Yankees Beat Round-Up

Beat writers and baseball pundits today offered some very thoughtful and quite divergent opinions on the Yankees’ landing both CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, all worth reading.  Buster Olney at ESPN.com and Pete Abraham at LoHud seem to be on the same page regarding the Yankees’ patience in landing Sabathia this year instead of Johan Santana last off-season.  Joel Sherman at The New York Post offered a critique that others and I, here and elsewhere, have leveled at those sniveling about the Yankees’ spending and, bringing up the rear end, Mike Lupica of The New York Daily News seems to have pulled an about-face to complain about how much the Yankees have spent after criticizing the Yankees for not acquiring Santana last season.

Olney makes a very good case that the Yankees not only got what and who they wanted by acquiring Sabathia, then Burnett.  The Yankees also happened to do so, according to Olney, not by flouting their professed focus on developing the farm system, but rather by maintaining it.  Instead of trading Hughes and/or Ian E. Neumann to the Twins for Santana, the Yankees will sacrifice a first-round pick to Milwaukee for signing Sabathia–not one of the prized young arms.  By continuing to hoard young talent, Olney proffers, the Yankees continue to approach Boston’s lead in blending veteran acquisitions with home-grown talent.  While the Yankees are still behind the curve and the Red Sox on this, they still have their youngsters in house. As Olney reminds, the Yankees are still due to pare down their payroll from last year, even as they acquired Sabathia and Burnett and threaten to trade [hand rubbing forehead] for Mike Cameron.

I’d add that while various problems beset the Yanks last year, young players are key to the Yankees’ fortunes in 2009. Wang returns from his foot injury and Cano has worked himself into terrific shape while huddling with hitting coach Kevin Long to sharpen his plate approach.  I’d also contend that Brett Gardner as a viable fourth outfielder matters to the Yanks–getting on and stealing, providing excellent defense, and continuing to develop at the plate–all the more since they’re still old.

Abraham seconds Olney when saying that the Yankees retained their young prospects.  This is a big key, for the Mets traded some not only for Santana but also Putz.  Abraham also contends that Santana’s $25 million club option can vest based on incentive clauses.  If so, Santana’s contract would be only $4 million less in total value than Sabathia’s $161 million deal.  Abraham makes a really good point in saying that, should Sabathia stay for seven years, his contract would be more cost efficient than Santana’s given likely market values in several years.  I also like that Abraham was possibly taking an indirect shot at Lupica (though to be clear he didn’t mention any columnists by name), when he said the following on the Yankees’ spending:

Meanwhile it’s amusing to read so many columnists in New York and elsewhere criticizing the Yankees for spending so much money on Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. These are the same people who ripped Cashman for not getting Santana and would have called for his head had Sabathia signed with another team.

I can’t say I agree with every move Cashman has made. But he can’t win. If he spends money, he’s evil. If he doesn’t spend money, he’s foolish. Until baseball changes the rules, the Yankees are playing by the rules.

For the most part, I agree.  The Yankees are playing by the free-agent rules.  They’re also investing hundreds of millions of dollars to substantively improve the team in a crucial area–starting pitching–that drastically hampered their fortunes in 2008.  As Sherman echoes, it’s difficult at best to criticize Cashman and the Yankees for that, especially considering how much the team plugs into the sport.  This excerpt below echoes what Mike and I discussed a couple days ago:

It also is true that the Yanks are the mother lode to the industry: More than $105 million combined in revenue sharing/luxury tax is distributed from the Yanks to other clubs. And though the 30 teams share equally in items such as merchandise sales, MLB.com dollars, and rights fees for radio, TV and international media, does anyone believe there are as many Kansas City Royals jerseys sold as those of the Yankees?

In other words, much of the sport gladly takes the massive dollars generated by the star-driven Yankees with one hand, and then slaps the Yanks with the other hand when the Yanks purchase more stars.

Indeed.  It is something that Frank the Sage and I have also railed against–the pseudo-populism of fans such as the Royals, who staged an anti-Yankees walkout in 1999, yet whose franchise–known or unknown to their fans–accepts millions in revenue-sharing and luxury tax payments from aroudn the league, including and especially from the “big, bad Yankees.” In his excellent piece, Sherman lays bare some little-known or overlooked contradictions for those bashing the Yankees:

Nevertheless, let’s ponder this question: What is more detrimental to baseball, that the Yankees gave a pitching-record contract to the 2007 AL Cy Young winner (CC Sabathia) and likely will have a lower payroll in 2009 than 2008, or that the Padres are working feverishly to trade the 2007 NL Cy Young winner (Jake Peavy) as yet another way to plummet their way to a $40 million payroll and irrelevance?

And, no, San Diego is not doing this to clear cap room for LeBron James in two years. It is doing this because its owner, John Moores, is going through a costly divorce. The Yankees are being criticized because they continue to try to win, and not a word is spoken that the Padres already have surrendered for at least 2009-10.

Exactly.  Exactly.  What is worse for the game and for fans, teams reinvesting cash for top-flight players to rebuild especially with a new stadium opening, or teams routinely holding fire sales ala Connie Mack that give fans no real hope or reason to come to the ballpark, thus accelerating the downward helix for not just teams’ finances but also their fans’ desire to back a winner?  Making money takes investing money, and teams such as San Diego–not a small market, by the way, standing as the eighth-biggest city in America–are all too frequently unwilling to do that.  They want to get by on the cheap, making money from others while holding down salaries–sticking it to many players–thus putting out mediocrity year after year.

This is the kind of sports reporting well worth the price of newspapers in the shrinking but still profitable world of journalism, all the more because Sherman doesn’t end things on a sanguine note, reminding that the Yankees haven’t won since their spending has drastically increased.  Still, I’d prefer the Yankees’ approach to that of the Padres, Royals, or Pirates anyday.  They made substantive improvements to the team and in the right area first and foremost, while not sacrificing the farm system.

Published in: on December 14, 2008 at 7:55 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great post. I wish I could take it with me as I go through the day having to put up with how the Yankees are destroying baseball. The biggest taunt I get has to do with how the Yankees aren’t a “team” like they were when they won the championships in the late ’90s. Hello? Was Jimmy Key not a free agent? David Wells? El Duque? People forget that we’ve had some great free agent signings as well as the not so great ones. And were Paul O’Neil, Scott Brosius, David Cone, etc. home grown talent? Of course not. They were “old mercenaries.” I wish everyone would stop with the warm and fuzzy team the Yankees used to be. They’re just doing business as usual.


  2. Thanks, Jane. It’s a good point about the free agents. I’d add that the Yankees, when most successful in the late 1990s, built from within, through free agency, AND from key trades–David Cone, Paul O’Neill, Clemens, Knoblauch. Plus, the Yankees acquired some players, such as Strawberry, Chili Davis, Girardi, and more–who were not only crucial to their success but also NOT players whose doors other teams beat down. The Yanks made smart moves.

    I think historical memory is a funny thing for a lot of people, especially for critics of the Yankees.

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