Sunday, April 08, 2007

One BILLION Dollars

$1B. That’s how much George Steinbrenner has spent to NOT win a championship over the last six years. By comparison, if you added up every payroll dollar the Twins franchise has spent in their history, it wouldn’t equal $1 billion. Not the Twins team, mind you – the Twins franchise - which includes the Washington Senators run starting in 1900.

So while one of the stories this offseason was that the Yankees front office didn’t spend money like a bridezilla with a trust fund, don’t make the mistake of thinking they’ve become the model of fiscal restraint. The Yankees organization’s biggest asset is still King George’s coffers, and they continue to leverage it in multiple ways, whether they’re bidding for free agents or not.

For instance, there was last year’s “trade” they made at the deadline that lifted them to the AL East division championship. Baseball teams are not allowed to trade money for players anymore, but the Yankees still managed to essentially buy Bobby Abreu as their new starting right fielder and Cory Lidle as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. In return, the Phillies received four minimal prospects and upwards of $20 million in debt relief. You can probably guess which they were most interested.

Offseason trades provide another example. The $189M that USA Today reports the Yankees will spend on payroll this year doesn’t include six million dollars that they threw at other teams to facilitate some trades and buy some prospects. To trade away the injured Randy Johnson, they sent $2 million to help cover his salary this year. To trade away the awful Jaret Wright, they sent Baltimore a thank-you card in the form of a $4 million dollar check. If the checks weren’t the sole reason they were able to make the trades, they at least helped them in getting some decent prospects in return.

Finally, it’s not like they didn’t sign any high dollar free agents. They filled the holes in their rotation by throwing over $30 million per year at Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa. And that might be just a down payment if Roger Clemens decides he’ll pitch for the highest bidder. It’s conceivable that by September, the Yankees starting rotation will be comprised of four free agents whom they’ve paid $50 million this year.

It’s about this time that someone inevitably makes the point that the Yankees are just doing what they’re supposed to do, and that they aren’t the problem. Fair enough. Baseball (and particularly the players’ union) has been reluctant to implement any sort of salary cap which would increase the level of competition and reward front office competence. The Yankees and King George are just symptoms of that particular dysfunction.

A very happy and lucrative symptom.


markominne said...

I struggle with this one all the time, but I keep coming back to the same point: I'd rather have the Yankees (and Red Sox, and Cubs) bidding and buying up over-age, largely under-performing free agents, while a few organizations like the Twins build largely upon players that they've developed - or resurrected.

Why? Well, there are a couple reasons. First, there's the whole "good versus evil" approach when the Yankees come into play. It's easy to hate them because they're famous, because they're by and large, overpaid, and, well, come on - they're from NY!

Second, by and large the over-spending teams serve as a morality play and cautionary tale on the pitfalls of conspicuous consumption. How much money have the Yankees and Red Sox spent over the past 8 years for 1 World Series championship?

Finally, I would posit that a seldom-discussed effect of a salary cap is seen every year in the NFL, where a huge portion of players turn over every year. The result is very little continuity to the point where one of the "features" of the league is that most fans start each season like Butch and Sundance, asking "Who are those guys?" Don't confuse parity with quality. There's a lot of parity and little quality. And guess what? A few well-run organizations still succeed regularly, and the rest (including the Eden Prairie Clown Show)muddle along with a different cast annually, succeeding only occasionally, and seemingly by chance.

TwinsJunkie said...

Sometimes pictures in posts can be kind of annoying, but sometimes they can absolutley make it. Dr. Evil was definitely the latter.

And Mark: "Don't confuse parity with quality"

Thank you.

brianS said...

Don't confuse parity with quality, or vice-versa :-)

But seriously. The Yanquis have long paid premiums for "established" stars who aren't necessarily at their productivity peaks anymore. I think that makes pretty good business sense -- the richest team is spending big money on name-brand players, often trading quality prospects for them.

I would be more disturbed if the Yanquis were able to swoop in to grab the Miguel Cabreras' of the world (early- to mid-20s emerging superstars) rather than the aging Andy Pettitte's.

Look at the roster. Of the players with plate appearances so far this season, only 4 are under age 30 (Phelps, 29; Cano, 24; Melky Cabrera, 22; Wil Nieves, 29). Of those, only Cano has shown "star" potential.

Likewise, only four pitchers under age 30 have made appearances so far, only one of whom (Igawa, 27) would seem to have star potential.

The Yankees seem to spend their money on players with high visibility, rather than on the best players. Otherwise, they'd be pulling Babe Ruth-style deals to get guys like Miguel Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, and Joe Mauer.

Seriously. Why hasn't Steinbrenner ponied up $50m plus for Joe Mauer already? Like Pohlad doesn't have a price?

BD57 said...

The $$ the Yankees have coming in through TV & Radio gives them an additional option for solving their: go out and buy someone who addresses the problem. That's an option the Twins don't have - the only way they solve their problem is to develop prospects or have a cheap veteran acquisition step up significantly (and usually "surprisingly").

With that said, baseball really is more competitive now than it has been for quite some time. Think back to the era which ended, roughly, in 1964 - the Yankees won the American League more often than not; if a team rose to challenge them at all, it didn't stay competitive with the Yankees for long, etc.

The game doesn't need (and wouldn't benefit as much from) a salary cap as it would from true revenue sharing - put ALL the revenue, local TV & radio, national TV & radio, etc. - in one pot and cut it up equally amongst all the teams.

I know, it'd never pass - the Yankees "own" their broadcast rights (even though they'd never play a game without the opponent - how come the opponent gets no credit for producing all that income?) and won't give them up willingly.

But that's the sort of thing that would level the playing field.

brianS said...

Well, again, if the Yankees were bent on maximizing wins, given their deeeeeeeep pockets, why haven't they simply gone out and bought the very best players, regardless of player age/experience? I mean, why wait for Johan Santana to become a free agent? Why didn't Steinbrenner simply buy him off of Pohlad 2-3 years ago?

Steinbrenner buys players to affect net revenue, not necessarily to maximize their numbers of wins or probability of winning the World Series.

I don't see why the league needs NFL-level revenue sharing other than to further pad Carl Pohlad's wallet.

Anonymous said...

I am in the minority here, but I think the current salary situation actually benefits teams like the Twins and A's. It basically comes down to the Twins and A's not having enough money to be stupid...

We did a study on one of the Twins bboards this past winter and found the ratio between salary and wins over the past 5 years for each team. Not surprisingly, the Twins and A's came out near the top. The Yankees weren't too bad either.

But... if you looked at other teams that spent big on free agents they did VERY poorly. I think the analysis basically showed that you either need to spend like the Yankees, or manage like the Twins and A's to succeed... but that either path can work. It also shut me up a little bit about Pohlad... after seeing that analysis he would be nuts to spend a lot more... it just doesn't seem to pay (assuming that "paying" is measured by wins).


Kyle said...

John, have you adjusted for inflation when reaching back to the salaries of yesteryear?