Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Look Back at the Off-Season

Since the Yankees seemingly can't beat the Red Sox on the field, let's take a look back at the last time the Bombers bested the Olde Towne Team - the 2008-2009 off-season. After kicking the tires on CC Sabathia, presumably to drive the price up for the Yankees, the Sox made a real push for Mark Teixeira, only to have him surprisingly sign with the Yankees after some shrewd and stealthy negotiating by Brian Cashman.

The Teixeira signing capped an unbelievable off-season spending spree for the Yankees. CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira were 3 of the top 4 free agents on the market (Manny Ramirez being the other). When all was said and done, the Yankees had committed 20 years and $423.5M to the three players.

Predictably, and perhaps somewhat deservedly, the Yankees took a lot of heat in the media and from the other clubs for spending what amounts to roughly the gross domestic product of the entirety of sub-Saharan Africa, and doing so in the midst of the country's worst economic crisis in more than seventy years. However, the Yankees operated within the context of the rules and were essentially leveraging the significant financial resources they have at their disposal.

Meanwhile, after losing out on Teixeira, the Sox made a series of lesser moves. Now I'm not one to believe that there's a media bias against the Yankees or towards the Red Sox. But, the way that the Sox off-season was framed as smart and economical in opposition to the Yankees gluttony was more than a bit hypocritical. Let's look at the Sox off-season moves with economic data courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts:
  • John Smoltz signed 1 yr, $5.5M, with potential bonuses totalling an additional $5.5M
  • Brad Penny signed 1 yr, $5M, with potential bonuses totalling an additional $3M
  • Takashi Saito signed 1 yr, $1.5M, with potential bonuses totalling an additional $6M
  • Josh Bard signed 1 yr, non-guaranteed. Reported value $1.7M, with an additional $0.8M bonus potential
  • Junichi Tazawa, signed 3 yrs, $3.3M
  • Rocco Baldelli signed 1 yr, $0.5M, with potential bonuses totalling an additional $7M
  • Mark Kotsay re-signed 1 yr, $1.5M, with potential bonuses totalling an additional $1M
  • Jason Varitek re-signed 1 yr $5M

All told, that's $23.3M guaranteed with bonus potential of an additional $25M. That's a drop in the bucket compared to what the Yankees paid out, but the potential $47.25M in 2009 for the Sox isn't all that far off from the $64.5M (signing bonuses included) the Yankees will pay their three free agent signees in 2009. These are some good high risk, high reward signings for the Sox. But what did they get for their money?
  • In Smoltz and Penny, two pitchers coming off injury who combined for 122.2 IP in 2008 and a combined 5.43 ERA in the NL. Smoltz has yet to pitch; Penny has been average at best. And it's heavily rumored that Penny will soon be flipped for prospects.
  • In Saito they picked up a good reliever who has been very effective in his career, but who has also been beset by injuries. So far this has worked out pretty well.
  • Josh Bard, who the Sox traded very early in the 2006 season when they realized he couldn't catch a knuckler, had an even shorter stint this time. He was cut before Spring Training was over, leaving the Sox on the hook for $283K of his salary.
  • Tazawa, who was signed through a potentially improper loophole in the Japanese system, is pitching at AA Portland.
  • Baldelli has a lengthy injury history and has spent time on the DL this year. Ditto for Kotsay. Together they give the Sox two talented, but highly injury prone, back-up OF/DH/1B types.
  • Varitek is 37. He hit .220/.313/.359 (73 OPS+) last year. He's doing better this year, buoyed by a SLG over .500, but his AVG and OBP are below league average.

Now the John Henry ownership group has done a tremendous job of squeezing every last penny out of the Red Sox brand and decrepit (charming?) Fenway Park. And good for them, it's remarkable that they've done so and it's commendable that they reinvest that money back into the team. However, before John Henry shoots his mouth off, making comments like "we have to be even more careful in deploying our resources"as he did in the wake of losing Teixeira, he might want to consider how few teams in MLB could afford to take on one or two of the above contracts, let alone all eight of them.

The Sox aren't some poor small market team. They may not have the financial resources of the Yankees, but aside from the Mets, Cubs, and possibly the Angels and Dodgers, no other MLB franchises can match the financial clout of the Red Sox. Perhaps the media should keep that in mind next time they want to laud the smart, shrewd signings made by the Sox this past off-season.


  1. Well said, well said. I wonder if Peter Gammons would approve of this posting?

  2. #1. "a potentially improper loophole in the Japanese system"? Improper? I don't know, seems like a dubious claim.

    #2. John Henry's comments came off terribly, but it's hard to argue with the veracity of the statement. The Sox, despite their tremendous resources, DO have to be more careful with money to compete with the Yanks. It definitely came off as sour grapes and his timing was awful, but it's true.

    #3. The Sox are not a small market team, we know. By your figures, the Sox are in the top 20% of MLB teams. But, given the performance of the FAs aquired by the Sox, they do seem to have been smart, reasonable moves.

    #4. Comparing the 64.5M vs. the 47.25M: the Yanks will spend at least 36% more on Burnett/CC/Teix than the Sox spend on the 8 FAs you mention; that percentage may increase based on what incentives the Sox have to pay for. 36% is not particularly close.

    #5 I have nothing against the Yanks spending a ton of dough for three FAs - they can afford it, it's within the rules...what's the problem?

    Regardless, I totally agree that the media makes the difference out to be greater than it is...imagine, sensationalism from the MSM.

  3. Tad:

    My issues certainly were more with the media than with Henry. He made a stupid comment, but the Yankees have also been known through the years to have their owner pop off once or twice. However, every team, regardless of their market cap, should be spending their money as carefully as possible. To do otherwise would be bad business.

    As for the Tazawa situation, he essentially strong armed hs way out of the Japanese system. Teams would not draft him because he made it clear he wanted to go to North America. This was unprecedented, and the Japanese League has since changed their by-laws to prevent this from happening again. Tazawa is black-balled. If he fails in the States he has nowhere else to go. The Yankees went on record as saying they would not pursue him out of respect for their agreement with the Yomiuri Giants. See

    I'm not questioning the Sox moves. They were good signings (except for Bard maybe) and were a good allocation of the Sox considerable resources. I'm criticizing the way they were portrayed as the scrappy underdog in making the signings in question. Few clubs have the luxury to do what they did.

    And yes, the Yankees will assuredly spend more on their 3 than the Sox will on their 8. I was just trying to point out that the difference isn't quite as much as the coverage would lead you to believe. Again, who else could dole out nearly $50M for 8 relative risk players like that?

    I agree with you that both the Yanks and the Sox should be able to spend as much money as they can as wisely as they can. Afterall, despite what's going on in DC, Wall St., and Detroit, we still do live in a capitalist society. /end semi-political rant

    What I'd like to know is why don't the fans of the small market teams start directing their ire at their own ownership as they continually pocket their revenue sharing money rather than reinvesting it into the team.

  4. The idea that it is wrong or unfair to spend money on player salaries, whether free agents or homegrown, is one of the most idiotic, puzzling things I've ever heard. The Yankees earn the money, would you rather their owners - or the owners of any team, for that matter - put the money in their pockets. There is no other proper thing to do but spend the money on players, ballparks, etc.

    Making trades and acquiring players in baseball is, today anyway, largely a dice roll. There was a time when a shrewd GM could spot a diamond in the rough or an underrated player and snatch him away from a less astute GM. Not anymore. The metrics evaluating players are too good. So it boils down to silly, opportunistic things that have nothing to do with judging talent, such as:

    1) Do you get lucky with the player vis a vis injury?

    2) Do you happen to be in the right place at the right time with a team that needs to shed salary?

    3) Do you guess correctly on which of your prospects is, in fact, worthless, and therefore good trade bait?

    The Red Sox got very lucky with one trade - Beckett. They "had to" take Lowell, a guy of tremendous value, because the other team could no longer afford him. Theo was against this trade, as most of us know now. The Red Sox got very lucky with one FA signing: Ortiz. How many players have a career spike as dramatic as his? Not many. And, finally, they got very lucky in unloading Nomar. Maybe they had a hunch he would collapse (steroids?), but in any event, had any of those three deals not gone through, we'd still be talking about curses.

    The Red Sox are a good team, with a well-financed, astute front office. But they are no better than any of several other teams in this regard.

    It's just fashionable to love them now, and we're lucky guys like Matt shed the light of truth on things occasionally.

  5. The Sox are no better than any of several other teams in this regard? Depends on how you define "several" I guess. I can think of one, maybe two other teams that are run as well in consideration of resources: NYY and TB (with a short track record at that).

    Sooo, 86... essentially, the Yanks were lucky to get Teix/CC/Burnett/Damon/Swisher/Nady. All it takes is luck, right? That's foolish. And if that's the case, why stop with the trades/FAs you mentioned? Trading Manny and getting Bay can only be explained by luck? Foolish. By your logic, the Beckett trade would also have to be considered unlucky given that the Sox traded away a franchise SS.

  6. As for Tazawa, I have trouble considering an adherence to the free market as "improper". Do MLB teams really owe anything to Japanese League teams?

  7. Tad - I'll concede the point that Tazawa was a free market acquistion. But it was a virtually unprecedented acquisition nonetheless.

    I think the general's point isn't that acquiring players is luck, but that there is a good measure of luck involved regarding the return on those investments. The Yankees weren't lucky to acquire CC, AJ, and Teix - that happened because they were filthy rich. They will however be lucky if all three stay healthy and productive for the duration of their contracts.

    I think there is a fair amount of luck involved in the Bay situation. The Sox were virtually forced to make a move, eating salary and taking on an inferior player in the process. They're lucky in that Bay, who had a serious decline in 2007, has since played the best baseball of his career.

    Losing HanRam certainly isn't lucky for the Sox, especially given their current SS situation. It is lucky for the Marlins in that one of the could-be prospects the acquired for a proven commondity has turned out to be one of the best players in baseball. On the flip side, the Sox are lucky in that Lowell, who was included in the deal as a salary dump and was coming off an abysmal 2005, has been very productive over the past 3+ seasons.

  8. It was certainly "unprecedented". It's not that MLB teams owe anything to Japan, persay, but the Sox crossed a line drawn in the sand that no other team in the MLB had before. In a culture centered on respect as Japan's is, it probably wasn't the shrewdest business move, either.

  9. Soooo tadthebad....Matt said it for me. He said it nicely, too. What I might have said was "you missed the entire point."

    Any idiot can spend money. And many do. Where the luck is involved is making the right decisions, ones that payoff long term. My point was that all GMs, more or less, are on equal footing today in evaluating talent. Sometimes a deal which looks good works out, sometimes it doesn't. More often than not, today anyway, this is because of something other than the GMs' evaluation of talent.

    I'll bet if you go back to the year Boston signed Ortiz and polled GMs, the majority might have said it was a risky signing. Same thing for Florida, trading away two proven players for one high upside prospect and a bunch of chaff.

    Look at what Carl Pavano is doing this season. No, he's not Roy Halladay, or Josh Beckett. But he's a better than average MLB pitcher. Were the Yankees "stupid" to have signed him? Of course not. They got unlucky with injuries. It could just as easily have been Beckett spending the last 3-4 years injured, and Pavano pitching effectively in NY.

    The corollary of Matt's original point is that the Red Sox are winning now with the same formula that the Yankees - and any wealthy team - have always used. Are the Red Sox a good organization? No doubt? Are they better, or fundamentally different, than the Yankees? No way.

    They ought to call them the Blue Sox.

  10. @86: I don't think you're original comment flushed that out as well as more recently explained. And I agreed in a previous comment that the Yanks are run just as well as the Sox; that's obvious. As far as luck goes, well, that's a fine line. Is luck involved? Naturally. However, when you start talking about a series of moves that led to at least one of two titles, and you identify luck as the linchpin - that just rings shallow and dishonest to me. Maybe you're not making that qualification and I'm reading you wrong. And thanks for staying classy.

    @Jay: I originally thought the same thing about Japan and the "respect" culture. But, with the incredible posting fee for Daisuke, I think the Sox established two things. #1: they have respect for Japanese baseball and Japanese players, as substantiated by the enormous amount of cake they gave to Daisuke's former team. #2: Money > respect, even in Japan.