January 15, 2007


After Trimming the Fat, Yanks' Future Looks Bright (TIM MARCHMAN, January 15, 2007, NY Sun)

The Bombers outspent the Red Sox by more than $200 million from 2004 through 2006, and for the money got 14 more wins and one fewer world championship.

This makes the team's refusal to add more long-term commitments very good news, a much bigger deal than the moves to get rid of Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield, and Jaret Wright, to whom the team only had short-term commitments. This is largely just a function of necessity -- this wasn't a strong free agent market -- but the Yankees are suddenly, on paper, in frighteningly good shape for the future.

As of right now, the Yankees have $66 million committed for the 2009 payroll, all of it earmarked for five players -- Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Kei Igawa. Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang, and Melky Cabrera will all be eligible for arbitration, and the three of them will collectively make about half what they'd be worth on the open market, probably something like $20 million all told.

There are no obvious albatross contracts here. For the past few years, looking at future Yankees ledgers has shown preposterous sums owed to players unlikely to be worth their salaries. Those types of commitments, to players like Jason Giambi, will all be done with in the next two years. Matsui and Damon aren't likely to be star players in 2009, but they are likely to be perfectly solid players for their positions. Every other player to whom the Yankees have a commitment is likely to still be a star or making a relatively paltry sum in 2009.

So, this is all to the good, right? The Yankees will have a bunch of good and great players under contract and a sum equivalent to Boston's payroll left over to spend on the rest of the team, and will thus be a monster. This is the hope, but there are some reasons for concern.

The first is that the young players who are suddenly part of the Yankees' core pose an odd dilemma. Wang finished second in the Cy Young balloting, Cano third in the batting race, and Cabrera put up a .360 on-base average as a 21-year-old. With performances like that, you have to look at these players as very important parts of the team's future, but it's hard to tell how important they'll be, as there are reasons to think they're all illusions. Wang doesn't strike anyone out, Cano's value is extraordinarily dependent on hitting for a high average, and Cabrera hasn't hit for power yet, and may never do so. This makes it hard to plan around them. You can't just pencil in Wang for star performance, because if his one trick stops working, he won't be a star. Not having a firm idea of how good your players will be makes it hard to tell how good you need to rest of your players to be, and thus what sort of players you need to acquire. The Yankees, being so rich, are better situated than any other team to tolerate this sort of uncertainty, but it will still be something a problem over the next few years.

The problem with this iteration of the Yankees isn't just that the few youngsters are so deeply flawed but that there is no #1 starter you could look to as a guy who'll carry you deep in the post-season and they're only as good as average at maybe three defensive positions, below everywhere else. No offense, no matter how good, overcomes bad pitching and bad defense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 15, 2007 12:12 PM

They'll still have enough money to fill the gaps and win the division. It's not like there are any other good teams in the AL EASt.

Posted by: Brandon at January 15, 2007 6:22 PM

Philip Hughes could be a #1 starter by 2009. They'll have a few transition years of finishing 2nd in the division, but if they can sign the top free agents they have a chance to be World Series competitors in 2009/10.

Posted by: pj at January 15, 2007 8:41 PM

Hughes will be their #1 in 2008. Last Spring training Mussina said Hughes had better stuff than anyone on the big league roster.

Bottom line is the Yanks don't need to be that good in 07 to win the division. There's no real competition.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at January 16, 2007 12:42 AM

Yes, that's the big difference. Hughes would bump Wakefield as the Sox #5 starter but will be the Yankees #1.

Posted by: oj at January 16, 2007 7:54 AM

Uhhuh. Yep, no way St. Phil can improve on the sterling 5 era that Bye-bye Beckett put up last year.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at January 16, 2007 1:01 PM

What was Phil's major league ERA last year?

Posted by: oj at January 16, 2007 5:03 PM