33 minutes ago
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.