Could a ‘tight’ 2010 budget lead to wild spending in 2011?

In case you haven’t heard Brian Cashman say it often enough, the Yankees have a budget this season. He hasn’t revealed the exact number, though context clues have most pegging it at roughly $200 million. That leaves very little wiggle room this off-season, meaning we can forget about any more big names. It strikes me as odd, though, that the Yankees plan to hold back this off-season. There has to be some big picture aspect to this restraint, right?

Cashman has made clear his admiration of the 2010-2011 free agent class, noting its superiority over this year’s market. Consistent with that, the Yankees have signed just one free agent, and for a reasonable $5.75 million, one-year contract. They might add another, but expect that price to be even lower. In other words, the Yankees have used this free agent class to fill out their roster. To take care of their larger concerns they have worked two trades, one of which involves a player whose contract expires after the season.

It appears that the Yankees will bide their time (“[to] the extent acquiring Granderson and Vazquez can be called biding one’s time,” says Craig) and wait for a more robust free agent market. Even then, however, signing more than one free agent would likely involve expanding payroll well above the $200 million mark. The Yankees currently have $140 million committed to nine players, and that doesn’t count Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera. Assuming they bring back both, Jeter at $20 million and Mo at $15, then they’re at $175 million for 11 players.

Almost certainly the Yankees will sign a starter, with Cliff Lee as the presumed frontrunner. That will cost $20 million or more. If Hughes and Chamberlain prove themselves in the rotation this season the Yanks could fill out the rotation relatively cheaply, but then again both pitchers will enter their first arbitration years, making them slightly more expensive. Then there’s the left field situation. Maybe Gardner proves himself this season and allows the Yankees to fill LF cheaply in 2011. But if he doesn’t, and if Jamie Hoffman doesn’t turn into Dan Uggla, the Yanks could look to Carl Crawford of Jayson Werth, costing them another $12 to $15 million per season.

So is this off-season’s budgetary restraint just a precursor to wild spending in the future? It appears possible. The Yankees have a ton of money committed to their 2011 team already, and have a few holes to fill. They obviously like the free agents on the market next year, and to make a run at more than one would mean to put the budget well over $200 million. With the way the team looks heading into this season, I quite like the idea of restraint now and wild spending later. It perfectly fits the Yanks mantra of win now, win later.

Report: Everyone too expensive for Yanks’ LF hole

As the Yankees have seemingly wrapped up their major off-season shopping list — Andy Pettitte, an outfielder, a DH and another starter — the team has found itself somewhat down an outfielder. Although content to stick Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner in center field to start the 2009 season, baseball commentators and fans in New York expect the team to find someone better to fill the left field spot this year. Maybe it’s because Johnny Damon was so good offensively in left; maybe it’s because a few big-name outfielder remain. Either way, left field looms.

Except a funny thing happened on the way to Spring Training: Everyone is too expensive for the Yanks in left. We know that the team and Johnny Damon probably could have come to terms on a two-year deal at an annual salary of less than $10 million, but Damon wanted more. We heard the Yanks were interested in Mark DeRosa, but he has nearly officially agreed to a two-year deal believed to be worth around $12million with the Giants that is too expensive for the Yanks.

Beyond Damon and DeRosa, a few other names have surfaced. The Yanks could look at Jermaine Dye, but Jon Heyman warns us that the team is not interested. He too is probably too expensive. Even Xavier Nady, a free agent recovering from his second Tommy John Surgery, is too expensive for the Yanks, according to Bryan Hoch. On the open market, Matt Holliday and, to a much lesser extent, Jason Bay loom large in left, but the Yanks have shown no interest at all in landing these two players. Plus, if Nady, Dye, Damon and DeRosa are too expensive, Holliday and Bay are off the charts.

So what’s going on here? Are the Yankees really looking to reign in their free-spending ways? Are they coming off a World Series win, their highest-rated season on the YES Network, with a tighter wallet? For now — and I stress the “for now” aspect of it — that seems to be the case. But why?

Simply put, for the Yankees, left field isn’t a priority. Fans of the Bombers may want to see multi-millionaire future Hall of Famers at every position. They may want to see the Yanks nab the best guys on the open market year after the year, but that’s now how Brian Cashman acts. He’s content to have Hall of Famers at third, short and catcher. He’s happy with his All Star first baseman and center fielder, his on-base machine DH, his slugging second baseman, his fun-loving, power-hitting right fielder. With those pieces in place and a pitching staff, one through five, that matches up on paper with the best of them, the Yankees do not need to spend on a left fielder.

That doesn’t, however, mean that they won’t get involved with the right player when the prices come down. Chris at iYankees has continually professed that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Yanks were working to sign Holliday quietly. I don’t think the team will go that far. I do, however, expect them to keep Scott Boras’ number on speed dial. As Johnny Damon finds that his services aren’t needed elsewhere, as left field spots around the league fill up, the Yanks will grab the last man standing for a deal on their terms.

In the end, if they have to go to war with Brett Gardner and Jamie Hoffmann, they can. But when someone else at the right price is playing left field in April, I certainly won’t be surprised.

How to properly evaluate a trade

Twice this winter Brian Cashman has traded prospects for big leaguers. This is standard fare for the Yankees. The key to these trades is balancing immediate needs with those for the future. It’s far too easy to tip the scales in one direction, and we saw the Yankees blunder in this way over the past decade. This time around, however, it appears the Yankees managed their resources a bit better. They traded useful young players, but in return they received players who can help them in 2010 and beyond.

Despite widespread praise for the Yankees moves, a number of fans and analysts (more of the former than the latter) don’t like Brian Cashman’s dealings. They claim that he gave up too much for too little in return. But by which standard are they judging these moves? Are the detractors evaluating these moves by rigorous standards, or are they reacting emotionally to a business decision?

On The Book blog, Tom Tango notes two points upon which we should evaluate trades:

#1: What is the most outstanding player or package you can get back for a player or package?
#2: Are you better off keeping your player/package than the best outstanding offer on the table?

He then goes on to use the Javier Vazquez trade as an example.

Let’s take Javy Vazquez for Melky Cabrera + good-not-great prospect. If you are the Braves, is this the best you can get back? If not, you try to keep shopping. If it is, then you have to decide: am I better off trading?

If you are the Yanks and you want someone of Javy’s quality, is this the least you can give up? If not, you try to keep shopping. If this is the minimum you have to give up, then decide if you are still better off with the trade?

Looking at the Yankees situation, it seems that this was the least they could give up for a player of Vazquez’s ability. They pushed for Cliff Lee, but found the price too high. So they acquired a comparable pitcher for what we can presume a lower price. Would any other team trade the Yankees a pitcher of Vazquez’s ability for a similar package? We don’t know for sure, but it seems unlikely. The two teams matched up well because Atlanta sought to shed a starting pitcher, and the Yankees were in a position to absorb Vazquez’s salary.

The problem in evaluating trades, or even free agent signings, this way is that we’re not always privy to the unaccepted offers. Because of widespread rumor proliferation we learn more about these unaccepted offers than we ever have, but even now plenty of information never finds its way to us. That makes answering the first point difficult. If we do not know of other offers, then we can only answer the second part. Was the team better off keeping its players?

Most debate about trades centers on the second question because we assume that the package accepted was the best available. So we’re back to the beginning. Everyone will express an opinion on the matter, and we’ll see views of all different types. Which ones should we buy, then, and which should we disregard? The good arguments will look something like Dave Cameron’s comment on the post regarding the Brandon Morrow trade (spurred by his initial comment and Tango’s follow-up). The bad ones will usually consist of a sentence or two that focus on one or two aspects while disregarding other, possibly more important, points.

(Another aspect Tango emphasizes naming possible alternatives. “If you think your team could have gotten more, or given up less, then list out the players. It makes no sense to have an opinion that your team could have gotten more or given up less, unless you actually say what they could have gotten more or what less they could have given up.” To an extent I agree, but since your trade proposal sucks, I do offer a note of dissent. Many times, the naming of names adds no value to the conversation.)

Dissenting opinions are, as always, welcome. Didn’t like the Vazquez trade because you don’t think Vazquez won’t perform in New York? Why do you think that? What, other than an aberrant second half of the season five years ago, suggests that Vazquez can’t handle the city? That’s the kind of discussion that we promote at RAB. Some might not agree with you, but if you lay it out in these terms we can at least respect that you made a coherent, well thought out argument.

Open Thread: A ceiling, a floor or something in between

A few articles over the last few days have me thinking about the upcoming CBA negotiations that will soon take center stage in the baseball world. The current agreement expires on Dec. 11, 2011, and although I doubt we’ll see a work stoppage, the disputes between baseball’s haves and have-nots should be rancorous.

First, via MLBTR, we have a Nick Carfado Sunday extravaganza in which he talks about Dan Uggla’s situation. The emphasis is mine:

There’s no doubt the Marlins are planning another payroll dump, and Uggla would appear to be at the center of it. There was a lot of early talk about him going to the Giants, but that seems to have quieted down. Some scouts believe Uggla is best suited for the American League as a DH or someone you can move around, like a Mark DeRosa. The Marlins, who receive a ton in revenue-sharing and central-fund money, are looking to keep their profit margin high.

And then we have the latest from Maury Brown in which the Biz of Baseball writer explores payroll discrepancies over the last 11 seasons. The Yankees have led the league in spending in each of the last 11 years, but the bottom feeders — those with the lowest payroll totals — have been the Twins (2), Marlins (4) or Rays (5). The Yanks have outspent the lowest paid time by anywhere from 384 percent to a whopping 982 percent while the team’s payroll has increased from $91 million in 1999 to $220 million in 2009.

For many, this is a clear sign that baseball needs a salary cap. Someone must rein in the Yankees, right? Brown’s conclusion though is a different one. He wants baseball to focus on the teams on the bottom who continually pocket the revenue sharing money to, as the Marlins do, keep profits high. He writes:

While there is little denying that methods to constrain runaway spending on their part needs to be addressed, the real need is in providing more sustainable spending in the bottom quartile of the league. In 2006, adjustments to the CBA’s revenue sharing system were designed to incentivize the low-revenue makers to invest in player payroll at the major league level. While some clubs have made attempts, most have seen that revenue-sharing disincentives them from spending on player payroll. With increased centralized funds, why spend to win? In the past, winning was the only method insure revenues would come into your coffers. Now, there is less incentive to do so….

When the next CBA is reached (the current agreement ends in December of 2011), look for further tweaking of the revenue-sharing system to get the low spenders to increase spending, and increased penalties with the Luxury Tax (should it be held over in the next agreement) to try and stymie the Yankees from overspending. In the end, fans should spend more time focusing on the bottom, instead of the top (the Yankees) where there is increasing talk in favor of a salary cap. As the old adage goes, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

I’ve had informal discussions with a few baseball writers about this problem, and the general consensus is that a floor won’t work. Baseball should not make teams overspend on bad players just to meet some salary threshold, but the game can’t keep letting the clubs on the bottom of the payroll list pocket profits. It isn’t healthy for competition.

In the end, I have no answers, but it makes for an interesting discussion. To that end, here’s your open thread. Some guy named Brett is playing on Monday night football. Otherwise, you know the drill. Be cool.

DeRosa appears too rich for the Yanks blood

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Giants appear close to signing Mark DeRosa. While the Yankees apparently didn’t make him a primary target, he could have been a serviceable option at the right price. The Giants reportedly had an offer of two years and $12 million on the table, which is probably more than the Yankees want to pay DeRosa, who will turn 35 before the 2010 season starts. If the Yankees plan to add a second-tier outfielder, they’ll now select from a narrower group of candidates.

Should DeRosa and the Giants complete this deal, it could affect another player: Johnny Damon. While Rosenthal notes that the Giants “are expected to use DeRosa at third base,” he could still see plenty of time in the outfield. Pablo Sandoval, the incumbent third baseman, figures to move across the diamond, but could still get in time at third. The Giants are also reportedly close to a one-year deal with Juan Uribe, and while he’s a part-time player, he could still see significant playing time at third, moving DeRosa to the outfield.

Position and playing time aren’t the only reasons the DeRosa signing could affect the Giants’ interest in Damon. There is also the payroll issue to consider. The Giants entered 2009 with a payroll around $82 million, and like many teams they haven’t indicated that they’ll cross that line in 2010. With only $57 million currently committed to the team, it might seem like they have wiggle room. That number, however, covers only six players. Adding DeRosa at the reported $6 million salary makes it $63 million for seven players. Tim Linecum’s arbitration case could make it over $75 million for eight players. With 17 more spots to fill, and a few probably at above the league minimum, the Giants will likely break the $85 million mark at this point. Will they be willing to go above that?

All of this is to say that DeRosa signing with the Giants increases the chances Damon will land back with New York. It doesn’t mean that he will, of course, but it does mean another team off the board for him. Fewer teams means a lower price, which could drive Damon back to New York.

Wang keeps the door open to pinstriped return

By all appearances, the Yankees remain interested in Chien-Ming Wang. After the team non-tendered him earlier this month, we learned that they offered him a split contract which would add him to the active roster once his shoulder recovers. A few weeks later, a report surfaced that the Yankees would like the chance to match any other team’s offer. While that doesn’t guarantee that the Yankees would match, it’s clear that they want every opportunity to retain Wang. Might Wang want every opportunity to remain a Yankee?

Sam Borden of the Journal News received word of a recent public appearance wherein Wang said “that there were no hard feelings on his side about being non-tendered.” Not that there should be; any sane team would have done the same. I’m willing to bet, even, that the Yankees are the only team that would have even considered tendering him a contract. But not even the sport’s richest franchise would guarantee Wang $5 million, or more, following pretty serious shoulder surgery.

Just because Wang doesn’t harbor ill will doesn’t mean that he’s willing to return. His statement might have been no more than a publicity bit, to keep satisfied his fans who want to see him continue pitching in pinstripes. After all, Wang does have a few reasons to consider pitching elsewhere, the foremost of which is playing time. The Yankees currently have six starters for five rotation spots, so even if they suffer an injury early in the season they have an in-house replacement. Wang could find himself ready by early June, but no spot in the rotation to fill.

Another, lesser team can offer Wang a guaranteed rotation spot once his shoulder recovers. He could sign with, say, the Astros, knowing that they’ll have a spot for him at any point in the season. That means more innings, which can turn into a bigger payday next winter, Wang’s final year of arbitration. Because the Astros operate with tight pursestrings, they might even non-tender Wang if he pitches well enough in 2010, making him a free agent a year early. That’s certainly a rosy scenario for Wang’s wallet. But is that all he’s after?

Clearly, baseball players have a limited earnings window. This goes especially for pitchers, and especially for pitchers who have suffered three shoulder injuries. But at what point do familiarity and an opportunity to win matter? Wang had to watch as his teammates won the World Series, but he was still right at the center of the celebration at the mound. There has to be a part of him that wants to return and get a chance to contribute to another championship. If that resides high on his priority list, we’ll probably see him back in pinstripes. If it’s really all about the money, he might consider other destinations, even if the Yankees match a deal for 2010. The guaranteed rotation spot in another organization could boost his future earnings.

By the Decade: From a strength to a weakness in center

For the seventh installment of our Yankees By the Decade retrospective on the aught-aughts, we land in center field. For the Yankees of the 2000s, center field represents quite the dichotomy. The position peaked early and never regained the luster of the Bernie Williams Era.

Bernie Williams 2919 854 167 11 114 469 395 45 20 431 88 .293 .378 .474
Melky Cabrera 1226 326 55 9 23 149 95 8 11 165 30 .266 .321 .382
Johnny Damon 843 232 43 6 35 111 107 1 6 125 7 .275 .358 .465
Brett Gardner 311 85 8 8 3 32 30 0 4 52 3 .273 .344 .379
Hideki Matsui 287 92 26 1 7 54 28 2 3 44 8 .321 .381 .491
Kenny Lofton 239 65 10 7 2 15 26 0 0 23 3 .272 .338 .397
Bubba Crosby 109 24 3 0 3 11 6 0 1 24 1 .220 .267 .330
Clay Bellinger 79 14 4 0 2 8 12 0 0 23 1 .177 .280 .304
Tony Womack 64 17 4 0 0 3 0 0 0 11 3 .266 .266 .328
Raul Mondesi 42 10 4 0 2 9 3 0 0 7 0 .238 .289 .476
Gerald Williams 28 6 1 0 0 1 2 0 0 4 2 .214 .267 .250
Totals 6261 1754 331 42 195 880 706 56 46 936 148 .280 .355 .440

Bernie Williams retired — or was forced off the Yanks when he opted against accepting a Spring Training invite in 2007 — in 2006. Yet, he remains the center fielder of the decade. Despite a late-career swoon, he still hit .293/.378/.474 as the Yanks’ center fielder this decade, and his early-00 numbers are, as we’ll see soon, stellar.

After Bernie became too old and too slow to adequately man center field, the Yankees simply could not find an adequate replacement. For one year in 2006, Johnny Damon‘s offense was well above-average, but his defense in center was anything but. He turned in a -11.6 UZR that year and sported his trademark awful arm. The man hired to replace Bernie had all over 843 at-bats at center over his four years with the Yanks.

Melky Cabrera and then Brett Gardner followed Damon in center. Although Gardner flashed some speed and Melky an arm, the two weren’t impact offensive players. For the decade, the tale of center field is one of decline. Bernie started off strong, but by 2009, the Yanks were content to live through average or below-average center field production. It’s been a long, hard fall:

Bernie Williams 2919 854 167 11 114 469 395 45 20 431 88 .293 .378 .474
2000-2002 1643 523 107 8 74 311 226 29 14 243 47 .318 .402 .528
2003-2004 803 216 38 2 31 108 124 12 4 112 29 .269 .368 .437
2005-2006 473 115 22 1 9 50 45 4 2 76 12 .243 .309 .351
Yanks CF Overall                            
2000-2002 1865 572 119 8 81 341 243 29 15 296 51 .307 .388 .509
2003-2004 1266 356 65 9 42 170 173 13 7 171 39 .281 .368 .446
2005 617 149 31 2 7 59 50 2 1 99 16 .241 .296 .332
2006 670 183 40 6 26 84 70 4 6 104 6 .273 .345 .461
2007-2009 1843 494 76 19 39 226 170 8 17 266 36 .268 .333 .393

With this table, we can track that fall. For three years, Bernie was a beast. He put up a combined OPS+ of 140, and Yanks’ center fielders hit a combined .308/.388/.509. The vast majority of the team’s overall counting stats in center came during those three years. The 81 home runs and 340 home runs were nearly 40 percent of the decade’s totals. The slugging outpaced the rest of the decade by over .060 points.

In 2003, though, Bernie fell to Earth, and for the next two seasons, the Yanks tried to move a proud aging ballplayer to lesser position. In 2004, the team brought in Kenny Lofton, but Joe Torre stuck with his man. Bernie still made nearly two-thirds of all center field at-bats, and his OPS+ over that span was a good-but-not-great 108. Still, the combined .281/.368/.446 line was not too shabby.

In 2005, it all fell apart. Bernie couldn’t hit, and his legs were gone. A cameo by Melky Cabrera was worse, and the Yanks’ center fielders hit .241/.296/.332. It was truly a low point of the decade. Johnny Damon provided some pop in 2006, but he couldn’t man the position. The combined .273/.345/.461 line was a breath of fresh air amidst some offensive woes later in the decade.

When Melky Cabrera took over in 2007 and enjoyed approximately 80 percent of the center field playing time for the next three seasons, the Yankees were seemingly content to let the offense in center slide. Since 2007, Yanks’ center fielders have hit .268/.333/.393. That .726 OPS is a far cry from the .897 mark that started the decade. Melky’s combined UZR in center over the last three seasons has been -8.4. He was well below average in 2007 and at or slightly above average in 2008 and 2009. Melky had an average 2009 with the stick, but now he’s gone, sent to Atlanta in the deal that brought Javier Vazquez back to the Bronx.

As the Yankees head into 2010, they will begin a new era in center field. Curtis Granderson is under contract through 2013, and the club holds an option for 2014. Hopefully, the new decade will begin as the previous one did — with some top offensive and some solid defense out of center field. It’s been a while.