Granted, the fact that I’m a Yankees fan certainly influences this feeling, but let’s think about this reasonably.
People are always talking about how much money the Yankees spend, and complaining about it. First of all, they don’t break any rules and they have resources that they choose to use (how dare they?!). They are committed to putting out the best product they can, and any team with the same resources would. People need to stop acting like what they do is so immoral. But this is another issue entirely.
The real thing that’s been bugging me for years is how when the Yankees don’t win the World Series, people always discuss how amazing it is that a team with such a huge payroll doesn’t win every year. If the Yankees don’t win the World Series, everyone thinks it’s pathetic to an extent, and they make fun of them for losing to teams with significantly smaller payrolls. This is a tired sentiment and argument that writers and media still love to bring up to this day as if it’s something so incredibly profound and original.
Do the Yankees overpay for players? In some cases (AJ Burnett comes to mind), yes, they do. But while they sometimes make mistakes like this, their commitment to use their resources to build a winner is undeniable.
And now the main point of the argument–for competitive teams with lower payrolls (like the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays), you have to look at their roster and think about what their players are ACTUALLY WORTH RIGHT NOW. Let’s first look at the Rangers, who currently have a 3-1 stranglehold on the ALCS against the Yankees. Their 2010 payroll is a shade over $55 million, obviously paling in comparison to the Yankees’ $206 million payroll. Their highest-paid player is amazingly consistent third baseman Michael Young, who is making a little over $13 million this year. In my opinion, he’s worth every penny.
But let’s look at the rest of Texas’s roster. Josh Hamilton, the likely AL MVP, is only making $3.25 million this season. Texas acquired him in a trade and is paying him at such a bargain after he had recovered from well-documented personal and drug issues. It was a low-risk, high-reward move, and it is obviously paying off. The bottom line is that this guy is worth $20 million a year, and when he becomes a free agent after the 2012 season (he is eligible for arbitration each the two years before that), Texas will either have to let him go or experience a substantial increase in its payroll. Cliff Lee, a free agent after this season, will certainly earn more than the $9 million he’s making right now.
As far as a few other players are concerned–is C.J. Wilson worth more than $3.1 M? Yes. Is Colby Lewis worth more than $1.75 M? Yes. Is Nelson Cruz worth more than a meager $440K? Without question. Is Elvis Andrus worth more than $418 K? Obviously he is. Of course, the obvious counterargument here is that Texas manages its roster and payroll extremely well since they have so many players at price tags well below what their performance makes them worth. While there is some level of credence to this, what one has to keep in mind is that most of these players are young and haven’t gone through free agency yet, and once they do, they will experience significant pay increases that will bring them to at least the level of what they are worth now. At that point, the Rangers will have trouble keeping everyone. So, if you think about what these players are really worth, and the fact that Texas probably won’t have them all in a few years, the gap between their theoretical payroll and the Yankees’ payroll suddenly becomes much smaller.
Another great example is the Tampa Bay Rays (with a 2010 payroll of $72 million), a team that was the AL East doormat for an eternity and thus was able to get many high draft picks and stockpile a ton of young talent. Since many of these players are early in their careers and on only their first or second big-league contracts, the Rays are currently getting them at a bargain. But they won’t be able to keep them all once they hit free agency and demand the big bucks they deserve. Carl Crawford, the Rays second-highest paid player (just behind Carlos Pena) at $10 million, will likely be offered a very lucrative deal in excess of $15 million per year by a team like the Red Sox (or even the Yankees–imagine the uproar). David Price is clearly worth more right now than the $1.83 million he made this year, as is Evan Longoria, who didn’t even make $1 million ($950 K). Other young players who are worth well more than they make are Jeff Niemann (just over $1 million), Ben Zobrist ($438 K), Matt Garza ($3.35 M), B.J. Upton ($3 M), and James Shields ($2.5 M). Again, when actual value is considered, the payroll gap between the Rays and Yankees becomes much smaller.
The Yankees just have more financial resources, and as a result, they run their organization differently from most teams. They are able to afford proven free agents at high price tags. Can anyone really blame them?
The key thing to take away here is that actual player value has to be considered. Texas and Tampa Bay have star players who are just as good as many of the Yankees’ players, and they only keep their payrolls so much lower because a lot of these players are young and haven’t yet had their big free agent pay-day. And they got so much of this great young talent because they were bad teams for so many years. So the fact that the Yankees don’t win every year, and sometimes lose to teams with much lower payrolls, really isn’t all that incredible.
I think the argument you could make is that the reason for our payroll difference is because we resign our star free agents and sign others. We are trying to win every year rather than building a team to a climax and then trying to win for a few years then rebuilding the team again. The strategy which attempts to win every year requires a much higher payroll. Thus in any given year a team in the climax stage of their roster may be better, but the Yankees should be better than 2/3 of the league due to their strategy.
And they are.
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