The Yankees' signing of Mark Teixeira has sent a ripple through the media, questioning the methodology of the Yankees, and whether the team is harming baseball or doing it a favor.
To some, the Yankees are unfairly using assets that other teams don't have. While their actions may technically be legal, they are not within the spirit of the law. They pay the luxury tax appropriately, so they don't break any rules per se, but consider the Yankees and the Tigers were the only teams taxed this year. The purpose of the tax is for it not to be paid; it's meant as a deterrent, not as a fee.
This is precisely why Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has suggested a salary cap. The luxury tax is meant as a deterrent, but if teams like the Yankees don't mind paying the tax, it simply doesn't work.
But this is old news. The Yankees have been spending exorbitantly for years now. In fact, despite this year's three gargantuan free agent signings, the Yankees will still have a lower payroll this year than last.
This old cry is beginning to get repetitive, and it almost seems silly to criticize the Yankees for doing business the same way they have been for years, especially when they will actually be shedding salary this year. With nearly $90 million coming off the books, did anyone honestly think the Yankees would not spend?
I don't understand the complaints of people like Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sheridan mentions the anomaly of the Yankees' spending during the recession, and tries to earn some sympathy by discussing some failing companies that have to lay people off. Unfortunately, Sheridan never actually explains why this is bad for baseball. He just seems jealous and bitter at the fact the Yankees are financially stable, even now, and can afford to do business this way. (But then again, I've never been a fan of the PI anyway.)
Of course, this year is a little special. The economic state of the country is not the same as it has been in years past. However, it's foolish to chastise the Yankees for spending during a recession. That's business, not baseball. If an owner feels the Yankees are going against conventional economic wisdom, he can keep it to himself. If anything, the Yankees are helping the economy by spending when everyone else is saving. Spending during a recession is no different than spending during any other year. It certainly isn't expected, but it has nothing to do with baseball.
Some might claim the other owners can't keep up this year, as they are cutting costs due to the recession, while the Yankees appear unaffected. But where is the complaint in that?
Other owners didn't need to sign Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. If Tex had signed with Boston, Sabathia with Los Angeles, and Burnett with Atlanta, the Yankees would have missed out on all three, and none of the other teams would have overspent.
If the Red Sox had a problem with the Yankees' chasing Teixeira, they should have ponied up the extra $12 mil over eight years. They can afford it, too. The Yankees never stopped anyone from bidding on any of their targeted players, and no one needed to pay all three of them to avoid having them go to New York.
But how about the other side of the coin? Not everyone thinks the Yankees are bad for baseball. In fact, there is quite a loud voice saying the Yankees are actually good for the sport.
Keep in mind the luxury tax is not merely a fine MLB collects. The tax is distributed to lower-market teams, helping them buy other players. Even though they spend a lot of money, the Yankees do, in turn, help out other teams. Truth be told, the Marlins and Reds were never chasing Teixeira or Sabathia, so they didn't miss out on them; however, thanks to the Yankees, they will receive some extra dough in return.
Buster Olney cites one AL official who rhetorically asks: "They just got a luxury-tax bill of $26.9 million, didn't they? They always pay, don't they? The other teams cash their checks, don't they?"
Says the same official: "The Yankees are great for baseball, just like the Red Sox and the Cubs are great for baseball, because they generate interest and they generate money for all of us. Today, somebody is going to pick up a paper overseas and there will be something in there on the Yankees' signing of Teixeira. Do you think that would happen if there was some trade between small-market teams? People pay attention to the Yankees, and that's good for our sport."
This comment may not appeal to all sportswriters or fans of small-market teams. Fact is, while the league loves raking in the attention, fans hate to see their teams flounder every year, while the Yankees keep scooping up their high-priced players. The AL official's words must be taken in context: The Yankees are good for the league financially. That doesn't mean they're good for the league competitively, but this argument should throw Sheridan-and-co.'s argument out the window.
The Yankees don't have more money than other teams. Twins owner Carl Pohlad is actually atop that list, yet he's rather stingy with his cash. The Steinbrenners are simply more apt to spend their money than anybody else. And why is this a bad thing? The Yankees contend every year. Their fans are loyal, and flock to Yankee Stadium to see every single game.
The Steinbrenners know if they put a good product on the field, the fans will pay to see it. While they haven't won a championship in a while, they made the playoffs every year until last, and even then, they put up the fourth-best record in the AL and were in contention until the end of the season.
Believe it or not, fans like to see a winning team. They appreciate their owners are willing to spend so much to bring in stars, and are more than willing to pay the high price of a ticket to see them.
I despise Curt Schilling, yet I agree with him when he says, "I think the Steinbrenners, coming off a miserable last season in Yankee Stadium, are dead set on opening the new stadium with a World Series and they don’t care how much it costs. Good for them. You can bitch all you want about the Yankees and greed but they spend money in a sincere effort to win it all, every year. What fan wouldn’t want their teams to do that."
It pains me to say it, but Schilling is absolutely right. Look at the Tampa Bay Rays, who shot up from nowhere and made it to the World Series this year. For the bulk of the season, no one was showing up to their games, despite their exciting story and winning ways. That's because they can't foster a fan base if their ownership doesn't put effort into the team.
The Rays' draft picks finally panned out, and they put forth a strong effort on the field. But ownership still didn't spend any money to patch up holes. They didn't try to acquire another big bat at the trade deadline, and they haven't spent any money this offseason. Sure, they have a good team as it is, but any team stands to improve, and they simply aren't putting in the effort.
This is why fans don't show up. You can luck out eventually when your prospects mature, but unless you spend a little money, you can't keep it up. Even the Marlins stock up on talent when they play well, even for just one year, so they can try to win a title. The Rays are good and young, but what will happen when their players become free agents? Will the owners even bother trying to retain them?
The Yankees have passionate owners who do what it takes to contend, win, and please fans. The Rays may have bested them on the field last year, but the Yankees are still more influential, are still favored to surpass them this year, and still have more fans in the Tampa area. How can anyone complain about this? The Yankees spend their own money, completely legally, to put out the best possible team on the field. Where is the shame in that?
Imagine if the Royals began to do this. Kansas City natives who complain about the Yankees would not whine about how their team is ruining baseball. The only people who complain are people who wish their team would do the same. Are the Yankees truly bad for baseball, or are the stingier teams actually at fault?
But forget the philosophical arguments for a moment. Forget about being good or bad for baseball, or whether it's unfair to poorer teams, or who is truly at fault. Look at it this way: if you're the Yankees, why would you not spend the money? A lot of cash is off the books this year, and even with the three big signings, the Yanks will have a lower payroll. Plus, the Red Sox had been considered the front runners to land Teixeira, and the Yankees could never allow them to get him. From their perspective, these signings made perfect sense.
They're still saving money, they've drastically improved both the rotation and lineup, and they stole the grand prize from their rivals. They're entering a new stadium this year, and they're bringing out the stars to open it up. Good for them.
You may not like the Yankees, but the fact is, they've done nothing wrong, and the old whine of "this is bad for baseball" simply isn't true. The Red Sox, Tigers, and Mets all spend nearly as much, as do many other teams, but only the Yankees hear this incessant complaint.
They help out the league financially, they share their revenue with low-budget organizations, and they play within the rules. If other owners are upset about this practice, there's something they can do about it: spend money. Baseball owners, believe it or not, own baseball teams. They're not exactly living in cardboard boxes. You don't need to be the Yankees to sign a CC Sabathia. If someone else wanted him, they could have done something about it.
Before concluding, I would like to mention one article about the Washington Nationals, who participated in the Mark Teixeira race, and lost out. Washingon Post columnist Tom Boswell wrote this piece about the direction the Nats took, and I think it is quite worthy of a read. If there is one team that can complain about the Yankees snookering them out of a signing, it's Washington, but Boswell takes the high road, and examines how the team approached Teixeira.
To summarize, Boswell likes the way the team handled the negotiations, and felt they lost out simply because they currently lack legitimacy as a franchise. But if they continue this aggressive stance and sign solid supporting players, they may be able to land a big fish soon enough. If other teams were to go down this road, perhaps we wouldn't hear so many empty complaints about the big spenders.