The Lee-Crawford payroll situation

This morning we heard some writers float an interesting idea: could the Yankees add both Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford if Andy Pettitte retired and they flipped one of their outfielders? It sounded interesting, if a bit unrealistic. I decided to put together a spreadsheet, based on the one found at Cot’s Baseball Contracts. I took out Pettitte and Swisher while adding $24 million for Lee and $18.75 million for Crawford. Here’s how it would play out:

Add in another $10 or so million for arbitration raises (per B-Ref), and the payroll gets to around $220 million. That’s a bit above last year, but it still seems within the realm of possibility. I did take the liberty of naming the fifth starter as Ricky Nolasco, but that could be any starter making around $6 million. It could be even lower if they went with Ivan Nova instead of an outside pitcher in that fifth start spot.

Of course, signing Lee and Crawford would add plenty of money to future payrolls. He’s how the Yankees would look from 2012 through 2016 were they to sign those two.

And that’s before they play a single zero to six player. Maybe winning in the earlier years will make the later years sustainable. But those numbers just don’t seem within the realm of possibility.

email

Could the Yanks afford both Crawford and Lee?

Of course they can. But are they willing to take the payroll to that level? That remains to be seen. Buster Olney says Brian Cashman had a long meeting with Carl Crawford’s people last night, and that Crawford himself might have even been there. Jayson Stark adds that if Andy Pettitte does indeed retire, the team is hinting that they’ll have room for both Crawford and Cliff Lee. I suspect this is all posturing though, Darek Braunecker is playing games and Cashman wants to get the ball rolling with Lee. Showing interest in Crawford is likely nothing more than a decoy.

Imagining Crawford and Lee on the payroll

As we learned this morning, the Yankees are talking to Carl Crawford. This shouldn’t strike us as surprising. All season long we heard how much the Yankees liked Crawford. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to sign him. Cliff Lee still appears to be the first priority, meaning Crawford is only a backup plan — and a tough backup plan at that, since it still leaves a hole in the rotation and a surplus in the outfield. Chances are the Yankees are just trying to drive up the price for other teams.

Still, it’s tough not to wonder what the Yankees would look like with Crawford in the outfield and Lee on the mound. In terms of baseball skill, they’d have to be the instant AL favorites. Yet we know the company line on payroll: it won’t rise significantly. The Yankees had about $209 million on the payroll last season ($214 million, per Cot’s, minus the $4 million for Igawa). They then added some salary at the deadline. So maybe, just maybe, we could see the payroll hit $215 million. Can the Yanks fit both Crawford and Lee under that cap?

As it stands, the team has $144 million committed. We can add another $15 million for Mariano Rivera, and we can presume $19 million for Jeter. That brings payroll to $178 million. What about arbitration raises? Baseball-Reference estimates it at just under $11 million, so let’s add that in. The Yanks are now at $189 million, with a few holes still to fill. Now comes the fun part. Let’s add in Lee at $23 million. Payroll would then be $212 million. That appears to be the limit, and that’s before they sign Pettitte. If they bring him back that’s another $12 million or so. In this scenario, the Yankees would have a payroll of nearly $225 million. What’s crazy is that I don’t see what they can do to get it much lower, short of abandoning their Lee pursuit.

At that point it’s tough to see the Yankees, even with all their riches, going any further. Even $225 million seems way above where they’re willing to go. I’d bet that they get that number lower by making a chunk out of Lee’s first-year salary and making it a signing bonus. Even then, payroll would still be over $214 million, and that’s without signing a single bench guy.

Adding Crawford to that might seem like a ton, but it wouldn’t come on its own. Chances are the Yankees would deal Swisher or Granderson in that case, which would knock $8 or $9 million off the salary. They’d probably have to take prospects in return, since adding a major league player would mean adding even more payroll. But signing Crawford and dealing Swisher would be a net add of around $9 million, bringing the total to $234 million. With a few signing bonus manipulations, which will only hurt future years, the Yanks might be able to get that in the $220 million range. Is that something they’re willing to do just in order to put together a behemoth 2011 team?

There might be something else at play here — for all we know, the Steinbrenners could be thinking about selling the team. The Yankees could also think that the added revenue from another long playoff run would help justify these contracts in the future. But given the information we have currently available, signing both Crawford and Lee is a long shot. Talent-wise I don’t think anyone would be against it. But that creates some difficult payroll situations in the future. Are the Yankees ready to start committing $225-plus million to the club every year in the future?

Olney: Yankees are talking to Carl Crawford

Via Buster Olney, the Yankees are “very much engaged in discussions” with free agent outfield Carl Crawford, though it’s unclear if they’re looking at him in combination with Cliff Lee, or as an alternative to the lefty. I suspect it’s the latter, and they’re just covering all their bases. Should they miss out on Lee, they could attempt to sign the other CC and then deal one of their spare outfielders for a sorely needed starting pitcher.

It was pretty busy last night, so in case you missed it: Mariano Rivera is on the verge of re-signing for two-years and $30M, and the Yanks came dangerously close to trading Frankie Cervelli for the since non-tendered Russell Martin. That would have been awesome.

For the Yanks, Carl Crawford just doesn’t make sense

Carl Crawford is set to grab millions of dollars this winter. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

In the 1971 film version of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Veruca Salt, the most spoiled the children who found golden tickets, belts out an ode to greed. “I want the whole world,” she sings. “I want it now.”

To be a Yankee fan the 21st Century is to embrace Veruca Salt’s attitude. Our favorite team is the most successful in the game’s history, and it is positioned as the leader in the biggest market in sports. It has more money to spend than anyone else and do so with abandon, covering up mistakes with dollars in a quest to win. As long as baseball’s financial structure doesn’t limit the Yanks’ spending, they’re not doing anything wrong.

But within that construct is the need to spend wisely. The Yankees might have more money than everyone else, but they still seemingly have a budget. This is a point seemingly lost on many, and nothing has highlighted that belief in the reams of dollars more than this off-season. First, we’ve seen people call for Derek Jeter to get paid whatever he wants, but as Joel Sherman explained this morning, the Yanks and Jeter have to come to deal that makes sense for both parties. They can’t sacrifice winning — still their primary goal — at the expense of one player, and they should try to make the most out of their dollars.

The other example is even better. Based upon a report in The Post that says the Yankees have “reached out” to Carl Crawford’s agent, the clamor for Crawford has grown a little louder. It’s tempting to demand Crawford in that Veruca Salt way. He is a premier offensive player who had the good fortune, like Mark Teixeira, of hitting free agency while 28. The team that signs him will end up with a few years of decline at the end of the contract but will get Carl Crawford on offense and defense in his prime.

The Yankees know Carl Crawford well. He’s played 138 regular season games against them and has hit .301/.329/.419 with 47 stolen bases in 56 attempts. He plays a mean left field, and as R.J. Anderson explored a year ago, Crawford will get and deserve a deal in excess of $100 million. Since the Angels seem willing to spend that much, Crawford will probably wind up there. But what of New York?

The Yankees’ outfield was a great source of value for the team last year. Based on Fangraphs’ WAR valuation, the entire starting outfield put up a combined 13.1 WAR valued at $52.2 million. Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson combined to make a whopping $12.8 million. While those totals will rise in 2011, there’s a very good chance that Carl Crawford will be making more than Yanks’ three Opening Day outfielders combined.

Now Crawford, over the last two seasons, has exploded into a high-production player. He posted a 5.7 WAR in 2009 and a 6.9 WAR in 2010. He’s doing all he can to earn and deserve that large contract. But if Brett Gardner, who posted a 5.4 WAR and made $450,000 in 2010, can continue to be a 3-4 win player, and if Crawford is making $19-$22 million next year while maintaining a 5-6 win pace, the Yankees would be paying a whopping premium — somewhere around $17-$19 million — for an improvement of two wins. In economic terms, it would be an inefficient use of resources to sign Crawford, and he doesn’t address a need the Yankees have going into 2011.

The Yanks have clear needs for next year. They need another starter, maybe two, and they want a left-handed reliever. They don’t need an outfielder when they already have three of the top outfielders in the American League. Even for a team with resources as seemingly unlimited as the Yankees, they don’t need to embody Veruca Salt every time a free agent comes a-knockin’.