The Yankees are back, as glorious and evil as ever! What writers are writing about the Yanks signing Jacoby Ellsbury away from the Red Sox:
So the Yankees made two monster deals, with more to come, after scaring their fan base to death with so much talk about payroll restraint this offseason. "People forgot," the source said, "that $189 million would be the second-highest payroll in baseball."
It's good to be a Yankees fan, even in bad times. They missed the playoffs last year for only the second time since the players' strike of 1994, and attendance and TV ratings took a significant hit when A-Rod and Derek Jeter were nowhere to be found. Worse yet, the Red Sox won it all for the third time since they humiliated their blood rivals with their deferred sweep in the 2004 American League Championship Series, putting the parade count at 3-1 in favor of Boston since that historic series.
The Yankees responded the only way they know how: the Steinbrenner way. With George gone, son Hal had to show he has some of the old man's fire in his own belly.
Could one brain-melting deal beget another?
Or to put it another way: Many baseball folks began November thinking Robinson Cano would remain a Yankee and Jacoby Ellsbury would wind up a Mariner. Did some wires cross somewhere over the mainland?
For with Ellsbury set to arrive in New York on Wednesday for his physical, after essentially agreeing to bolt the Red Sox for a stunning, seven-year, $153-million contract with the Yankees, Cano departing The Bronx for the Pacific Northwest seems like more of a possibility than it did 24 hours ago.
After all, if there’s one subject on which we’re most certain the Yankees aren't bluffing, it’s that they intend to get their 2014 payroll under $189 million. And with Ellsbury set to draw such a huge paycheck and the Yankees still in need of two starting pitchers, their threat to stick at seven years and $170-ish million for Cano seems more legitimate.
The Red Sox, according to sources close to negotiations, were willing to offer Ellsbury a six-year deal, with the dollars somewhere in the vicinity of $120 million. At one point in talks, they proposed a five-year, $100 million package.
Both proposals fell well short of what Ellsbury took from the Yankees, a deal reportedly worth seven years and $153 million that could expand to $169 million with a vesting eighth year. But the Sox are adamant they learned their lesson with Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez and are adhering to limits, both in dollars and years.
They have known for some time that the market for Ellsbury would spin beyond where they would be willing to go and were prepared to face the consequences. They just wish those consequences had landed somewhere other than just 200 miles south, where the Yankees, in addition to adding Ellsbury, have a new catcher in Brian McCann ($85 million guaranteed) and still have designs on bringing back second baseman Robinson Cano and pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. Somehow, they're supposed to fit that all under the $189 million luxury tax threshold? On Yawkey Way, skeptics wait to see what kind of alchemy can pull that off.
Joe Sheehan, from his newsletter:
(B)ut the conclusions are consistent with what we've observed: the best players in baseball used to hit free agency in their primes more frequently than they do today. ...
You see the effects of modern front office strategies beginning with the 1981 cohort. Of that year's best players, only Carl Crawford was ever a free agent in his prime. Players like Curtis Granderson, Ben Zobrist and Carlos Zambrano were signed to long-term deals before they hit the market. For '82, you have only Robinson Cano. David Wright, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Gonzalez and Jered Weaver have never been free agents, nor will in their primes. None of the best players born in 1983 -- a monster group that includes Braun, Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer and Justin Verlander -- will be prime free agents. The top 1984 babies -- Ryan Zimmermann, Troy Tulowitzki and Jon Lester -- have all been locked up.
Let's run at this from one last direction. Eighty-three players have been worth at least 15 wins from 2009-13, inclusive. Of those, just 22 had reached free agency in their prime, with another 11 -- including Kershaw, Heyward, Trout, Max Scherzer and others -- possibly doing so in the next few years. That's about four to five players a season, and many of those aren't superstars. Raise the bar to 20 bWAR, and you get 33 players, just nine of whom were prime free agents, plus two (Kershaw and Trout) who might be. You can't build a team this way any longer -- you don't have access to the raw materials. (I'll reiterate my point about the 2013 Red Sox: their success was much, much more about the holdovers than the imports.)
Carl Crawford's production is not Jacoby Ellsbury's fait accompli; it’s one possible path of many. Every player's future is a probability distribution, bottoming out at completely and utterly useless. Every single player could turn into a total dud tomorrow. And every single player could actually play better in the future than they have in the past. There is no single example that represents the expected outcome for any other player, no matter how similar they might appear to be.
So, we have two options. We can either throw our hands in the air and say "who knows what the future will bring, sign anyone for whatever you want and hope for the best" or we can try to make educated guesses based on reasonable assumptions and decent amounts of data. Those decent amounts of data suggest that players like Ellsbury age well, even if Carl Crawford did not. That data does not support the idea that speed-and-defense players fall apart after they turn 30. If anything, the data suggests just the opposite, and says that big boned first basemen are the ones you should be really afraid of.
Michael Eder of It's About the Money takes a detailed look at the Yankees' budget and the likelihood the club will remain under the $189 million luxury tax threshold:
Current Budget Owed: $151.964MM
Current Budget Remaining: $37.036MM
So the Yankees still have $37 million left to figure out second base, third base, and the rest of their pitching staff. This obviously doesn't include Rodriguez. I don't think $189 million is happening.
When the Ellsbury contract is over, it’s not going to look good, dollars-per-win-wise. Let’s just note that up front, accept it, and move on, because you can bet than Brian Cashman already has.
When we rank general managers by how well they've deployed their dollars, the Yankees' GM consistently ranks near the bottom. But even if Cashman cares that his "Payroll Efficiency Rating" places him alongside front-office failures like Bill Bavasi and Steve Phillips, the sight of his five World Series rings (four earned as GM) probably eases the sting. For all we know, he daydreams about giving it all up for a team with an eight-figure payroll and making shrewd moves that people write books about, but he likes life as a Yankee enough to have suckled at the Steinbrenner teat for close to 30 years. In New York, there's no need to, say, sign a 38-year-old Jose Molina to catch because he offers the best bang for the buck, or to trade for Craig Gentry because he's more valuable than his traditional stats would suggest, and perhaps could even start someday. Cashman knows these things, but he doesn't have to settle for players with warts. He can throw money at the players who do all the positive things the ones with warts do, but also have perfect complexions.
Now, again, the Yankees stayed home and watched the Red Sox somehow beat the Tigers, then overcome the Cardinals and win their third World Series in a decade. They won 85 games, the fewest they'd won in a full season since 1992, or since George Herbert Walker Bush was president. All the while, they were in the news for every plot shift in NCIS ARod, and, $189M luxury tax threshold or no threshold, they realized this is not what the greatest franchise in sports is about, not when you are a Steinbrenner, not when your $2500 a seat fans and TV audience are used to something better than Jayson Nix, Luis Cruz and Chris Nelson.