Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New York Yankees Holiday Shopping

It's the day before Christmas Eve, and while you might think you have a lot of shopping to do, rest-assured you're not alone.

The New York Yankees started their holiday spending spree a few weeks ago, committing $243.5 million in long-term contracts to two front-line starters in CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Yesterday they re-signed Chien-Ming Wang to a comparatively bargain-basement price of $5.0 million for 2009, giving them three potential Cy Young Award candidates to anchor a rotation that was an achilles heel throughout the 2008 season.

What they still haven't addressed is the fact that their offense scored 179 fewer runs in 2008 than they did when scoring a Major League-leading 968 in 2007. Counting on the addition of 1B/OF Nick Swisher (86-24-69-.219 in '08) to replace free agent DH/1B Jason Giambi (68-32-96-.247) is realistic, but still doesn't account for the offensive hit the team is suffering by not resigning OF Bobby Abreu, who averaged 107-17-103-.291 and 26 SB in each of his three seasons in the Bronx.

There's been a lot of talk about Manny Ramirez and Mark Teixeira possibly ending up in pinstripes, and most of it is attached to criticism of the team's payroll and spending habits. To note, yesterday the Yankees were assessed a $26.9 million luxury task by Major League Baseball and handed a bill for 40 percent of every dollar over the league's $155.0 million soft cap in 2008 (that cap increases to $162.0 this year, and another $8.0 each of the next two years). What did New York get for their $222.2 million payroll? They finished in third place for the first time since the American and National Leagues expanded to three divisions in 1994, didn't qualify for postseason play for the first time since 1993, and subsequently failed to make the World Series for the fifth consecutive season.

The emergence of the Tampa Bay Rays (who won the Yankees' division and the American League Championship before falling to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series), coupled by the success of the Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks in recent years, has done much to counter arguments that salary equates with success in Major League Baseball. It has also placed even more stress on large market teams like the Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers to step up their attempts to restore the storied luster to their franchise legacies.

But nobody is feeling it more than the Yankees, who in fairness, have more money to spend than any of the teams, and shouldn't be afraid to spend it to bring the results that their fans (and foes) demand. Peter King, in my opinion one of the greatest sports journalists of our time, asked in a recent Sports Illustrated column, "In this economy, should a baseball player be paid more than $20 million a year?" I counter with this question: Why not?

In 2008, Bon Jovi earned more than any other touring musical acts, amassing $210.7 million on the road. Bruce Springsteen followed, topping $204 million, and Madonna's tour grossed more than $185 million. Marquee movie stars are routinely paid between $10-$20 million for a single film, and some of the biggest actors and actresses on television make upwards of one million dollars an episode. So why shouldn't an elite baseball talent get $25 million/season? They'll be expected to play in 161 games (and presumably a post-season) in front of a league-average of 30,000 fans a game, each paying a league-average ticket price of more than $25.

We can balk about the current economy all we want, but the minute a professional athlete signs that contract that makes them "professional," they become an entertainer, no different than a musician, actor, or anyone else who is paid a premium to distract us from the rigors of our day-to-day lives. A player will likely make more with the Yankees than they will with the Milwaukee Brewers, just like a musician will make more playing the Staples Center in Los Angeles than they will the Taco Bell Arena in Boise, Idaho. It is supply and demand, and market dictates value.

The New York Yankees averaged an MLB-high 53,069 fans per home game in 2008, and will be opening a new stadium for the start of the 2009 season. The New York Post reported in a Nov. 11 piece that luxury box sales for the new stadium had stalled, with seven $600,000 boxes remaining vacant, and the last sale of a luxury box dating back to August. While that, no doubt, has more to do with the economy than it does the Yankees recent struggles, the Bronx Bombers remain the most storied franchise is sports history, with a tradition of winning. People who pay a premium price, expect to see a premium product.

Along with that tradition of winning (stress on tradition, as they haven't been winning as of late), the Yankees generate significantly more in licensing revenue than many other MLB teams combined, and are the only professional sports franchise in America with their own television network, the YES Network (Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network). Criticize their spending all you want, but they have the revenue streams to back it up. And can it truly be said that their high-priced spending is making baseball top-heavy, when the more they spend, the less they seem to win?

With the Yankees investing as much as they have in their pitching this off-season, they need to make one more significant splash before heading into Spring Training, and that splash needs to come in the form of offensive firepower. With three aces in their deck, they'd only be selling themselves short if they don't go all in with one of the marquee bats on the free agent market.

Mark Teixeira or Manny Ramirez in Pinstripes? It has to happen... And will.


hfdwhalers said...

The fact of the matter remains this; what are the Yankees going to do four years from now when the players they are giving extended contracts to are nearing the age of 40? Simple solution - they will sign the biggest free agents in that year's market.

Furthermore, have they spent money on "arms" that are due to break down? The Brewers drained every last ounce out of Sabathia's arm last year (granted, there are several thousand ounces in that body)in hopes of making the playoffs. They were successfull in doing so, but what happened in the playoffs? He got shelled by the Phillies. Did countless innings and complete games finally take a toll on his arm? As for Burnett - this past year was one of his only that he did not spend an extended period on the DL due to arm problems. He attributes it to learning how to pitch, instead of simply trying to throw past every batter, but a history of arm troubles should certainly be a concern.

Would the Yankees have been better off spending their money on a guy like Derek Lowe who has a proven track record of health (and tremendous post season success)?

It's not just the name that you bring to your team, you also get the "player" along with it. "Tex" has a great track record, but many people will point out that he suffers from A-Rodosis (see: HR and RBI in meaningless situations).

In no way are the Yankees breaking any rules, but are they hurting the rest of the league by sucking up all of the top-end free agents and not allowing other markets to compete in free agency?

Thank God for hockey: Canada's game and lone player at the "play for the love of the game" table.

Paul Gargano said...

I agree with you 110% about the pitchers they signed. I'd much rather have seen them trade what's left of their farm for Peavy (hypothetically) and then sign Lowe, who's not an injury risk. But they didn't. Since they didn't, they needed this big bat. VERY badly. They can't lose this season--Not with the new stadium, new rotation, and raised expectations.

I like Tex a LOT more than Manny--Tex won't be 37 until this contract expires. That's the age Manny is now, and an age where guys like Chipper Jones and Johnny Damon are still putting up solid numbers...

That said, until The Yankees are an unbeatable dynasty, we can't accuse them of hurting the game--Sports are about passion, and people need a team to hate as much as fans need a franchise to love. The Yankees occupy both roles very well.

Adam Bernard said...

Obviously I'm of the ilk that doesn't like the way the yankees do business. I happen to think you might have seen the team trade the farm for a guy like Peavy, though, had they had any farm to trade.

The yanks will always have the money to throw around, but you will never see another Derek Jeter, another homegrown hero, until you fix your scouting dept. Until that day happens you will be the evil empire, spending hundreds of millions more than everybody else, not because you want to, but because you HAVE to. It's not like you're winning the world series every year. At this point you're spending $100 mil more than everybody else just to compete and THAT is a huge indictment on your scouting dept.

Use some of those millions to lure away the scouts from the Marlins, Twins and Rays, then see what your franchise's payroll will look like.