree, can buy a few players and patch holes. The others rely almost entirely on home grown, pre-free agency talent and mid-level free agents.

Being a Yankees fan must be sweet. Your team brings up a superstar. You love him. Favorite player. Buy his jersey. Put it on your kids. That player is there for life.

Me? I constantly battle with whether I should get myself or my kids too attached to any one player. Ryan Braun is the closest thing we have to a mainstay, but he'll leave one day as well.

Or does the fact that the Yankees can buy whatever they want set expectations so high that their fans can never appreciate success the way I can (not that I can ever expect to experience a World Series victory)? The Yankees are in the World Series? Of course they are. Anything less would be a failure. They win the World Series? Great! But you still gotta be ticked if they lose to a team with half the payroll, even if they are the defending champs.

Which begs the question: How good would the Phillies be with another $100 Million?


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