For the third time this offseason, the New York Yankees have broken the bank to sign a stud free agent. This time, former Angel Mark Teixeira is reportedly getting $180 million of Steinbrenner money over eight years, bringing the Yankees' total spending binge to over $420 million in the last month.
That includes $161 million for CC Sabathia and $83.5 million for A.J. Burnett. While the Yankees will almost surely benefit from their largess, it is destroying the image and on-field product of Major League Baseball.
In a period when other Major League teams are laying off staff and whole sports leagues are shutting down for at least a year, there is something almost obscene about one franchise spending nearly $500 million on just three players.
If the Yankees have the money—and given their need for additional funding for their new palace in the Bronx, that seems at least a little fishy—then it's certainly their right to spend the money.
However, if you're Bud Selig, you really have to be wondering how this looks to the average fan struggling to keep a job and have a decent holiday. The Yankees are charging up $2,500 per seat in their new stadium, and they are spending the equivalent of about 2,275 average American homes on three players. The business of the national pastime is getting more irrelevant to rest of the nation every minute.
Beyond the image problem, there are real negative on-field and business implications to this spending orgy. Having such a concentration of stars on one team makes a lot of other teams a lot less attractive to the average fan.
For example, if you live in Los Angeles, the Dodgers-Brewers game that may have been attractive with Sabathia pitching now goes back to being a game you can skip. The same could be said about the Dodgers-Nationals game if Mark Teixeira ended up in D.C. Offering fewer games worth watching is not the way to sell seats and hot dogs when people are trying to decide how to spend increasingly limited entertainment dollars.
For the Yankee fan who is celebrating today, what does it really mean if the team does end up winning the World Series? It really isn't much of an achievement or challenge to win by simply outspending everyone else.
With so many key players acquired simply by plunking down the most cash or by relieving other teams of their high-priced albatrosses, you're essentially rooting for a bunch of CEOs in a different type of pinstriped suit. The best analogy is that of the Olympic basketball "Dream Teams": If they win, no one cares since they are supposed to win. If they lose, they are failures and the whole season was a waste of time.
The best sports stories of 2008 were the ones featuring teams that—through shrewd drafting, trades, and free-agent signings—built themselves into winners. The Giants, who are the anti-Yankees in New York, the Celtics, the Penguins, the Rays, the Falcons and the Dolphins became compelling stories because of smarts and hard work rather than simply cold, hard cash.
It would be nice, and it would be better for baseball, if the Yankees ever actually followed that path.
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