Friday, December 16, 2005

Sans Stats

If anyone watched The Colbert Report on Tuesday night, you know exactly what I’m going for with this weekly Sans Stats column. Every week, I try to compile a list of absurd sports stories and tell them in a satirical manner. Problem is, I’m just not that funny, so for every successful joke I crack, there are about two pounds of babble to wade through.

Stephen Colbert did a phenomenal job satirizing sports during his show, even bringing on Bob Costas as his guest. It makes me wish that I was funny. But, as they say in baseball, gotta concentrate on what you can do, not what you can’t. So I’m going to keep doing this, whether it’s funny or not. And if it’s not, well, I guess I should start to notice quite a dip in traffic on Fridays.

On a quick opening note (I know, how unprofessional of me), I just want to point out a little bit on the front page of Now, the article is Insider content, and since the Insider isn’t worth the toilet paper I wipe my ass with, I can’t attest for the whole article. But resident idiot Steve Phillips penned an article on where the remaining free agents fit in, and the teaser mentioned Bengie Molina and the Dodgers.

Let’s see. They have Jason Phillips under contract, and Dioner Navarro kicked some tail during the second half of last year. Yeah, that’s the first move I would make, bringing in a 31-year-old catcher whose best year was his walk year. Do I need to make a joke about this, or are we all content calling Phillips a flippin’ moron?


The big story this week: the "Love Boat" incident finally comes to a head, as Vikings Daunte Culpepper, Fred Smoot, Bryant McKinnie, and Moe Williams were chard with…misdemeanors? That’s all we’re getting, three lousy misdemeanor charges each?

There was a report circulating that McKinnie had been seen dumping evidence of the party at a construction dumpster. Minnesota’s KSTP went garbage picking, and claimed to have found a list of women’s numbers – purportedly a list of prostitutes trafficked over state lines, a felony – in addition to marijuana residue and remnants of gutted cigars. Yet prosecutors couldn’t put together enough of a case to charge the players with a felony. This brings an important point to light: don’t trust garbage pickers.

ESPN reports that each charged player could spend a maximum of 90 days in jail, but when was the last time a pro athlete spent time in jail on a misdemeanor? Hell, it took cocaine trafficking to land Jamal Lewis behind bars, and that was a highly reduced sentence. Official predictions? Well, if the prosecution couldn’t put together a felony case, they probably won’t be able to send any of them to jail. Maybe probation and community service, and that’s if they can hang in there and get a conviction. Smoot, McKinnie, and Culepper will likely serve a league-imposed suspension in the case of a conviction, and chances are Moe Williams will be released regardless.

More pro athletes facing misdemeanors: Utah Jazz rookies Deron Williams and Michael Whaley reportedly gave false names to police following an altercation at a local club. Figures that they’re rookies, since all veterans know that pro athletes can get away with murder (I will not make a Ray Lewis joke, I will not make Ray Lewis joke).

Furthermore, when Whaley was faced with questions about a cut in his hand that required six stitches, he doled out contradicting stories. First was that he cut his hand on a glass in the bar, which would have been true if he hadn’t specifically mentioned that it had nothing to do with the altercation, which it surely did. But then he went and told coach Jerry Sloan that he cut it when he found his 2-year-old son playing with a butchers knife. Said his son, "why you always gotta drag me into shit like this?"

Sticking with the theme of legal troubles, two MLB players are serving time in jail this week. Former Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson is behind bars for five days as a penalty for his umpteenth DUI charge. Quipped Ponson upon arrival at the prison, "I hope they have Grey Goose at this joint."

The other player, Ugueth Urbina, is serving time in his native Venezuela on slightly more serious charges. A judge denied him bail on Wednesday, but Urbina is still confident that he will receive clemency in the coming weeks.

Both players are still seeking employment next year; Urbina’s contract expired following the 2005 season, and the Orioles terminated Ponson’s deal due to breach of contract. If either player has half a brain left, the next logical move would be to the Yankees, as George Steinbrenner has a soft spot (or is it a hard on?) for criminals – Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, and Steve Howe immediately come to mind.

Matt Leinart’s draft stock is dropping, according to experts. The 2004 Heisman Trophy winner would have been the No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 draft had he not chosen to return to USC for his senior year. According to a report over at Pro Football Talk, "there's some talk that Leinart's growing reputation as a "party guy" could end up knocking him lower than No. 2 in the 2006 NFL draft."

They also cite pictures taken on Saturday night as a source of this "party guy" mentality.

Commented Leinart, "What? You think that’s the hottest chick I’ve gotten with?"

Proving that only dumb writers play the race card, there has been an uproar regarding an article about Eagles QB Donovan McNabb, in which Philadelphia NAACP President J. Whyatt Mondesire called the injured QB "mediocre at best."

Lost in Mondesire’s criticism is any mention of the Madden Curse, which loomed its ugly head over McNabb this season. The list of victims of said curse is getting longer, including Eddie George, Daunte Culpepper, Marshall Faulk, Michael Vick, and now McNabb. In fact, the only player not directly affected by the curse is 2005 cover boy Ray Lewis, though he did have a sub-par season. Commented Lewis, "What? I got away with murder. What more do you want from me?"

Instead of going with the Idiots of the Week this week, I think I’m going to hit the “complete opposite” button and go with the Smartest People of the Week. Really, I’ve already mentioned the idiots of the week.

Bill Mueller -- Yes, it was a no-brainer decision to pick the Dodgers over the Pirates. But he had us all wondering there for a minute.
Ron Artest -- For leaving all the shit behind him and requesting a trade from Indiana.
Arn Tellem -- For putting out reports that Nomar could decide his new team by Thursday, thereby increasing the chance of an impulsive “last-minute” offer from one of his four suitors.

And ya know, that’s all I can really come up with. So I guess I should dole out THE Idiot of the Week. This week, it’s ESPN’s Skip Bayless for continuing to write. Yes, that’s it. In fact, I think Bayless will hold this title until he does the respectable thing and retires. When a pro athlete sucks, he often gets cut or retires. Why can’t it be the same way for columnists that suck?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

F*ck Tha Police

Remember that guy Jason Michaels that us Yanks fans were discussing a few weeks back (it seems he has fallen off the radar for the moment)? From the Philadelphia Daily News:

This morning he [Michaels] is scheduled to appear at his twice-postponed hearing for a July 3 incident in which he is accused of punching and dragging to the ground a police officer outside an Old City nightspot.

Imagine him and Farnsworth on the same squad. Do you think anyone would dare throw at A-Rod or Jeter? I know I'd at least have to think about it 18 times before I did it, knowing that two brawlers are on the Yanks bench, just itching for a fight.

Please note that this doesn't make me want to sign Michaels (remember, I'm sticking with Bubba, maybe Kotsay or Payton for some time in CF/RF). Nor do I advocate assaulting police officers. I don't hate the police, I just don't care for their antics much.

To the police I'm sayin f*ck you punk
Readin my rights and shit, it's all junk
Pullin out a silly club, so you stand
With a fake assed badge and a gun in your hand

But take off the gun so you can see what's up
And we'll go at it punk, I'ma f*ck you up

Class A Charleston River Dogs

Our Quest for the 2008 Roster continues today in Charleston, South Carolina, home of the Class A River Dogs. They tied for second in the South Atlantic League Southern Division, and were tied for the third best record in the league.

The story here starts with 24-year-old first baseman Ben Jones. To perform any analysis, I’m obviously going to have to list his statistics.


Those are quite good numbers in anybody’s book, especially the isolated marks. The monkey wrench here is that he’s 24 in A ball, meaning he’s probably physically superior to a lot of the players there. He’ll surely move to Trenton or maybe even Columbus for 2006, which could even his numbers out. If he can handle the pitching there, he may have a future. But I just have a feeling that he’ll be overmatched at higher minor league levels and fizzle out of view.

Also playing first base for Charleston this year was 23-year-old Cody Ehlers. Checking in at 5’11”, 190 pounds, he is a far cry from Jones’s 6’3”, 196-pound frame. This would be problematic in the eyes of most scouts, but if we’ve learned anything from Moneyball it’s that players should not be judged by their physique unless it is an evident problem (if he can’t see his penis, for example). For now, we’ll look at performance rather than bodies (and penises).


There’s little not to like about Ehlers if you can put his frame aside. His average was far from terrible, and when attached to an OBP 109 points higher, it looks quite better. Combine that with a decent isolated power number and a relatively low strikeout rate, and you have a guy that we should definitely check up on regularly. I just hope he’ll make his way to Trenton next year rather than Advanced-A Tampa.

Next up on the list is Tim Battle, a 20-year-old outfielder who is only on the list because of his age. Plus, he racked up quite a few at bats, meaning a more meaningful sample size. But mostly because of his age.


His strikeout rate is especially troubling, but since he’s only 20, he gets half a pass on this one. Obviously that rate will have to drastically improve if he is going to advance. On the brighter side, he mashes the ball, as evidenced by that .196 isolated power mark. Given his age, he should be on the watch. Figure for him to end up in Tampa this year.

The problem with the rest of the group is a diminished sample size, but just to squeeze one more player, I’ll mention 22-year-old outfielder Edwar Gonzalez.


Discipline, discipline, discipline. The more I research minor league players, the more I realize that overcoming a free-swinging demeanor is not any simple task (which makes me wonder about Robinson Cano, but that’s for another day). Yet, it’s still possible to be a quality player without posting an astronomical OBP, so there is still hope for Gonzalez, considering his power numbers combined with a doable strikeout rate. I’ll add him to the list, but he has to be the little brother that takes all the abuse. It’s only fair.

Now comes the question of pitching, which isn’t exactly a strong point in the Yankees system. Other than Phil Hughes, who departed for Tampa mid-season, there isn’t really a bright spot as far as starters go on this staff.

Chase Wright is a 22-year-old lefty, the Yankees third round pick in the 2001 draft. He’s not quite a strikeout pitcher, fanning 6.88 per nine, and yes he does have some control problems – 4.31 per nine. From Baseball America:

A third-rounder in 2001, the Yankees Chase Wright often has had problems finding the plate as evidenced by his 166 walks in 251 innings entering this season. He has 44 walks in 87 innings this season, so the control problems aren't improving that much. The lefthander, however, had one of the best games of his pro career Monday. The 21-year-old allowed one run over eight innings while fanning seven to improve his record to 6-3, 4.67 for low Class A Charleston.

Not really counting on much here. One guy I do want to talk about, though is T.J. Beam, a 6’7” 25-year-old righty. The guy has some serious gas, striking out 11.77 per nine while walking only 2.72. Only two pitches that left his hand found the bleachers, and his WHIP was just a hair over one. Chances are, he’ll begin the season in Double-A, and will be in Columbus before long. Bullpen help? This one is promising.

Nine guys yesterday, another six today. Fifteen Yankees are now on the Quest for the 2008 Roster, and we still have Staten Island, Tampa, Trenton, and Columbus to go. I know you’re on the edge of your seats, Yankees fans, not satisfied until you have seen every decent prospect in the Yankees farm system hyperbolized.

(And not to keep harping on the subject of penises, but if you misspell the word and right click on it for suggestions, it will never suggest the word “penis.” Trust me, I tried every remotely close spelling. Nothing. What, are the people at Microsoft homophobic or something?)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Sorting It All Out

I wanted to keep some continuity and go with the Class A Charleston River Dogs article I had for today. But, as it turns out, the more I read on the message boards, the more I got to thinking about what’s going to happen in the next couple of weeks. Surely a few things will unfold, most notably the Johnny Damon escapades. But of all the possible outcomes, which benefit the Yankees the most?

It seems that everyone is in panic mode following the Winter Meetings, at which Brian Cashman didn’t land the center fielder the Yankees need. However, the level of “need” for a center fielder is possibly the most hotly contested issue for Yankees fans. Some feel that starting the season with Bubba is the way to go, since he’s cheap and wouldn’t require sacrificing players. Others feel that Bubba will be a huge bust and that the Yankees had better act now, lest they have the same gaping hole in center as last year.

In reality, the Yankees don’t need to do much to upgrade in center field. As I have mentioned before, Bernie Williams was the fifteenth best outfielder in the American League, which only hosts 14 teams. Despite this performance, the Yankees still have one of the most potent offenses in the league. So at the bare minimum, the Yankees have to replace a guy who hit .249/.321/.367 and plays terrible defense.

Can Bubba handle that? Personally, I think he can. It’s a given at this point that Crosby covers more ground than Bernie, and even though his arm isn’t great, it still trumps Bernie’s brand of lollipops. And in the offensive category, I fully believe that Bubba can at least match Bernie’s marks from last year. Don Mattingly was pulling hard for Bubba last year, working with him and talking him up to Joe Torre, eventually leading Torre to use Crosby a bit more. And when he did, Bubba started to hit a little.

There is no doubt in my mind that as I type this, Bubba is working his ass off to improve his swing. He knows that there is a distinct possibility that he’ll be the starter on Opening Day, and I doubt he’d just let this winter pass without making strides to improve. Of course, I don’t know Bubba personally, so I cannot attest to his workout regimen. But I do know that there is no excuse for him to not bust his ass this off-season.

Still, I’m sure Cashman doesn’t particularly want to begin the season with Bubba in center. Obviously he’d like to add Johnny Damon, but until his price tag drops to a reasonable salary for a shorter number of years, I firmly believe Cashman will stay away. Plus, there is always the possibility that Damon is merely using the Yanks as a bargaining chip with the Red Sox, who say they won’t budge from their four-year, $40 million offer. And quite honestly, I don’t think Damon is worth much more.

Another possibility is Seattle CFer Jeremy Reed, who was reportedly offered to the Yanks along with reliever J.J. Putz for Carl Pavano. Cashman has said of late that he wishes to hang onto Carl, as he could provide some punch to the starting rotation, and at the very least means more depth. It would seem that to deal Pavano, another team would have to ante-up significantly, and considering his injury-shortened 2005 and questions about his true ability, it’s unlikely that another team will swoop in with a considerable offer.

The question here is simple: is Reed a significant upgrade over Crosby AND Pavano? Because in essence, the move for Reed moves Pavs out of the rotation and Bubba out of center field, which in turn would push our buddy J-Wright back into the fold, barring the signing of Kevin Millwood (unlikely) or Jarrod Washburn (more probable than Millwood, but still unlikely).

Bubba and Pavano or Reed and Wright? As much as I like Jeremy Reed’s upside, I find it difficult to pick the latter option. If Vegas had odds on pitcher injuries, it would be about 5:2 that Wright will go down before mid-May with shoulder troubles. After him, the only starter left would be Aaron Small, a guy who 1) could be valuable out of the bullpen this year and 2) shouldn’t be relied on as a starter. We all love what he did down the stretch, but the team can’t count on that for next year. Relegating him to bullpen work/spot starts is the ideal situation.

Speaking of Small, he could be a bit more attractive to the Phillies now, who have traded Vincente Padilla to the Rangers for the infamous PTBNL. Mr. PTBNL likely won’t be throwing pitches for the Phils this year, and thus they could use a versatile option like Small, someone who can start and work out of the bullpen. It’s unlikely that the Phillies would take Small straight up for Michaels, since they know that Michaels is a decent commodity. Sturtze could be added to this package, or it could be Sean Henn, though I’d be very reluctant to sacrifice Henn and Small for Michaels.

Another option/rumor making its rounds with Yankees fans (most notably B-Man over at RLYW) is signing Juan Encarnacion AND Jacque Jones for a RF platoon, sending Sheffield to DH the bulk of the time. Trading Pavano for Reed would be a nice complement to this scenario, since the cost of Encarnacion and Jones would be offset by the fiscal relief of dealing Pavano. It would also keep Giambi at first base more often, where his numbers are vastly superior to his DH marks. Still, he’d have to DH at least a day a week, maybe two, which would put Sheff back in right field. This turns Encarnacion and Jones into bench players, which solves another problem: the thin bench.

The monkey wrench here is that Jones probably wants a full-time gig, not a platoon role (for which he is much better suited), and Encarnacion might not be warm to the idea, either. But the Yankees offer something that a team like the Royals – who have an offer on the table for Jones – just cannot: the perennial possibility of winning it all. There are few consistent winners like the Yankees, which is always attractive to free agents. Many players would accept more money and less playing time in New York rather than sign on to play full time in Detroit or Kansas City. Jones has said he’d rather play for a contender than sign with the Royals, so there’s a possibility there.

While this scenario sounds pretty out there, it makes plenty of sense when you consider the depth it adds to the lineup. Then again, at the same time it thins out the pitching staff. It is highly unlikely that the Yankees would sign Jones, Encarnacion, AND Millwood or Washburn, so that would mean J-Wright starting (which in turn means Small starts for a significant portion of the season).

This situation could also become a reality if the Yankees decide to keep Pavano and Crosby, which would keep the depth in the lineup as well as depth in the pitching. So once again, I find a scenario in which it makes more sense to keep Bubba and Pavano. This sucks. I’ve been on the “trade Pavano!” bandwagon since that article surfaced that he wanted out (I was on the fence, but that was the clincher). And now I’m advocating his residency?

Finally, I’ve become decisive about an issue: keep Pavano, keep Bubba. I know it’s going to be difficult to say “no, I think we should go with Bubba,” every time someone mentions a trade for a center fielder, but the more I think about it, the more I believe it’s the right move.

A more prominent option for the Yankees is Nomar Garciaparra. That’s been the talk of the tabloids of late, which means it’s probably a load of caca. While Nomar wouldn’t be a terrible option at first base, the deal doesn’t make much sense for either side. The other teams seeking him – the Indians, Dodgers, and Orioles most notably – would play him at a position he’s played before, shortstop or third base. The Yankees, however, would be signing him to play neither of those natural positions of his, but rather first base, right field, and of course DH.

While bench depth should be a priority for the Yankees, Nomar just might not be the answer. Chances are he’d take time away from Giambi at first, which we all know is a bad idea (if you’ve looked at his DH/1B splits). And this whole thing with Nomar in the outfield is really starting to scare me. I mean, this is a guy who has gone down with some serious lower body injuries of late. Imagine him sprinting for a deep fly ball in the right-center field gap. Can you say Griffey?

To solve the first base problem, I’ll revert back to what I said at the beginning of the off-season and sign Travis Lee. Of course, as with most of the free-agents, I don’t know what his demands are as far as playing time. But I figure he’ll play as much as Tino did this year, which isn’t a terrible amount of PT (348 PA). If anything, maybe he wants to prove himself after missing most of 2004 and subsequently being shown the door.

In the outfield, the Jones-Encarnacion platoon seems reasonable enough, but what about Jay Payton? He can play any outfield position, solving the problem of a center fielder and a guy to give Sheff time at DH. This also means that Bubba will see at least some time in center for which to make his case. And once Bernie re-ups for 2006 (he will, I’m tellin’ ya), the Yanks have five outfielders. Add Cairo to the mix, and the team just might be complete.

Posada, Stinnett

Giambi, Lee, Cano, Jeter, A-Rod, Cairo

Matsui, Crosby, Payton, Sheff, Bernie

Starting Five
Johnson, Mussina, Pavano, Chacon, Wang

Rivera, Farnsworth, Sturtze, Small, Wright, Myers, Proctor/Bean

Does that look like an AL East title to you? All the better, it’s actually realistic. And it will all be done with an off-season spending total of roughly $26 million (when you factor in raises like Matui’s, what Chacon will get in arbitration, etc.). And that may seem like a hefty sum, but it is less than the total of Kevin Brown’s and Bernie Williams’s contracts.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Rookie Ball

Cost cutting and the nurturing of minor league players go hand in hand. So that’s the next stop on our Tour of Frugality.

It had to be done some time this off-season: the beginning of the C.J. Henry saga. Yeah, remember back in June, when Major League Baseball held its annual amateur draft? Yeah, baseball has one of those, too! In the first round, the Yankees had what appeared to be a no-brainer of a pick, as St. John’s closer Craig Hansen was still on the board. And since you can never have too many arms in the bullpen, we all just assumed that he would one day be a Yankee (or traded for Jamie Moyer).

Monkey Wrench: Hansen’s agent is Scott Boras, the same Scott Boras that Brian Cashman is undoubtedly sick of dealing with. Remember that whole discount thing with Carlos Beltran right before he signed with the Mets? Yeah, that’s because he screwed Beltran. His ridiculous contract demands forced the Yankees to balk, leaving him with only the Mets on the table. Beltran wanted the Yankees, so Boras offered a discount, and the Yankees wisely rejected. Point is: if dealing with Scott Boras can be avoided, by all means avoid, avoid, avoid.

So the Yanks passed on Hansen and drafted high schooler C.J. Henry, whom they immediately began describing as another Derek Jeter. Apparently he has the same passion for the game that D.J. does, and they play the same position. Apparently that’s all it takes to make such a dramatic comparison.

The Yankees began the comparisons, and I’m going to continue them. The Sporting Brews is now the official C.J. Henry tracker. Throughout the 2006 season, I’m going to keep everyone updated on this coveted prospect who, also like Jeter, was taken in the first round. For starters, let’s examine their numbers from Rookie ball.

Derek Jeter, 1992

C.J. Henry, 2005

Very interesting. So it looks like Henry is the bigger producer in his first minor league season. And not only that, truth be told, those aren’t terrible numbers for a high schooler in Rookie ball. Sure, Henry ranked 8th on the GCL Yankees in OBP (100 at bats to qualify), but his isolated numbers are right up there.

Jeter spent his entire second season playing A ball in Greensboro, and it appears that Henry will follow a similar path, though he could split time among the various A-level teams affiliated with the Yankees. Here’s Derek Jeter in 1993:


Rise in batting average, lower isolated numbers. But this progression makes sense, since Jeter’s raw numbers all saw an increase. And for 2006, we’re going to see just how far C.J. Henry comes in his Jeter-esque development. It usually takes a high schooler about four years in the minors to develop, which will put us at 2009. By then, it’s questionable at best whether Jeter can still handle short. Henry might come just in the nick of time.

Some other notables from the 2005 Gulf Coast League Yankees (age in parentheses):

Jose Tabata (17): 156 AB, .314/.382/.417
Austin Jackson (18): 148 AB, .304/.374/.405
Angel Fermin (20): 154 AB, .305/.360/.526
Joel Perez (23): 124 AB, .242/.347/.427
Jose Gil (19): 140 AB, .279/.364/.379

Aw, hell. I know I want to focus on Henry, but I think it would be fun to follow all of these guys through next year. That’s four outfielders, a shortstop (Henry) and a catcher (Gil). We’re going to entitle this “Quest For The 2008 Roster,” even though if any of them make it, it will likely be 2009 (with Perez being the obvious exception).

Now for a pitcher. I guess two from the GCL make the cut, 19-year-old righty Francisco Castillo and 19-year-old lefty Domingo Cabrera. Castillo gave up just eight runs over 41 innings (five starts) for a 1.76 ERA. His 34 strikeouts in that time works out to 7.46 per nine, a respectable total to go along with 3.07 walks per nine. For a bit of icing, he only allowed one ball to leave the yard. And for the cherry on top, he hurls it 94-95 m.p.h. (per Baseball America).

Cabrera posted a 2.31 ERA over 31.1 innings (two starts), while posting 10.63 strikeouts per nine, only walking 2.6 per nine, and only let two reach the bleachers. The Baseball America link supplied above doesn’t touch the subject of Cabrera, but that could be because of his slightly undersized 6’1” frame. But it looks like the guy can chuck. Honorable mention here goes to Erik Wordekemper, who only walked one batter over 29.2 innings. But he did get roughed up a bit at short-season A Staten Island, giving up five earned runs over 10 innings, striking out only three and walking two.

That makes nine guys from Rookie ball, which makes me realize that I’m overvaluing these guys plenty. But whatever. Chances are that if someone in the organization is going to make it, it will be one of these guys, or one of the players I’ll cover in the next few days. Hell, if you pick a large herd, some are bound to flourish.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cost Cutters

Player2006 Salary2007 Salary2008 Salary
Alex Rodriguez **$19$20$19
Derek Jeter$19$20$20
Mike Mussina$17$1.5*$0
Randy Johnson$16$16$0
Gary Sheffield$13$13$0
Bernie Williams$3.5*$0$0
Jason Giambi$18$21$21
Mariano Rivera$10.5$10.5 **$0
Carl Pavano$8$10$11
Hideki Matsui$13$13$13
Jorge Posada$9$12 ***$0
Jaret Wright$7$4 ****$0
Kyle Farnsworth$5.7$5.7$5.7
Tanyon Sturtze$1.5$0$0
Kelly Stinnett$.67$0$0
Mike Myers$1.2$1.2$0
Committed Dollars$162.07$147.9$89.7

* Buyout
** Texas pays $6 million in 2006, $7 mil in 2007, $8 mil in 2008
*** Option likely picked up/automatically vests
**** Clever buyout clause that is a certainty

Frugality has never been a characteristic of George Steinbrenner’s Yankees – as if we needed a payroll chart to see that. Lavish spending has been George’s foremost weapon in the war against the rest of baseball, and while it has certainly helped, the Yankees have failed to meet expectations when payroll was at its highest.

The reason is simple: misappropriated funds. It’s an easy trap to fall into when you’re in fierce competition over the best players. Unlike most teams, the Yankees have quite a margin for error when it comes to these high-priced players, allowing them to outbid others for attractive players with extra dollars. But the risks add up, and you just can’t win ‘em all. And as we’ve seen in baseball, a lucrative contract morphs into an albatross quite easily.

Quick note: this in no way has to do with reports that the Yankees lost a significant amount of money this year.

Payroll capped last year at over $200 million. Luckily for the Yanks, plenty of contracts were coming off the books, allowing them some maneuvering room in the off-season. But how much room, exactly? Well, first bump that $162 number in the chart up to near $170 to account for the arbitration hearings of Small and Chacon, plus the $300,000 or so for each player who is not eligible for arbitration (Cano, Wang, etc.). And then bump that to $221 when you factor in the 30 percent luxury tax.

We have now reached a crossroads. Down one path lies continued spending. Johnny Damon is chilling down that way, sipping a cocktail. The other way is cost-cutting and efficiency boosting. Carl Pavano and Jeremy Reed exchange places somewhere along the way there.

I’m a firm believer in cost-cutting. I hate to harp on this subject one again because it seems that every Yankees conversation comes back to it, but “back in the glory days,” albatross contracts weren’t nearly as common. Team officials identified undervalued talent and combined them with high price, low risk players. The formula was a slightly above average payroll and a superb team. This new formula of spending yields an astronomical payroll attached to a pretty good team.

Superb > Pretty Good
Slightly Above Average Payroll > Astronomical Payroll

As I said, Carl Pavano and Jeremy Reed meet down the cost-cutting path, and even though the Yankees will probably throw in around $10 million on the trade, it is a good start. It may not shave the 2006 payroll, but it would save $8 million on Pavano’s 2007 salary (the $10 mil he is entitled to, minus the leftover $2 million from the cash payment), and the entirety of his earnings in 2008. Reed has just over a year of service time, so he won’t become arbitration eligible until 2008. Money saved all around.

There is no Johnny Damon in this situation. Carrying an additional $13 million in annual payroll over the next four years for a player like Damon is only going to only set the team back. You know how a certain team won’t sign a particular free agent because his position is spoken for? Well the Yanks already have too many players at the same position, the position of inflated contracts. Sorry, Johnny, there’s just no spot for you in this payroll.

The Yankees have committed to three players beyond the 2008 season: Derek Jeter (2010), A-Rod (ditto), and Matsui (2009), plus a $5 million buyouyt for Giambi in 2009, which adds up to about $59 million in 2009 (yes, for three players) and $41 million in 2010 (for two). To make further commitments with big dollars would be a mistake, unless those dollars are going to a young pitcher or an ace in his prime.

Another step in this process is to nurture the minor leaguers. Sure, not all of them will be on the 25-man roster some day, but by keeping a steady influx of talent via the amateur draft, the Yankees can re-strengthen their minor league system to the level it was at in the early 90s, when guys like Russ Davis netted us Tino Martinez and guys like Derek Jeter came through huge.

Sure, frugality may not be as sexy as lavish spending, but to paraphrase Billy Beane, we’re not trying to field a team of supermodels, we’re trying to field a team of ballplayers.

All figures in this article come from Cot’s Baseball Contracts and Unofficial Major League Baseball.

Update: Thanks to commenter momo, I have reviewed the information and realized that I slipped on Giambi's contract, not realizing that 2009 is an option year with a $5 million buyout. The numbers have been adjusted accordingly.