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Mark Teixeira and the Yankees Domination of the Free Agent Market

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Yankee fans got an early Christmas present on Tuesday with the announcement that their team had once again signed a marque player in the form of the powerful, switch-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira. While the normal vocalization about the audacity of the Yankees’ spending is already being hollered across the sphere of the sports world, the most shocking aspect of this acquisition is truly the bewilderment Red Sox fans must feel at watching their Grinch-like front office let another top tier player slip to their hated rivals over a few million dollars, leaving “The Nation” with a large, proverbial, lump of coal in their Red Stockings for Christmas.

The Yankees, on the other hand, will enjoy a holiday season off affluence due to an off season of brilliance. With large sums of money coming off the books and revenue projections from their new stadium looking strong, the Yankees ownership once again invested wisely in their on the field product, snatching the two pitchers of the highest quality available, along with a first baseman tailor made for Yankee Stadium, despite the “best efforts” of their New England adversaries. The team’s greatest deficiencies over the past few seasons have now been thoroughly addressed and — to state the obvious –the Yankees are easily the team to beat in the East.

While the Yanks are coming off of a disappointing 89-win campaign and their first post-season at home since 1994, their revamped rotation of A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain, and a player to be named later, is easily 10-15 wins better than the squad that saw the likes of Darrell Rasner, Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, and Sidney Ponson taking regular trips to the mound.

Throw Teixeira’s power numbers into the mix, along with a more stable everyday lineup that will include Xavier Nady for a full season, a healthy Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui, and Nick Swisher with his versatility and consistent ability to get on base, and the Yankees will easily improve on the 789 runs they scored last season, pushing their win total well within the normal parameters for a post season birth.

The rest of baseball, on the other hand, is left scrambling for hot stove holiday leftovers. Which begs the questions: what makes the Yankees’ business model so different from the entirety of baseball that they alone are capable of such monumental signings?

Why does the concept of investing in a business to see a robust return only seem to be the theology of this team, and this team alone?

The Red Sox, Mets, and Tigers — to name a few — are teams (with the possible exception of Detroit this season, due to the state’s economic condition) that easily have the resources to match the Yankees’ investment in their own ball clubs. Just last year the Tigers spent wildly — but not wisely — on their own high profile players, and yet they found themselves in the cellar of the AL Central. The Mets’ have doled out large sums of cash season after season to players like Delgado and Pedro and still the post season eludes them.

And yet here we are, in an off season where the quality of the market is unusually exceptional — especially for pitching — and the Yankees are the lone franchise able to cash in. It is a testament to financial intelligence over simple financial abundance but it also shows that these teams, who have sat idly by, are capable of being competitive for these players if they so choose.

People can scream and moan about salary caps and luxury taxes all they want but reality dictates that their will be no equality in baseball until the other multi-millionaires and corporations that own franchises in baseball commit to investing in the product they are selling to the public. It should be obvious that people are not going to pay good money to see bad baseball.

If teams want to reach Yankee-like attendance figures and expand the platforms by which their teams are exposed (i.e. the Yankees YES Network) they must first make an initial investment to generate the revenue necessary for sure ventures. It is Business 101. If a full investment in a team is not sufficient to generate enough return revenue from a city to support its team than the possibility that baseball should not be played in that city must be examined. While this may be the case in some markets, even the Royals and Brewers drew hordes of fans when they were competitive throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s. The results would be shocking to those disciples of baseball socialism if mass investment ever became a reality.

The Yankees did not magically become the goliath that they are today. When CBS owned them, and was unwilling to invest in the team, the Yankees were beyond pitiful. It was not until an owner who — say what you will about his character — had an insatiable lust for winning, bought the team that the Yankees began the climb back to success. And even that climb, with all its financial backing — was rocky at times. Ask Don Mattingly or Dave Righetti.

George Steinbrenner turned a business he purchased for $10 million into a $1.3 billion enterprise (according to Forbes Magazine). That is the epitome of successful capitalism.

Instead of railing against the Yankees for intelligently and meticulously working to put the best team possible on the field every season, the organization should be examined as a model of how to run a successful sports franchise. The Yankees domination of the free agent market this season is perhaps the most easily solvable issue that baseball faces today. Teams must simply give the fans a product worth watching. If every ownership group was committed to that task, it would be amazing how quickly the term “small market” would become passé.

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About Anthony Tobis

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    A few points of contention:

    • If the Yankees are the model for success, how come they haven’t won a World Series in eight years? How come they’ve only won two pennants since? Two other teams have done that (Red Sox, Cardinals). Can they just fall back on the 90s and say they’ve won four of the last 13 championships, therefore they are successful? Yes, they’ve won lots of games and made the postseason several times, but the Cardinals, Red Sox, Athletics and Angels have also averaged over 90 wins since 2002.

    • Skepticism is all over this AJ Burnett signing. Remember when you said Jeremy Bonderman has been disappointing since he hasn’t won more than 15 games in a season? Well Burnett has one 15-win season — last year, when he went 18-10. The guy’s been to the DL nine times this decade — over three seasons of his life. Considering the Yankees just recently escaped the clutches of Zombie Carl Pavano ($10m/year) and saw the final years of $15m/year Kevin Brown up close, I can’t find an argument that says signing Burnett was a smart decision.

    • Sabathia is, well, he’s outstanding (6th in MVP voting? For a pitcher?) and he’s in his prime. But a seven-year deal is probably the worst thing possible for one’s motivation. Consider other 7+-year deals:

    Kevin Brown
    Mike Hampton
    Barry Zito

    John Donovan at SI did a good job of the hit-or-miss nature of long-term deals, and he set the long-term bar at four years. Seven years is an eternity, especially since those last three years constitutes a player option. Eep.

    The Teixeira signing I like, though. Other similar 7+-year deals seemed to work out (Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Pujols, Helton). Soriano, Miguel Cabrera, and Ryan Braun also were locked up for eight years and they’ll all be fine.

    But like you said, the pitching has been the problem. So the easiest path is to throw money at the problem, because in one year they can’t develop the pitching staff that it took years for the 2008 Rays, the 2006 Tigers, the 2005 White Sox, or the 2003 Marlins to create. Guess it’s better than the three-headed monster of Rasner-Kennedy-Hughes.

  • Tony

    I’ve missed our baseball debates Matt so here it goes. I’ll go point by point.

    – On the Yankees recent world series drought: Winning a World Series is easily one of the hardest things to do in sports. The Yankees, over the course of their history, have won 26 Championships since their inception as the Highlanders in 1903. Obviously that means that even teams with Ruth and Gehrig, Dimaggio and Dickey, and Mantle and Maris did not win the World Series a good number of years. Success in baseball is determined by consistency year to year (as long as a few championships are sprinkled in). The Yankees also did not win WS titles from 1962 to 1977 and from 1978 to 1996. Every team has a drought, especially as a dynasty grows older, and diminished stars must be replaced.

    – On to AJ: While I am obviously worried about his health I am more confident in his success than even Sabathia. The comparison to Bonderman is unfounded as there is a big difference between the Central and East over the course off their careers. Ignoring his win totals for a second AJ has posted a career 1.284 whip for his career which is very good. He’s also only walked 568 batters in 1376.3 innings. Finally he has given up 177.3 less hits than innings pitched. I believe these stats are much better indicators of his skill than his win loss record pitching for average to below average teams.

    – 7 years for Sabathia is probably too long but that is the nature of the game these days. If they didn’t do it someone else would have, and they would have been out another star pitcher.

    – While you may perceive that the Yankees are simply throwing money at their pitching staff having two top line, homegrown starters is hardly not developing their pitching staff. There are few other teams in baseball that can boast home grown talents like Wang and Chamberlain in their starting rotation. Mixing youngsters with veterans is smart baseball, not a quick fix. Throwing Hughes and Kennedy into the regular rotation unprepared was a bad baseball decision. Now they can spot start, learn from some great pitchers, and develope at a more natural pace. I personally think Kennedy is crap but I still have faith in Hughes.

    – Finally, the Yankees are a model franchise based on their consistency and profitabiliy, not just based on their on the field success. Mike Illitch could just as easily build a sports network around the Wings and Tigers — taking in that advertising revenue for himself instead of giving it to Fox Sports (much like the old PASS Network) but instead he declines to go that route. THe statement I made was based on the overall business model of the franchise. Only when the business model is sound will the team have success. Maybe if the Tigers’ hadn’t handed Dontrel Willis a 3 year deal before they figured out if he could even find the plate anymore, or had not wasted cash on the likes of Renteria or Jones, they would have had a little leftover money to toss their hat in the ring on some of these guys.

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