Poor George Steinbrenner.
In the first offseason since his death in July, the Yankees have fallen apart. Sure, The Boss turned over day-to-day operations to his sons Hal and Hank in 2008. But everyone knew George was still the face and the real decision-maker of the Yankees. If anything, George wanted to give Hal and Hank some experience under his own watchful eye before his health eventually failed him.
Apparently he did not realize that his sons were Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dumber.
Baseball fans are aware that the Yankees failed to land the marquee pitcher on the market (Cliff Lee) and marquee hitter on the market (Carl Crawford). The Crawford signing was explainable – the Red Sox simply offered more money, and the Yankees have a very similar player in Brett Gardner at approximately 1/36th the price.
Yet letting Lee sign with the Phillies was inexplicable. Heading into the offseason, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that Lee would come to New York. The Yankees could offer more years, more money, and one of his best friends (CC Sabathia) pitched there. That they managed to screw that one up is nothing less than a huge failure.
But the Yankees’ woes go well beyond that. They failed to sign players that they wanted and actually did sign players that no one wanted. For a frame of reference, I looked at this post from a New York sports site to get an idea of the expectations of Yankee fans.
It wasn’t until after I actually read the post that I realized that Yankee fans view things differently than fans of other teams. That tends to happen with a $213 million payroll. I’m a Twins fan, so my offseason thoughts went towards things like low-cost middle relief options and whether the team should re-sign Orlando Hudson.
This Yankees fan outlined his three part plan for the Yankees offseason, presumably in order of importance:
1. Resigning the legends (Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera)
2. Pitching, pitching, pitching
3. Various position players
Well then. All the Yankees need to do is re-sign their players, sign new pitchers, and sign new position players. Simple enough. With goals this vague, it’s nearly impossible to fail. Yet Hal and Hank managed to hit two-thirds of #1 and airball both #2 and #3.
To really appreciate this, I decided that a full breakdown is necessary.
11/27/10: Yankees sign center fielder-pitcher Brian Anderson to minor-league contract. This isn’t an important signing, I just thought the center fielder-pitcher position was amusing. Any time someone can refer to you as a poor man’s Rick Ankiel, it might be time for a new career.
12/5/10: Jayson Werth signs with Nationals. The Nationals probably saved the Yankees here. Werth was rumored to be one of the top free agent targets of the Yanks. Instead, he signed with the Nationals for 7 years and $126 million, roughly 4 years and $66 million more than he was actually worth. So far, so good.
12/6/10: Derek Jeter re-signs with the Yankees for three years and $51 million. This was the no-brainer of the offseason. There is no question that Jeter is overpaid. He will turn 37 next season and is coming off the worst season of his career. But there was no way that the Yankees weren’t going to re-sign Jeter. He is so beloved among Yankee fans that they would instantly call for The Boss’s corpse to be re-animated if he signed elsewhere. At the same time, no MLB team would give Jeter anything close to the money that the Yankees gave him. It was a foregone conclusion, and the contract he eventually signed was in the ballpark of what most analysts expected.
The actual contract negotiations were the mind-boggling part of the whole thing. This short New York Times article is worth reading; basically, the entire process was a manual for how not to conduct business talks. There was a 100% chance of Jeter re-signing with the Yankees and the Steinbrenner stooges still managed to turn it into a public war of words. I don’t know much about New York, but I do know one thing – crapping upon Derek Jeter is not a good idea if you want the support of New Yorkers.
12/9/10: Carl Crawford signs with the Red Sox. The Yankees and Angels were rumored to be Crawford’s top potential suitors before the Red Sox came in and stole the show. It is unclear how close Crawford was to signing with the Yanks, so this probably wasn’t as painful as the Lee signing was four days later. Still, Big George rarely let the Red Sox upstage his own offseason signings.
12/13/10: Cliff Lee shocks baseball by signing with the Phillies. Lee stunned the baseball world by signing with the Phillies after the Yankees and Rangers were the only two known contenders for his services. After years and years of grabbing the best pitcher on the free agent market, Yankee fans were flabbergasted by this move. Seriously, look at that blog post above. That Yankee fan had Cliff Lee penciled into the rotation. On October 25. Two days before Lee pitched Game 1 of the World Series for the Rangers.
This set the stage for the rest of the train wreck offseason for the Yankees. I can’t remember a free agent shunning the Yankees like that. Sure, the Yanks have lost out on free agents before. But not as the runaway favorites to sign the player. From here on out, it seemed that the Yankees were in panic mode.
12/14/10: Mariano Rivera signs with Yankees for 2 years and $30 million. This might be the only uncontroversial move of the offseason. Rivera is 41 but has shown no signs of slowing down. Like Jeter, there was a 100% chance of Rivera being re-signed. Unlike Jeter, the talks did not spill into an ugly public argument. Plus the Yankees were able to keep the contract to two years, so they have to be happy with that. In an offseason like this, the Yankees will take anything they can get.
Catcher Russell Martin signs for 1 year and $4 million. On the same day, the Yankees signed former Dodger catcher Russell Martin to a one-year deal. This is by far the most rational move the Yankees made this offseason. The front office wants Martin to be the starting catcher and have Jorge Posada as a backup/DH. Martin is coming off a fractured hip – probably not the easiest injury to come back from as a catcher – but $4 million on a one-year flier for a catcher that was previously considered one of the best in baseball is a solid move.
Mark Prior signs a minor league deal. Also on December 14, the Yankees signed Mark Prior. This would have been a great signing in 2004.
12/17/10: Pedro Feliciano signs for 2 years and $8 million. The Yankees slightly overpay for a 34-year old left-handed reliever that will likely only be used as a lefty specialist. Blah.
On the same day, Zack Greinke requests a trade from the Royals. The Yankees get new life after losing out on the only major pitching free agent when Lee signed with the Phillies.
12/19/10: Zack Greinke is traded to the Brewers. And the second Cy Young Award winner to hit the market this offseason goes to a team other than the Yankees.
You could argue that this worked out for the best for both Greinke and the Yankees, with Greinke’s social anxiety disorder and the notoriously difficult New York media. You’d be wrong, because even if Greinke turned into a nutjob who couldn’t really pitch, he’d still be the team’s second best starter.
1/14/11: Rafael Soriano signs for 3 years and $35 million. We are only two years removed from an offseason in which the Yankees signed CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett. This offseason, their biggest free agent splash was on Rafael Soriano.
Granted, Soriano was one of the most dominant closers in baseball with the Rays last season. He could very well be a dominant setup man for Mariano Rivera. But the Yankees just dropped $35 million on a setup man who has had six healthy seasons in his nine year career. And they gave him an opt-out clause after 2011 and 2012 in case he does well and wants to negotiate a better deal. And they lost their first round draft pick to the Rays with the signing. And he isn’t worth anything close to that money, even if he performs as well over three years as his previous three best years. And the signing supposedly caused a huge riff in the front office with GM Brian Cashman on one side and President Randy Levine on the other (the Steinbrenners sided with Levine).
Other than that, great signing.
1/18/11: Yankees agree to arbitration with three arbitration-eligible players. Joba Chamberlain ($1.4 million), Phil Hughes ($2.7 million), and Boone Logan ($1.2 million) all agreed to one-year deals to avoid arbitration. Previously, the Yanks agreed to a one-year deal with Sergio Mitre ($900,000). Four players, four arbitration avoiding deals, and not a single public fight.
Not really a terrible move in the bunch here. Hughes figures to be the Yankees’ #3 starter and $2.7 million would be a solid price for any team’s #3 starter, let alone one with the Yankees’ payroll. At this point, Chamberlain is working on reputation, but $1.4 million for a decent middle reliever isn’t terrible.
If I were a Yankee fan, I’d be mildly terrified by the Logan and Mitre signings. Logan was the LOOGY for the Yanks last season; the fact that they brought him back means that Feliciano might have a more significant role in the bullpen. That would be bad, because Feliciano is pretty awful against righties. And the thought of Mitre as an emergency starter is rough for any team…let alone a team with a $200+ million payroll.
1/20/11: Andruw Jones signs for 1 year, $2 million. This would have been a great signing in 2001. If Jones reaches 250 at-bats, he gets bonuses for every 25 at-bats thereafter. All Yankees fans immediately said a prayer that he would not reach 250 at-bats.
1/21/11: Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon sign with the Rays. Not that big of a deal for the Yankees, since it’s unclear how much either one of these two will contribute. But these signings basically signified the end of free agent season. Of the top 40 free agents this offseason, only Andy Pettitte and Vladimir Guerrero remain unsigned.
The Yankees’ final tally would be an embarrassment to The Boss. They did re-sign Jeter (#6) and Rivera (#7), but realistically those two were never going to go anywhere else. Besides Jeter and Rivera, the only top 40 signing for the team was #15 Rafael Soriano. They have thus far been unable to convince Pettitte (#13) not to retire, although you can be sure that they are desperately trying to bring him back. Last year’s Yankees Javier Vazquez (#19), Lance Berkman (#30), and Kerry Wood (#31) signed elsewhere. When was the last time that the Yankees lost as many top 40 free agents as they signed? It’s like we are in some sort of bizarro world – the Nationals (Werth), White Sox (Adam Dunn), and Rangers (Adrian Beltre) all landed more valuable free agents this offseason than the Yankees did.
1/26/11: Bartolo Colon signs a minor-league deal with Yankees. This would have been a fantastic signing in 2001. Colon is guaranteed $900,000 if he makes the majors. If his career weight arc remained roughly constant, the 37-year old Colon should weigh 385 pounds by now.
2/2/11: Freddy Garcia signs a minor-league deal with Yankees. This would have been a fantastic signing in 2001. Garcia is guaranteed $1.5 million if he makes the majors.
Alright, I’m pretty convinced now that they’re either messing with us or working with a fantasy baseball magazine from 2005.
At this point, the Yankees have 21 pitchers on their 40-man roster. Only SIX of those are starters. Of those six, three are assured spots in the starting rotation – Sabathia, Burnett and Hughes. This might be a good time to mention that, of the 92 qualified starters last season, Hughes finished 63rd and Burnett finished 77th in xFIP, which is the best indicator of future success and struggles.
The other three starters include Hector Noesi and Dellin Betances, two young pitchers who have never pitched in the majors and do not figure to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. That leaves Ivan Nova and his seven career MLB starts. I can only assume that the Yankees would prefer not to have Nova in the five-man rotation, but as we have seen, their moves tend to lack logic.
Essentially, the battle for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation will be a battle between Nova, Mitre (primarily a reliever, has only been a full-time starter for one of his seven MLB seasons), Colon, and Garcia. Wow. This is probably a good time to mention that the Yankees’ 2010 payroll was $213 million.
The real winner in all of this (other than the Red Sox and Rays of course) is Andy Pettitte. Pettitte can sit with his feet up for the next two months and let his leverage increase by the day. If I were him, I’d show up in the stands at Spring Training and shout “make it rain” at Cashman once it’s clear that Garcia can’t hit 85 on the radar gun and Colon is winded after three pitches.
The real loser (other than Yankees fans)? All baseball fans. Baseball is so much more fun to watch when the Yankees play the Evil Empire role. Every good story needs a villain. The Three Stooges act is fun in the offseason, but I’m not sure how many Texas/San Francisco World Series games I can take.
I hate the Yankees as much as any good Twins fan. But I love to hate them as well. Please don’t keep screwing this up, Steinbrenner stooges.
UPDATE (2/3/11): According to sources, Andy Pettitte will announce his retirement tomorrow. And it gets worse for the Yankees.