Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Yankees: If at first you don't succeed, buy, buy again!

The Yankees don't handle mediocrity well. During the 2008-2009 offseason, after they missed the playoffs for the first time since 1995, the Yankees went on a spending spree, handing out nearly half a billion dollars to three players on long term contracts:

CC Sabathia: 27 years old, seven years, $161 million
A.J. Burnett: 32 years old, five years, $82.5 million
Mark Teixeira: 29 years old, eight years, $180 million
Total: $423.5 million

Of those three players, only Sabathia has been worth the money and commitment. Burnett only played in New York for three seasons, and the injury-plagued Teixeira has only played 138 games over the last two seasons, with three years remaining on his contract.

Obviously, the "spend-now, worry later" philosophy paid off immediately, as the Yankees won the World Series in 2009 - but now they're dealing with an aging roster (last year the team's average age was 31.8 years old) that missed the playoffs once again, so they're back to their high buying ways this offseason:

Brian McCann: 29 years old, five years, $85 million
Carlos Beltran: 36 years old, three years, $45 million
Jacoby Ellsbury: 30 years old, seven years, $153 million
Masahiro Tanaka: 25 years old, seven years, $155 million (plus $20 million to Tanaka's former team)
Total: $458 million

Remember when the Yankees were going to spend sparingly and get themselves under the luxury tax threshold? Even with the mulligan they're getting on Alex Rodriguez's monster contract, that is absolutely not going to happen.

But it doesn't matter. The Yankees play in the middle of the biggest media market in the country, and the money they get from cable and radio rights ensures that they'll be able to spend boatloads of money on any players they want for the foreseeable future.

The Yankees could pay A-Rod this year and not break a sweat. It's one of the most ridiculous parts of MLB's no salary cap policy: teams in cities like New York, LA, Chicago, and Boston will always have more money to spend than those in Kansas City, Phoenix, or Milwaukee. 

It allows big market teams to take risks on long term deals if they want to, without fearing for financial ruin. They can outbid everyone else on short term deals and draft picks, since they can afford to prioritize roster flexibility over payroll. It's a testament to the sport that the league has had even a modicum of parity over the last decade.

As a Red Sox fan, I (mostly) benefit from this, so I don't have too many complaints - but as a baseball fan, the absurdity of the status quo is frustrating.

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