As the tragic and horrific events of Saturday unfolded, we heard of a Yankee tie early on. ESPN’s Keith Law reported that Christina Green, the nine-year-old who died in the attack, was Dallas Green’s granddaughter, and on Sunday, the one-time Yankee manager opened up to Mike Lupica. Today, the Yankees issued their own statement in support of Green and his family. “The Steinbrenner family and the New York Yankees organization join the entire nation in mourning Christina and send our deepest condolences to Dallas Green and his family as they deal with this tremendous loss,” Hal Steinbrenner said. “This is a tragedy that is beyond words and our thoughts and prayers are with the Green family, as well as all of the affected families.”
My new thing is looking back at historical transactions, so sue me. Anyway, 18 years ago today the Yankees traded Steve Sax to the White Sox for three players: Melido Perez, Bob Wickman, and Domingo Jean. Sax’s three seasons in New York were productive (102 OPS+, two All Star Games), but he was on the downside of his career at (soon-to-be) age 32. Sure enough, he played full-time for just one more season (71 OPS+) before fading off into obscurity.
Perez, just 25 at the time, spent the 1991 season as Chicago’s swingman, but he moved right into the Yanks’ rotation in ’92. He threw 247.2 IP that year, easily the best season of his career (138 ERA+). Three seasons later (another 383.2 IP with a 92 ERA+) he was out of baseball. Wickman was a middling prospect that pitched to a 106 ERA+ in 419.1 IP in pinstripes, and was traded to the Brewers in August of ’96 for what amounted to Graeme Lloyd. He had himself a nice long big leaguer career, banking over $42M with five different teams. Jean was just an A-ball prospect at the time, but he reached the big leagues in 1993 and pitched to a 94 ERA+ in 40.1 IP for the Yanks. That was the only major league action of his career, and he was traded to the Astros after the season for Xavier Hernandez.
The Yankees were the big winners of this swap, though from what I remember people either absolutely loved Steve Sax or hated him with a passion. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember there being much of a middle ground.
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Here’s tonight’s open thread. None of the hockey or basketball locals are in action, but the National Championship game (Oregon-Auburn) is on ESPN at 8:30pm ET. I’m going to pick the Ducks just because it’s a cooler mascot than a lame old tiger. Chat about whatever, enjoy.
Prospects are great, we all love to follow their progress and stuff, but it’s always tough to gauge their value. It’s even tougher to gauge the value of a team’s farm system as a whole. Doug Gray at Reds Minor Leagues did just that however, using Victor Wang’s research and John Sickels’ latest round of farm system rankings to put a dollar value on each team’s far system. The Yankees check in at $140.8M, the sixth highest in the game. Interestingly, it’s split almost evenly between pitching and hitting, at $71.5M and $69.3M, respectively. Jesus Montero really has that much value, at least compared to his peers historically.
Unsurprisingly, the Royals top the list at a ridiculous $245.3M. The Rays are a distant second at $184.2M, but that doesn’t include the haul from the recent Matt Garza trade. I just wrote about the fantasy impact of Kansas City’s system at RotoGraphs, and it’s probably the best farm system I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ve been doing this minor league thing long, but damn. It’s that good.
Today we’re taking my post on the Yankees and Red Sox free agency spending and expanding on it a bit. I left a couple of items out, including posting fees, so Mike and I discuss those issues and others. The best part, of course, is why the Yankees have spent so much more in free agency over the last five years.
To keep up with the news, we revisit the Rafael Soriano topic for the millionth time. It seems as though people are trying to concoct different ways to get him on the team. Mike and I wonder, do they even want him in the first place?
Podcast run time 22:40
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To date this winter, the Yankees have spent $12 million on other teams’ free agents. That covers just two players, Russell Martin at $4 million and Pedro Feliciano at $8 million. The Red Sox have spent just a little bit more, $157 million on Carl Crawford, Bobby Jenks, and Dan Wheeler. It made me wonder how the teams have approached the free agent market during the last five years. We know the Yanks have spent more in general, but how much more than the Sox have they spent?
That’s where we get this little spreadsheet, which covers each team’s free agent outlays during the last five years. That is, from the winter following the 2006 season through the current off-season. You can click for a larger version.
It does seem a bit surprising that the Yankees have spent just $33.9 million more in free agency than the Sox. While fans and the media perpetually accuse the Yankees of buying their teams, the Red Sox aren’t that far behind in spending on other teams’ talent. The difference, as is made clear, comes from how each team handles its own free agents.
In those five years the Yankees have spent $477.5 million more on retaining its own free agents as the Red Sox. True, the Sox never had a Rivera, or a Jeter, or an A-Rod reach free agency, so the situations aren’t exactly comparable. The point, I think, is that much of the Yankees’ spending goes to towards retaining the players on their roster.
No one is trying to deny the Yankees’ monetary advantage. They can do things that other teams cannot. But it’s not as though they’re poaching other rosters. One winter they went nuts and spent $423.5 million on free agents — or 89 percent of their total free agency outlay over the last five years. For the most part, the Yankees use their most abundant resource as a tool to retain their own players. Most other teams don’t have that luxury.
NOTE: I forgot Kei Igawa on the Yanks’ side of the table. But I also didn’t include the posting fee for Matsuzaka. Mike and I tackled this issue on the podcast.
Brian Cashman has been running the Yankees since 1998, but it wasn’t until the after the 2005 season that he gained autonomy and full control of the baseball operations. Ownership was constantly dipping its toe in the baseball ops pool before then, and the Tampa faction of executives and team officials were meddling as well. The three-year contract Cashman signed after 2005 changed all that, but he was still stuck with the same team. Jason Giambi was just four years into a seven year contract and bitter old Gary Sheffield was still around. Carl Pavano was still under contract, ditto Bernie Williams and Jaret Wright. As much as he probably wanted to, Cashman couldn’t just flip a switch to make these guys go away.
It took a few years for Cash to get rid of those guys and replace them with players he wanted, but by the end of the 2008 season the process was pretty much complete. Sheff, Bernie, and Wright were long gone, and the contracts of Pavano and Giambi had mercifully expired at long last. That allowed Cashman to seek younger players at several positions, and he did just that by acquiring Nick Swisher and signing Mark Teixeira. Robbie Cano had established himself as no worse than a legit everyday second baseman with the potential for more, and one of the outfield spots was going to Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner, whoever happened to be playing better at the time. And that was just that one offseason.
As a result of all the new blood, the team’s defense improved. It was hard not to, frankly. The Yankees were probably the worst defensive team of the decade up to that point, and bringing in just average defensive players would have been a big time help. The table on the right compares the team’s defense from 2006 through 2008 (a period starting when Cashman got his autonomy and ending with a host of albatross contracts expiring) to the defense they’ve played since. I used UZR/150 instead of straight UZR because we’re dealing with a three-year sample vs. a two-year sample, so the rate stat makes more sense. In fact, they always do, but I digress.
The scary part is that this data does not include the 2005 Yankees, which may have been the worst defensive team in the history of baseball. If we include them, we’re looking at an improvement of 70.4 runs saved per 150 defensive games, a simply staggering amount. As it stands, the Yankees made what amounts to a five win improvement defensively thanks to the moves made in recent years, all because a few more of batted balls are converted into outs on a nightly basis.
Just three of the team’s eight fielders on Opening Day 2006 were playing the same position on Opening Day 2009, though we really should consider it four because of Alex Rodriguez. He was on the shelf in early ’09 recovering from his hip procedure, but he obviously would have been at the hot corner in Game One if healthy. The other holdovers were Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Cano. The entire outfield alignment changed during that three year period as did the first baseman.
The change continues as well. The presumed 2011 Opening Day defensive lineup figures to have just four players playing the same position that they did on Opening Day 2009, and that includes A-Rod. The entire outfield alignment changed again, going from Johnny Damon-Brett Gardner-Xavier Nady (LF-CF-RF) to Gardner-Curtis Granderson-Nick Swisher. Jorge Posada has been replaced behind the plate by Russell Martin. Just the infield remains intact, as they will for at least the next three seasons.
The cool part is that the Yankees made all this defensive improvement without sacrificing offense. In fact, they actually got better with the bats. They led baseball with a .353 wOBA from 2006 through 2008, an offense that was 15% better than league average according to wRC+. That improved to a .356 wOBA in 2009 and 2010, 19% better than average. Younger, more athletic players led to better defense and even improved what was already the game’s best offense, who’d a thunk it?
Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card, lost in ALCS
Top stories from last week:
- The Rafael Soriano and Scott Boras propaganda machine was in full force. First we heard that the Yanks were “in contact” with the reliever, then we heard that they had no interest. It ended with Brian Cashman explicitly saying that he will not surrender his first round pick to sign a free agent.
- Rumor had it that we would hear something about Andy Pettitte‘s future last week, but it didn’t happen. The Yanks are said to be willing to give him a raise to $13M or so.
- The Yanks have “started talks” with Andruw Jones for the right-handed hitting outfielder role, and they also have interest in Jeremy Bonderman. Astros infielder Jeff Keppinger had surgery on his foot and will miss the start of the season, effectively ending any chance that the Yankees would trade for him.
- Kevin Long plans to work with Derek Jeter before Spring Training begins, and Larry Rothschild will do the same with A.J. Burnett.
- The Yankees claimed righty reliever Brian Schlitter off waivers from the Cubs. The Pedro Feliciano contract became official.
- Nick Swisher will receive the 2011 Thurman Munson Award.
- A statue of George Steinbrenner was erected in front of the stadium that bears his name in Tampa.
- Yankee Stadium is being converted back to baseball after hosting a pair of college football games.
- Last, but certainly not least, our three new weekend writers made their debuts: Hannah, Brock, and Stephen.
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