I wasn’t going to post anything else today after my ‘awards’ piece, but the news that the Yankees have agreed an eight-year/$180m contract with Mark Teixeira has compelled me to get back in front of my keyboard.
No doubt my experience mirrored that of many baseball fans when waking up to the news this morning: logging on to MLB.com, seeing the headline ‘Yanks land Teixeira with eight-year deal’ and muttering a common two-word phrase in which the second word is ‘me’ and the first word begins with ‘f’.
Oh yes, the Yanks have done it again! After giving Sabathia $161m and Burnett $82.5m, the Steinbrenners have fumbled around under the cushions of their sofa and found another $180m of change to add another free agent to their collection. As befits the stereotype of an impatient New Yorker, Yankee fans haven’t had to wait until Christmas day before receiving a bundle of wonderful presents, although next year’s amateur player draft could be a greater test of endurance. It looks like they won’t get to select a player until the fourth round thanks to all of the draft picks they will lose.
That’s a price the Yankees will be more than willing to pay. In fairness to them, if you are going to lose draft picks and spend a lot of money, you might as well do so by acquiring the best players available. Giving multi-year deals to pitchers is always a risk (one that can’t be completely avoided), but signing CC Sabathia for $161m makes a lot more sense than giving Barry Zito $126m, or even inking mediocrities like Carlos Silva to four-year deals worth $48m. Although the Burnett deal has the potential to turn into a disaster due to his injury record, if he can keep on the mound then he makes the Yankees’ rotation a fearsome group.
Just as Sabathia and Burnett represented two of the top pitching talents available, Mark Teixeira was undoubtedly the premium bat on the free agent market. He has proved to be a consistent run producer and also an excellent fielder at first base and there’s no doubt the Yanks have got a quality player for their money.
Maybe there is some hope for depressed baseball fans fearing that the signing of the first baseman has made it inevitable that the Yankee’s will sweep their way to success. The Braves traded for Teixeira at the end of July ’07 to turn a play-off hopeful into a play-off participant. Result: they didn’t even win the NL wild card, never mind the NL East division. The Angels traded for Teixeira at the end of July ’08 to turn a play-off team into a World Series champ. Result: L.A. fell at the first hurdle in October. So, perhaps Tex isn’t quite the impact player we have been led to believe?
No, I haven’t been able to convince myself that’s the case either.
While Yankee fans are ecstatic, everyone else is busy bemoaning the unfairness of it all. Even though it is true that the Bronx Bombers have seen a lot money coming off the payroll this winter, that doesn’t diminish the impact of committing themselves to spending $423.5m on just three players.
Take my A’s as an example. Last year, our opening day payroll for the 25-man roster was a shade under $48m. Even when you disregard their signing bonuses, the Yankees’ three new players will earn $54m combined in 2009.
So is the signing of Teixeira yet another symptom of everything that is wrong with the game? Not as far as I’m concerned.
Like it or not, the Yankees generate a huge amount of revenue and they are entitled to spend it as they wish (and you have to grudgingly admire the fact that they choose to spend that money on trying to win rather than lining the owner’s pockets). The Yankees also generate revenue for the other teams to enjoy, indirectly by increasing the value of the overall TV contracts and directly by shelling out ‘luxury tax’ ($26.9m for 2008).
More than anything, the Yankees’ prolific spending should be the source of great entertainment. The potentially great team the Yankees will be fielding gives everyone else a target to aim for. They are firmly cast as the pantomime villain and a convincing bad guy makes any show all the more exciting. Fans of the other twenty-nine teams will be gritting their teeth today, saying to themselves: ‘I hope we get a chance to knock those bloody Yankees down a peg or two’.
These signings (and there may be more to come) have made the Yankees a formidable contender for the World Series and they could well go on and win it all. However, anyone who knows anything about sports (and particularly MLB) knows that there are never any certainties. If the Yankees end the year parading the World Series trophy, I’m sure their massive wealth will be at the forefront of my mind. But that same level of spending will also make it all the more enjoyable for a team that is able to beat them.
Oh, I can see it now. Game seven of the ALCS, the scores are tied in the ninth inning and the A’s complete a glorious comeback against all the odds, one that makes David versus Goliath look like an even contest, to book their place in the Fall Classic. Maybe with Jason Giambi sliding into home plate for the winning run just to exorcise the ghost of his brother’s base-running antics of 2001?
Bud Selig likes to talk about parity, but nothing is more boring than everyone being the same. Watching the Yankees and their expensive free agents battling against the youthful Rays, with a payroll of probably not much more than a quarter of their rival’s, will be compelling entertainment in 2009.
And the main reason it will be so compelling is that while the glamour free agents and the $200m+ payroll will make the Yankees a very tough team to beat, that same situation didn’t stop the Rays from coming out on top last year.