With Lee, Yanks would have to increase payroll

When it comes to the Yankees’ budget we hear, for the most part, vague statements. Last winter Brian Cashman kept saying that ownership gave him a number he had to stay under. This year Hal Steinbrenner has said that 2011 payroll will be on par with 2010. But does that mean the 2010 Opening Day payroll, or the final number that included Kerry Wood and Lance Berkman? With the work the Yanks have to do on the roster I’d hope it’s the latter. But we just don’t know. What we do know — or at least what we can reasonably assume — is that if the Yankees sign Cliff Lee this off-season, the team payroll will increase considerably by 2014.

If you head over to Cot’s you can see every team’s payroll obligations through 2014. For the most part you see one, maybe two players per team in that column, if any. What’s most common is an option buy-out. Most teams do not have significant commitments four years into the future, and for good reason. Even one bad contract can significantly hamper their flexibility. The Yankees are in a different position than every other team. They can make these commitments, knowing that there will be money in the checking account.

The only question the Yankees face is of how far they’re willing to expand future payroll. If they play their cards carefully they can probably sign Cliff Lee and still come in with a payroll under $210 million. That will include big contracts for Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira. They’ll shed some of those contracts in the next few years, but they won’t shed all of them. In fact, if they sign Lee to a five-year contract worth the same $23 million Sabathia earns annually, they will have $96.5 million committed to four players in 2014. That does not bode well for payroll flexibility.

What’s worse, in 2014 those four players will be at the tail end of their primes, if they haven’t already exited. Alex Rodriguez will be 38; Mark Teixeira will be 34; CC Sabathia will be 33; Cliff Lee will be 35. We’ve seen players put up superb numbers at those ages, but those are the exceptions. While all four of the above are exceptional players, I think it’s a bit optimistic to think that they’ll all be producing at elite levels in 2014. Even if they are, they’ll still cost nearly half of what the Yankees have paid for the entire team in recent years. Should that then cause them to back off Lee?

If the Yankees plan to stand firm and not raise payroll significantly above $200 million, they probably need to give serious thought to the Lee question. To put it into perspective, the Yankees currently have roughly $140 million committed to eight players (plus Marte, who is dead weight) in 2011. That’s $17.5 million per player, with 17 more spots to fill. In 2014, with Lee in tow, they’d be committing $24.125 million per player, with 21 more spots to fill. I’ll leave that without commentary as to let it sink in.

If the Yankees do sign Cliff Lee this off-season, they’ll have made one thing clear: that they’re going to raise payroll, perhaps by a significant amount, over the next four years. With those four mega contracts running through 2015, at the earliest, the Yankees need more money in order to put players around them. Good players do not come cheap. Unless the Yankees’ farm system produces a string of stars in the coming years, there isn’t much of an alternative.

The RAB Radio Show: November 15, 2010

The RAB Radio Show has returned, but we’re taking a different approach this time. Every day around this time you’ll get a short burst of Mike and Joe, oftentimes with a guest, talking about the Yankee news of the day.

Today we’re talking Rookies of the Year. It’s tough to argue with the winners, though Mike and I hit on some of the finer points of the results. Two former Yankees farmhands, Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata, received votes.

Then it’s to the pitching coach situation. What are the Yankees looking for in Eiland’s replacement? Who’s the favorite now? That’s what we’re talking about.

Podcast run time: 20:34

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license.

Posey, Feliz named Rookies of the Year

Buster Posey of the Giants and Neftali Feliz of the Rangers were named the Rookie of the Year in their respective leagues this afternoon. Posey, who racked up a .368 wOBA and 3.9 fWAR in 108 games, narrowly beat out Jason Heyward of the Braves for the award (129-107 voting). Feliz, 2.96 FIP and 1.7 fWAR  in 70 appearances, edged former Yankee farmhand Austin Jackson for the AL crown (122-98). A-Jax received eight first place votes, and no Yankees appeared on the ballot. I’m not even sure who would have been a candidate. Maybe Ivan Nova? Yikes.

Anyway, congrats to Posey and Feliz.

Details emerge in Scranton Yanks sale dispute

An artist's rendering of the proposed renovations to Scranton's PNC Field.

We reported last week on the impending sale of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre AAA franchise to the Yankees and Mandalay Bay. At the time, the details included a $40-million stadium renovation plan and a $14.8-million price tag on the franchise. But since then, more information has come to light that sheds a less-than-flattering light on the stadium shenanigans.

Currently, two parallel disputes have the potential to plague the project. The first is a lawsuit brought by Luzerne County officials. They claim that because they ponied up $1 million in 1986 — or half of the purchase price for the franchise — they are now owed half of the money from the impending sale. Lackawanna County, the physical home of the franchise and selling party, filed a countersuit requesting $20 million or half of what it has spent on baseball. The impending lawsuits will derail immediate plans to use the proceeds from the stadium sale.

Meanwhile, the sale and sweetheart terms of the agreement — more on that in a second — seem to be the product of intense lobbying by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. As The Times-Tribune reported yesterday, Rendell was a driving factor behind the sale and pledged $20 million in state money to fund the ballpark renovations as well. He didn’t do anything wrong or illegal, but his actions have led to the tensions in Northeast Pennsylvania.

Furthermore, now that details of the lease agreement have leaked, this deal is looking more and more like a losing proposition for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania. The $14.7 million the county will receive from the purchase of the franchise is to be reinvested in stadium upgrades, and the state will add in another $20 million. Neither the SWB Yankees nor the purchasing entity — the New York Yankees and Mandalay Bay — would have to chip in any additional money for the stadium upgrades. If the renovations come in under budget, the remaining dollars will be held in a sinking fund for future improvements and repairs.

And so what we have is yet another municipal stadium mess. Lackawanna County contends that baseball will depart from Northeast Pennsylvania without this investment while Luzerne County claims the sale price of the franchise is too low. More than $7 million from the purchase of the team will be held by the court, and the battle — and state’s and city’s willingness to fork over $40 million in taxpayer dollars with dubious fiscal returns — will loom over the 2011 AAA season.

After the jump, I’ve posted the Memorandum of Understanding between the Multi-Purpose Stadium Authority of Lackawanna County and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. It highlights how much of a good deal the franchise is getting in this sale. [Read more…]

What Went Wrong: A.J. Burnett

The Yankees added two high priced free agent starters last offseason, and while CC Sabathia has been worth every penny of his contract so far, the same can’t be said of A.J. Burnett. He was good enough during his first year in pinstripes and nothing short of brilliant in the team’s most important game of the 2009 season, but Burnett’s follow-up campaign was well below expectations and left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Ironically enough, Burnett’s season started in a very good way. Following his first outing of the year, in which he allowed three runs in five innings against the Red Sox, Burnett went through a stretch in which he allowed zero earned runs in three of four starts. His ERA sat at 1.99 through his first five starts of the season (with a sparkly 4-1 record), and after eleven starts he was still sporting a 3.28 ERA while the Yanks were 8-3 with him on the mound. There were some warning signs, however, most notably with A.J.’s strikeout rate. It had dropped to just 6.7 K/9, just about two full strikeouts off from last year’s pace. But hey, it was just eleven starts and Burnett was throwing the ball well, we all figured the strikeouts would come eventually.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. Well, the low strikeout rate did, but not the success. In his 12th start of the season Burnett allowed six runs in six innings against the Blue Jays. Six days later he surrendered four runs in six innings to the Orioles, and the next three starts after that resulted in 33 baserunners and 19 runs in just 10.1 innings. Put it all together and Burnett’s June was statistically the worst ever by a Yankee starter: five starts, five losses, an 11.35 ERA and an almost unfathomable .471 wOBA against. All of the good work he did in April and May was washed away, and halfway through the season he was sporting a 5.25 ERA and the Yanks were just 8-8 in his starts.

The June collapse coincided with the absence of the now departed pitching coach Dave Eiland, who was away for personal reasons. The narrative practically wrote itself, Burnett would get better once his regular pitching coach returns. And you know what? He did for a while. With Eiland back with the team, A.J. threw 6.2 scoreless innings against the Jays, then limited Oakland to two runs in seven innings next time out. Things seemed to be going well, but after the Rays hung for runs on him in just two innings, Burnett slammed his hand into a clubhouse door out of frustration, cutting it open. He apologized to his teammates and had his next pushed back a few days to deal with the injury, but he then threw 11.1 scoreless innings against the lowly Royals and Indians.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

As late as August 1st Burnett had himself a tolerable 4.52 ERA that lined up with his 4.59 FIP, certainly not what the Yankees were expecting out of their Opening Day number two starter but not completely horrific. Well, that’s when things got horrific. In his first outing of August, the Jays scored eight runs before Burnett could complete the fifth. The rest of the month featured a 7.80 ERA and yet again five losses in five starts. After the end of July, A.J. pitched to a 6.61 ERA (5.23 FIP) and as hard as it is to believe, the Yankees won just two of his final dozen starts the rest of the season.

Unsurprisingly, Burnett did not make the team’s three-man ALDS rotation, and their pounding of the Twins meant his services weren’t needed in relief either. He did make the team’s ALCS rotation by default, taking the mound in Game Four with the Rangers up two games to one in the series. Burnett actually wasn’t terrible in that start, holding the Rangers to just a pair of runs (without the benefit of a ball leaving the infield) in the first five innings. With the tying run on second with two outs in the sixth inning, Joe Girardi had Burnett intentionally walk David Murphy to face Bengie Molina. The first pitch pitch of the encounter was supposed to be low and away but it wound up up and in, and Molina turned on it for a go-ahead three run homer. The damage was done, and instead of walking off the mound feeling good about himself, A.J. went back to the dugout hearing the loudest boos of the season. Rather remarkable considering how the fans treated him in the second half.

The end result of Burnett’s season was 33 starts but just 186.2 innings (almost exactly 5.2 IP per start), so he was taxing the bullpen on a regular basis. In fairness, that number is slightly skewed by three starts in which Burnett was forced to exit early due to rain. His 5.26 ERA was easily a career worst, though his 4.83 FIP was merely awful. The 6.99 batters Burnett struck out per nine innings pitched was his worst mark since 2001, and he led the league with 19 hit batters and 37 stolen bases allowed. All told, opposing batters posted a .362 wOBA against the Yanks’ $16.5M man, so he basically turned every hitter he faced into the 2010 version of Alex Rodriguez. The total package was worth just 1.3 fWAR, ranking 90th out of the 103 pitchers that threw at least 150 innings in 2010.

The Yankees knew that Burnett was pretty unpredictable when they signed him to that five-year, $82.5M contract last winter, but I don’t think anyone expected him to go south this hard, this quickly. The lack of strikeouts is most concerning, since the ability to miss bats was the one thing A.J. has excelled at his entire career. His curveball, which checked in at 16.0 runs above average in 2009 (fourth best in baseball) dropped off to 3.9 runs below average, one of the eleven worst in the game. Whoever replaces Eiland as pitching coach will have the work cut out for them, starting right here with Burnett.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 15th, 2010

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:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.


Is the end for Sterling and Waldman nigh?

Ed Murawinski's poster of Suzyn Waldman and John Sterling affectionately dubbed the pair Ma & Pa Pinstripe. (Murawinski/Daily News)

Few members of the Yankees’ extended family elicit more debate and dissension than John Sterling and his Yankees Radio Network compatriot Suzyn Waldman. We’ve gone on the record wondering if the Yanks could do better but recognize that we’ve been stuck with Sterling for better or worse. Some people love his histrionics and gregarious radio voice while others would prefer that Waldman and Sterling work on their descriptive abilities and call the game as its played instead of the game in their mind. According to one recent report, though, we may be nearing the end of the Sterling-and-Waldman Era.

Bob Raissman, the well-sourced sports media columnist for the Daily News, questioned the future of Ma & Pa Pinstripe in his column on Saturday morning. The team’s radio deal, estimated at an annual worth of $12 million, with WCBS AM 880 expires after the 2011 season, and so too do Sterling’s and Waldman’s employment contracts. As Raissman puts it, Hal Steinbrenner’s Yankees are in no rush to renew the deal if the finances aren’t just right, and the team may be willing to let its next radio partner pick the broadcast voices.

“The Yankees regime, led by Hal Steinbrenner, will be more concerned with obtaining maximum dollars in a new radio deal than who the broadcasters are,” Raissman says. “Loyalty ain’t even a factor here.”

It will be interesting to see how this storyline plays out. Sterling and Waldman were George’s people through and through. Steinbrenner loved Sterling’s personality and his campy approach to Yankee games, and Waldman has been an organizational favorite and a female trailblazer in sports media for nearly two decades. Compared to the stars they cover, they don’t earn large salaries, but if another station wants to build its own identity, it sounds as though the new generation of Steinbrenners would have little use for the old.

And what might that new station be? Raissman reports of a potential change and one that would not be welcomed by many Yankee fans. “Outside of WCBS, which probably wants to keep the Yankees, it’s highly likely ESPN will – if it hasn’t already – stick its beak into the mix. For ESPN-1050, the process of trying to chip away at WFAN, longtime Mets rights holder, has not been easy,” he reports. Adding Yankees radiocasts to the mix of Jets, Knicks and Rangers would help change the equation – drastically. But how much would ESPN be willing to pay for the radio rights to Yankees baseball? And would pinstripe honchos be satisfied having their games go out over ESPN-1050’s weak signal?”

WEPN 1050 AM has a notoriously weak signal in the New York area. While WCBS 880 AM is one of the FCC’s clear-channel class A stations that doesn’t face competition for signal strength in the eastern half of the United States, WEPN isn’t so lucky. This class B signal is limited by a station in Philadelphia at 1060 on the AM dial, and it must avoid pointing or powering up its signal to the southwest due to the clear-channel status of an AM station in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Listeners near Boston and Washington, DC, can hear WCBS while residents in Monmouth County, New Jersey, have trouble with WEPN.

Right now, this contract status isn’t a very big issue. The team has another year left, and Sterling and Waldman will be around for it. How this is eventually resolved though will be an indicator of how things have changed business-wise for the Yanks after the passing of King George. Hal’s approach could be much, much different.