Just when it seemed the New York Yankees’ latest winter spending splurge was drawing to a close, the Pinstripes struck again, signing Mark Teixeira to a massive deal.
Sure, they might have just opened up their checkbooks and doled out $245 million to shore up their starting pitching while other clubs found themselves spending less this holiday season. Sure, they also just asked the city for an additional $259 million in tax-free bonds to finish their stadium despite the city running a $4 billion deficit. And yes, Bud Selig did just send them a bill for $26.9 million in payroll luxury tax.
But we’re talking about the Yankees. And more is yet to come.
With a handful of spots remaining undetermined on their roster and $88 million in payroll coming off the books from 2008, the Yankees actually still have money to spend. Although the economic outlook might be bleak, and Bud Selig even had a team of economists lecture owners on the topic, the Yankees seem determined not to save a single cent.
The Bombers have one remaining spot left in the rotation and they recently saw their attempt to upgrade from the light-hitting Melky Cabrera in center field with the Brewers’ Mike Cameron foiled. In 2008, the spot belonged to Andy Pettitte for a price of $16 million.
With an ERA worse than the league average (4.54) and a mediocre record of 14-14, Pettitte has been asked back at age 36 for a reduced rate. Pettitte has balked at the pay cut all off-season. So don’t be surprised if the Yankees now turn their attention to big name free agent starters like Ben Sheets or Derek Lowe, while also looking to snag a center fielder.
Whether these final two items are crossed off the list or not, the Yankees will head into 2009 with the four largest active contracts in baseball. They also have former All-Stars occupying seven spots in the lineup. Baseball’s highest scoring team in 2008, the Texas Rangers, scored 901 runs with a measly five.
Teixeira’s added presence will make the middle of New York’s order more potent. He will be given a steady diet of fastballs while Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter are on base ahead of him in order to prevent stolen bases. Also, with Alex Rodriguez protecting him, Teixeira will see more pitches to hit than ever before. Even Bobby Abreu drove in 100 runs in each of his years hitting third in the Bronx, despite averaging 17 home runs and batting under .300. Even if Teixeira disappointed greatly, he would still easily match Abreu’s output.
Based on Teixeira’s history, however, he probably will not disappoint Yankee fans. He owns a .305 career average in Yankee Stadium. He also has a knack for coming through when it counts, swatting 37 home runs in just 402 at bats with two outs and runners in scoring position, good for a torrid .644 slugging percentage. Rodriguez himself slugged just .431 with four home runs in 95 at bats in such situations in 2007. He also made his playoff debut this past October, batting .467. Two Gold Gloves on defense won’t hurt, either.
And the last time Rodriguez was in the same order with Teixeira, Rodriguez won the first of his MVPs, in 2003 with Texas.
Needless to say, Yankee pitchers have something to smile about.
Unfortunately, smiles around the rest of baseball won’t be so abundant. The Yankees actions all fly directly in the face of what Bud Selig had preached to teams at the start of the off-season. Selig knew that with consumers spending less money in the midst of the recession, the sports industry might have to stay cautious. Clearly, while other teams diligently slashed payroll, the Yankees missed the memo. This made the whole concept of parity in baseball more laughable than ever before.
It’s becoming almost as if there were 25 minor league clubs belonging to the Yankees under the anti-trust agreement: if your players perform well enough, the Yankees will purchase them to play on the big stage. This isn’t fair to the rest of baseball, and it isn’t fair to the taxpayers, who the Yankees seem to have no shame in taking money from, not all of which are even Yankees fans.
So while Teixeira has proven that he can get it done on the field, it will be difficult to justify such spending at this time, no matter how well Teixeira ends up playing. The Yankees are now clearly the most talented team in the division, and given the fact that their payroll stands at more than twice the figure for the defending champion Phillies, they should be expected to win the World Series. Anything less should be a disappointment.
Only time will tell if the shopping spree will lead the Yankees steamroll their way to their first title since 2000 or if they somehow fizzle out early like the 2008 Detroit Tigers.
That’s why they play the game.