Big Apple Second Chances, Vegas Style
With the winter meetings in Las Vegas coming to an end this week, there’s no question that the Yankees and the Mets stole the show. With each team making two key additions to address their respective areas of greatest need, they virtually assured that there will be a Subway Series in 2009. Alright, let’s not get carried away here, but the two teams from New York were clearly looking for redemption, following disappointing 2008 seasons, in the “Capital of Second Chances.”
The Yankees’ signings of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, while not necessarily the most economically sound moves, certainly have to make the rest of the league take notice. Despite missing the post-season last year with a payroll of over $2 million per victory, the Yankees still won 89 games while getting significantly less contribution from Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy than was expected. They will most likely get more out of Wang and Chamberlain this year, and despite the retirement of Mike Mussina, the additions of Sabathia and Burnett should easily put them back in the playoff picture.
Don’t expect them to rest now, though. It’s believed that, despite the Sabathia and Burnett signings, they’re not backing off in their pursuit of other significant free agents. By the time they’re done maneuvering, the Yankees, whether deserved or not, will be the favorite to win the AL East and, possibly, the World Series. That distinction, of course, will be based on how the team looks on paper. Translating that to actual success is the thing the Yanks have had difficulty with in recent years.
Since I brought it up, we all know that making economically sound moves is not the Yankees’ modus operandi. In an era where it’s believed that championship contenders are built through a balance of developing good young talent and making key acquisitions of proven veteran performers, fans have become increasingly interested in whether or not their teams are spending their money wisely. That is, all except Yankees fans. Milwaukee Brewers loyalists know that, if they had signed Sabathia to a four-year, $100 million contract, and if he ended up contributing significantly less than being the hero he was last year, the team would not be able to overcome this. Even Red Sox, Mets, Angels and Dodgers fans know that their teams can ill afford to make a monumental mistake with a long-term free agent contract.
Yankees fans do not have this concern. They do not need to care whether or not Sabathia will be overpaid in the 5th, 6th and 7th years of this $161 million deal. If he is anything approaching the Sabathia of 2007 and 2008 for two or three years, he gives them a chance to climb back to the top of the heap. The Yankees have had several bad contracts on the books for quite a few years now, yet last year is the first that they fell short of the playoffs, and, even so, were still in contention for most of the year.
With a team payroll of $201 million for 2008, the Yankees spent $2.25 million per victory. Even the Mets, Tigers and Red Sox, all with payrolls in the vicinity of $138 million, would have been as bad as the Seattle Mariners, the worst team in baseball, at that rate. Yet, if the Yankees improve this “efficiency” to $2 million per, that would translate to 100 wins. Only the three aforementioned teams, plus the Chicago White Sox, would have won as many as 60 games by that calculation.
I think the point I’m trying to make here is pretty clear. The Yankees don’t have to spend wisely to win. They do have to make better personnel decisions, though, and this is something that has eluded them in recent years. Will the Sabathia and Burnett signings, and whatever comes next, continue that trend, or will they finally hit the nail on the head with their major free agent acquisitions? Only time will tell, but I can’t help but think that A.J. Burnett, who just agreed to a five-year, $82.5 million deal, somehow reminds me of a cross between Kevin Brown and Kyle Farnsworth. As I said, we’ll just have to wait and see.
The Mets still have some rotation issues to address, including their new #1 priority–the re-signing of Oliver Perez–but they could not have done a better job of shoring up their major area of weakness. The Francisco Rodriguez signing–three years, $37 million–was a no-brainer. With the Angels never making a serious attempt at re-signing him, beyond the contract extension they offered last winter, his move to Queens was practically a foregone conclusion. The market for closers this off-season was clearly a buyers’ market, and the Mets were the club with the most purchasing power.
The Mets have had a closer of Rodriguez’s caliber for the past three years, though, so would the K-Rod signing be enough to address the area that, inarguably, was the reason the Phillies were better in 2008? Apparently, they didn’t think so. The Mets had setup problems last year, even before Billy Wagner went down with an injury that will keep him out through the 2009 season, so just a day removed from acquiring their new closer, they traded for J.J. Putz in a three-way deal involving the Indians and Mariners.
The Putz acquisition shows that the Mets mean business about not letting last year’s downfall repeat itself. Not only does he instantly become the favorite for the best setup man in baseball, but Putz provides them with an insurance policy they wish they had last year. Well on his way to becoming one of the best closers in the American League–in fact, take a look at the 2007 numbers and try to convince me he wasn’t the best–until injuries set him back last year, Putz gives the Mets a backup plan that no other team has right now.
So, while the Yankees did the most spending–and, some will say, gambling–in Vegas last week, the Mets come away the biggest winners, by playing the percentages and knowing when to double down.