For the last decade and a half, the Yankees have had two very distinct and undisputed advantages over every other team in the league. They are the only club with Mariano Rivera working the ninth inning, and they have the most money. The former has given them countless stress-free innings and wins, but the latter has brought both good and bad. You don’t need to do much more than take a cursory look around the league to see that it’s easy to spend money, but much more difficult to spend money wisely.
Like every other team, the Yankees have had their fair share of free agent duds. Mistakes come with the territory, but the Yankees have made bigger mistakes because they play in the deep end of the talent pool. The Carl Pavanos and Jaret Wrights and Kei Igawas … there’s only one team that can make mistakes like that and not miss a beat, but those mistakes aren’t without consequence. Contrary to popular belief, the Yankees do have a finite amount of money, and blowing $40M on Pavano means you have $40M less to spend elsewhere. That’s the reality of the situation.
Over the last three offseasons, the Yankees have shied away from free agency to a certain extent. They did offer Cliff Lee more guaranteed money ($148M) than either the Rangers ($138M) or Phillies ($120M), but otherwise they’ve signed just one free agent to a contract worth $10M+ over the last three years*, and that was the ownership-mandated Rafael Soriano. Pedro Feliciano is the only other player they’ve signed to a multi-year contract since the ’08-’09 offseason. The batch of non-Lee free agent pitchers during the last three winters is highlighted by John Lackey, Randy Wolf, Erik Bedard, Joel Pineiro, Mark Buehrle, Hiroki Kuroda, Roy Oswalt, C.J. Wilson, Yu Darvish, and Edwin Jackson. There are no CC Sabathia’s in that group, no one comparable to Lee.
* Not counting the new contracts for Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Derek Jeter. Those are clearly special cases.
There’s only one team that could afford to offer Sabathia the richest pitching contract in history on the first day of free agency and use it as a starting point for negotiations, and sure enough that’s the team that got him. That is the advantage of money. Having the ability to blow everyone else out of the water for elite talent. Those last two words are key, because those players are in short supply. The one or two or three win type players are interchangeable in a sense, because there are other guys capable of providing the same production at similar prices. The Sabathias and Lees, those fellas are far from interchangeable. If you don’t get them, you’re out of luck, as the Yankees learned last winter. Everyone else, eh not so much.
There were no available elite players who fit the Yankees needs this offseason, at least not in their eyes. I think Darvish is going to be pretty good and you probably do as well, but at the end of the day we really have no idea. I don’t know, you don’t know, and the Yankees don’t know either. But they do know more about him that you or I probably ever will, and they obviously felt he wasn’t worth the price, a price commonly associated with elite pitchers. Given how much success the team’s pro scouting department has had lately, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. Same deal with Gio and Wilson, those were two non-elite players at elite cost. Having the advantage of money is marginalized when you start overpaying for players that aren’t worth overpaying for.
Is this slow offseason a bore? Of course. Are the Yankees still a really good team? Obviously. They need a starting pitcher, really just one to bump Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia down to the three and four spots of the rotation, where they belong. Anything after that is gravy. As I’ve said before, the Yankees don’t need that pitcher today, just at some point later in the season and before the playoffs. I think we’d all have realized by now the World Series isn’t won in the offseason after living through it so many times. The Yankees have the ability to top any offer for elite players, but just one of those guys have fit their needs in the last three offseasons. Spending big on second and third tier players just because they fit a need often winds up being counterproductive at this point of the year.