As the Hot Stove League ambles ever onward toward the orgy of spending and free agent signings that is the Winter Meetings, one of the great pastimes of baseball fans involves spending their favorite team’s money. We spend countless hours on blogs, Twitter, sports radio, with our friends going over possible permutations. How much would we dole out for the Prince Fielders, the Albert Pujolses, the CJ Wilsons of the world? What trades would we make as GMs? What if reality were no obstacle?
Two of the more intriguing names this winter are unknown foreign commodities. We’ve heard about Yu Darvish for a few years. He is the most hyped Japanese pitcher since at least Daisuke Matsuzaka and probably since Hideki Irabu. Despite success in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, Americans haven’t seen much of him since the 2009 World Baseball Classic. With posting fees and Major League deals to hammer out, Darvish will command big bucks, and we still don’t know if he’s going to be made available for American bids.
The flavor du jour is Yoenis Cespedes, a 26-year-old Cuban star who is drawing interest from everyone. While the Marlins appear to be a frontrunner for the outfielder’s services, the Yankees have reportedly hosted a private workout for Cespedes, but much like Darvish, no one knows when Cespedes will be available for Major League bidding. Similar to Darvish, most Americans last saw Cespedes during the 2009 World Baseball Classic when he hit .458/.480/1.000. He has also excelled playing in Cuba and in international competitions.
Both of these players carry a lot of risk, and yet, both are in the eye of Yankee fans. We see Darvish’s overwhelming success in Japan and a young slugging outfielder with Gold Glove potential as ideal pieces for a team with unlimited money. These guys certainly carry a lot of risk, but for a team like the Yankees, they seem to be prime spending targets. The Yankees, who never land top first-round draft choices, should be using their dollars to soak up talent on the international free agent market, and while they’ve done so on the (relatively) lower ends of the spectrum with signings such as Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez, they haven’t made a huge splash with a multi-million-dollar deal since landing Kei Igawa back in 2007.
So now, Yankee fans want to spend on these players. Let’s up the bidding for Darvish; let’s go hard after Cespedes. The Yankees have a very solid core of Major Leaguers for 2012 and could spend their money on some medium-to-high risk investments that could also turn out to be high reward guys. Spend those dollars, folks.
Of course, reality has to intervene, and the Yankees have been shying away from risky deals. That doesn’t mean the Yanks don’t spend. Over the past three years, they’ve doled out big contracts to Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, Rafael Soriano and CC Sabathia again. They gave Pedro Feliciano a two-year deal for $8 million and heaped a three-year deal on Damaso Marte. In some cases, the Yankees are seemingly spending for the sake of spending, but in each case, the investment is a conservative one on a proven player. It is, in the parlance of economics, safe spending.
It’s not easy to pinpoint why the Yankees, who spent so much on Orlando Hernandez, Hideki Irabu, Jose Contreras and other less successful international headliners, have been reticent to go hard after a Darvish or Cespedes. Perhaps they’re playing it close to the vest to avoid a Matsuzaka-type situation; perhaps without George Steinbrenner driving the need to buy up every shiny new international toy, the various factions aren’t in sync on spending; perhaps the new generation of Steinbrenners would rather spend safely with a ceiling on rewards than risky without. C.J. Wilson, after all is a known commodity, but Yu Darvish, with all of his risk, offers the potential of higher rewards.
So ponder that over as we plan out the Yanks’ off-season. Should the Yanks spend safely on known commodities or go hard after the sexy headline-grabbers with all of the risk involved? There is no easy or right answer in this debate, but the spending choices made this winter could impact the franchise for years to come.
A special thanks to RAB regular Andy In Sunny Daytona for inspiring this post. You should follow him on Twitter right here.