In the 1971 film version of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Veruca Salt, the most spoiled the children who found golden tickets, belts out an ode to greed. “I want the whole world,” she sings. “I want it now.”
To be a Yankee fan the 21st Century is to embrace Veruca Salt’s attitude. Our favorite team is the most successful in the game’s history, and it is positioned as the leader in the biggest market in sports. It has more money to spend than anyone else and do so with abandon, covering up mistakes with dollars in a quest to win. As long as baseball’s financial structure doesn’t limit the Yanks’ spending, they’re not doing anything wrong.
But within that construct is the need to spend wisely. The Yankees might have more money than everyone else, but they still seemingly have a budget. This is a point seemingly lost on many, and nothing has highlighted that belief in the reams of dollars more than this off-season. First, we’ve seen people call for Derek Jeter to get paid whatever he wants, but as Joel Sherman explained this morning, the Yanks and Jeter have to come to deal that makes sense for both parties. They can’t sacrifice winning — still their primary goal — at the expense of one player, and they should try to make the most out of their dollars.
The other example is even better. Based upon a report in The Post that says the Yankees have “reached out” to Carl Crawford’s agent, the clamor for Crawford has grown a little louder. It’s tempting to demand Crawford in that Veruca Salt way. He is a premier offensive player who had the good fortune, like Mark Teixeira, of hitting free agency while 28. The team that signs him will end up with a few years of decline at the end of the contract but will get Carl Crawford on offense and defense in his prime.
The Yankees know Carl Crawford well. He’s played 138 regular season games against them and has hit .301/.329/.419 with 47 stolen bases in 56 attempts. He plays a mean left field, and as R.J. Anderson explored a year ago, Crawford will get and deserve a deal in excess of $100 million. Since the Angels seem willing to spend that much, Crawford will probably wind up there. But what of New York?
The Yankees’ outfield was a great source of value for the team last year. Based on Fangraphs’ WAR valuation, the entire starting outfield put up a combined 13.1 WAR valued at $52.2 million. Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson combined to make a whopping $12.8 million. While those totals will rise in 2011, there’s a very good chance that Carl Crawford will be making more than Yanks’ three Opening Day outfielders combined.
Now Crawford, over the last two seasons, has exploded into a high-production player. He posted a 5.7 WAR in 2009 and a 6.9 WAR in 2010. He’s doing all he can to earn and deserve that large contract. But if Brett Gardner, who posted a 5.4 WAR and made $450,000 in 2010, can continue to be a 3-4 win player, and if Crawford is making $19-$22 million next year while maintaining a 5-6 win pace, the Yankees would be paying a whopping premium — somewhere around $17-$19 million — for an improvement of two wins. In economic terms, it would be an inefficient use of resources to sign Crawford, and he doesn’t address a need the Yankees have going into 2011.
The Yanks have clear needs for next year. They need another starter, maybe two, and they want a left-handed reliever. They don’t need an outfielder when they already have three of the top outfielders in the American League. Even for a team with resources as seemingly unlimited as the Yankees, they don’t need to embody Veruca Salt every time a free agent comes a-knockin’.