Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How Good Is Too Good?

Good morning Fackers. Yesterday, when I first heard about the Javier Vazquez trade, I had an inescapable, reluctant sort of a feeling. I knew the trade was one that would make the Yankees a better team next year without question, but I wasn't excited about it by any stretch.

It was unfortunate to see Arodys Vizcaino get sent to Atlanta just days after he been placed in the top half of the Yankees' top 10 prospects by both FanGraphs and Baseball America, but that wasn't what was bothering me. I had no particular attachment to Mike Dunn, so his loss certainly wasn't it. You don't want to part with a homegrown switch-hitting center fielder like Melky Cabrera who is only 25 years old and has already put in four years for the Yanks, but I don't think I'm going to miss him that much either.

Who we got back wasn't the issue. I don't expect Vazquez to have a year that in any way resembles his dominance in Atlanta, but he'll go a long way towards rounding out the Yankees rotation. What happened during his previous tenure in Pinstripes doesn't bother me at all.

The Braves were looking to unload payroll and the $11.5M Vazquez was making was the next best thing to dumping Derek Lowe. Regardless of what Mark Feinsand's source told him yesterday, this trade was a salary dump to some extent and I think that's what made the deal seem so uncouth. It's not to say that it wasn't a move that made sense for both teams - the Braves had six starting pitchers and the Yankees had four center fielders - but something still feels wrong about it.

The Yankees just won the World Series and they added a pitcher who was among the four or five best in the National League last year to be their third or fourth starter. With CC Sabathia making $23.5M, A.J. Burnett $16.5, Andy Pettitte $11.5, and now Vasquez another $11.5, their top four starters will make $62.5M in 2010, or more than the A's, Pirates, Padres and Marlins spent on their entire teams last year. Sure, the Yanks' total payroll bill for next year will probably come in somewhere near $200M, but staying close to that massive, arbitrary number isn't exactly something to be proud of.

Spending a ridiculous amount of money is nothing new to the Yankees - in 2005, they paid out $85M more than their closest competitor - but it's not as much the dollar amount as it is the players. Now that the Bombers are allocating those resources efficiently, it's hard not to understand how much money $200M actually is. Throughout the middle of this decade, the Yanks were continually paying the likes of Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield, Jose Contreras, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano and Hideki Matsui far more than they were worth. Now survey the current roster. It looks pretty damn lean by comparison.

I know that it's borderline irrational for a Yankees fan to feel any sort of guilt about the amount the team spends. They make a ton of money - some of which comes from me - and if they don't spend it on players, it's just going to be sucked up into a corporate vacuum, never to be seen again. The more they spend on payroll, the more enjoyable it is going to be to watch them on any given day during the season.

And perhaps that's the issue. Maybe this is just an offseason problem. As the summer moves along and the season develops, it's likely that the Yankees won't actually be as good as they are on paper right now and it won't seem as unfair that they have assembled an absolutely ridiculous collection of current and former All-Stars and future Hall of Famers. Even if they win 110 games next year, they are still going to lose at a 32% clip. Given that a 94 win team loses 42% of the time, it doesn't seem all that different over the long run - one game out of every 10.

Everyone wants their team to be awesome. But I think people want to see their team come together and exceed expectations rather than attempt to live up to impossibly high ones. Ideally, you'd like your team to be better than others by virtue of something other than their relative willingness to shell out tens of millions of dollars. Being a bona fide Goliath doesn't take away from the satisfaction of winning a World Series, but it tempers the enjoyment of every step along the way.

As it stands, the 2010 season will end in one of two ways: an expected victory or a major failure. So while the moves the Yankees have made this offseason have ensured they have a better chance to win a World Series coming into the season than they have had in quite some time, they have also guaranteed that they will have more to lose than ever before.


  1. How good is too good?

    If they signed Matt Holliday, not when they make a solid trade for a pitcher to solidify their rotation.

  2. I actually laughed when getting to the Kei Igawa profile under the contracts link.

    Kei Igawa lhp
    5 years/$20M (2007-11)
    * 5 years/$20M (2007-11)
    o posted by Hanshin Tigers of Japanese League 11/06
    o Yankees bid $26,000,194 for negotiating rights with Igawa 11/06
    o signed by Yankees 12/06
    o 07:$4M, 08:$4M, 09:$4M, 10:$4M, 11:$4M
    o performance bonuses: $0.125M each for 180, 190, 200 & 210 IP
    o sent outright to AAA by Yankees 7/26/08
    * agent: Arn Tellum
    * ML service: 0.104

  3. Anon - That would certainly put it well over the top. Was just asking the question.

    Jimmy - At least they are safe from having to cough up those performance bonuses...

  4. That reminds me of this post:

    And no, it didn't make it any less totally awesome that the Yankees won just because they spent a lot of money.

  5. Anon - No it won't diminish the enjoyment of winning, but it makes any other outcome seem like a waste of a season. You reach a certain point of diminishing returns when you keep stacking the talent higher and higher, where it makes the odds of winning only slightly better but backlash of losing becomes a whole lot worse.

  6. Low payroll teams make that business decision.
    not a great decision for their fans
    we must beat the evil empire therefore we must field this team.

  7. This perfectly summed up both my irrational emotions and rational thoughts regarding my beloved Yankees. We are takers personified and it does place an unnatural expectation on what is supposed to be good sport. This feeling tempers the journey of winning greatly in my eyes.