Evil Empire II

A recent history lesson is in order.  In December 2002, after being outbid by the Yankees for the services of free agent pitcher Jose Contreras, then-Sox President Larry Lucchino referred to the Yankees as the “Evil Empire”.  Lucchino is largely forgotten today, but his “Star Wars” nickname has stuck.  What triggered Lucchino’s ire back then, was that the Yankees had a well-earned reputation for being able to outspend any foe.  Back then, the Yanks were outspending the Red Sox by around $80 million a year.  Back then, the Yankees payroll was about 72% higher than that of the Red Sox.

Flash forward eight years, to the recently concluded baseball Winter Meetings.  The Red Sox have become only the second team in baseball history to sign two players to nine-figure contracts for terms of seven years or greater in the same offseason.  The other team?  That would be the Yankees, the other “evil empire”, in 2008.

There’s a strong parallel between the Yankees’ 2008 post-season and the BoSox’s 2010 post-season.  Like the 2008 Yankees, the 2010 Red Sox are coming off a season when they failed to make the post-season.  The current Red Sox have about $46 million coming off payroll as the team says goodbye to players like Adrian Beltre, Mike Lowell and Victor Martinez.  Back in 2008, the Yankees had something like $88 million in payroll coming off the books.  The Yankees expiring contracts in 2008 were large enough to cover the signings of Teixeira, CC and A.J., with money left over.  The Red Sox?

The Red Sox payroll is not going to decrease in 2011.

The above chart is set up the way I set up the Yankees’ payroll for purposes of trying to determine the Yankees’ budget – only this time, we’re looking at the Red Sox, not the Yankees.  The Red Sox 2010 payroll was around $168 million, according to Cot’s.  For 2011, the BoSox already have about $157 million committed to 20 players.  The team still has five players to add.  The Sox are reportedly trying to sign Scott Downs, who ought to command about the same $6 million salary that the Tigers are paying to Joaquin Benoit.  The Sox are chasing Russell Martin, who ought to command a similar salary (especially since the Yankees are also pursuing him).  Martin apparently sought a guaranteed $5 million from the Dodgers before he was non-tendered.

Moreover, I can argue that the real cost of the Red Sox 2011 payroll is higher than I’m showing above. The Sox are reportedly close to a long-term deal with Adrian Gonzalez, at more than $20 million a year, but are delaying announcing the extension until after Opening Day, so that this $20 million annual figure does not get added to their 2011 payroll for luxury tax purposes.  But if we add this figure to the Sox “true” 2011 payroll, the total payroll is bumped by about $14 million.  Or we might consider the “true” cost of Dice-K to include the posting fee paid by the Sox to the Seibu Lions.  The prorated amount of that fee would add another $8.5 million to the Red Sox payroll.  It could be fair to say that the real payroll for the 2011 Red Sox is around $190 million!

$190 million is not quite Yankees’ territory, but it’s close.  Even if we stick to the actual figures for 2011, the Red Sox are likely to have a payroll in the neighborhood of $170 million.  Our projected figure for the 2011 Yankees is around $230 million, so there’s still a healthy gap (healthy, that is, from the Yankees’ perspective) between the two teams.

The more remarkable gap is between the Red Sox and the rest of baseball.  Back in 2003, when the Yankees earned their nickname as the “Evil Empire”, the Red Sox payroll was about 30% higher than the league average.  My $170 million projection for the 2011 Red Sox payroll is about twice the 2010 MLB average.

Here’s another way that the Red Sox have come to parallel the “Empire” in the Bronx.  Here on IIATMS, we’ve been known to worry about the size of the Yankees’ future payroll commitments. By one calculation, the Yankees have (at the moment) about $613 million in salary commitments through 2018.  The Red Sox’s salary commitments for the same period are about $595 million.  (Of course, the Yankees will surge further ahead in this dubious battle if they can land Cliff Lee.)

The Red Sox have grown into a mini version of the Empire in the Bronx.  Eight years ago, the Red Sox complained about the financial advantage the Yankees had on the rest of baseball.  Today, the Red Sox hold a similar advantage over most every team in baseball other than the Yankees.  The Red Sox have achieved financial success in roughly the same way as the Yankees.  The Red Sox win ballgames.  The Red Sox have a thriving regional sports network.  The Red Sox have a rabid fan base that eagerly gobbles up high-priced tickets to Fenway.

As a Yankees fan, all I can say is congratulations.  There’s no way I can feel bitter about the Sox’s success in this week’s winter meetings.  The Sox did what the Yankees usually do (and may still do, before this post-season is over): they parlayed their money advantage into the signing of a couple of terrific ballplayers.  IIATMS, that’s the way the game is played.

Of course,the Sox did not sign anyone this year (not yet, anyway) that the Yankees truly coveted.  I like Adrian Gonzalez, but the Yankees already have their own $20 million first baseman in Mark Teixeira (the guy the Sox wanted two years ago).  I like Carl Crawford, but the Yankees did not need Crawford and reportedly did not try to sign him.

And of course, it helps that in the battle of evil empires, the Yanks still have the bigger empire.  We have the bigger revenue base, the more profitable regional sports network, the bigger stadium with the larger number of luxury suites, and so forth.

As far as evil empires go, the Red Sox deserve congratulations.  They are the up and coming empire.   If I may use a TOS analogy, the Red Sox have achieved the level of the Romulan Empire.

But the Yankees are the Klingons.

Two evil empires.  No longer a difference in kind.  Only a difference in degree.

13 thoughts on “Evil Empire II

  1. Great post. I’m with you- I have no issues with the Red Sox following the same business model. I find it satisfying on some level that the Red Sox, after all these years of their fans complaining, have come over to the dark side.

    Although it certainly presents a much greater competitive challenge than it did before, its going to make watching these games intense, nerve- wracking, and essentially a ton of fun. Its always more fun to win than lose, but these 2 teams will definitely provide great drama and competition. And isn’t watching great, competitive baseball what its all about?

  2. Any parallels to the Yankees' 2008-09 offseason are superficial at best. Whereas there was no doubt the Yankees' acquisitions made them a better team in 2009 than they were in 2008, swapping Beltre and V-Mart for A-Gon and Crawford provides the Red Sox with a marginal benefit at best, and may not even give them that if Youkilis struggles defensively at 3rd. It makes them better than they would have been in 2011 and beyond, don't get me wrong, but compared to a baseline of 2010, there's not much room for improvement. If the Sox are going to bounce back, it's going to come primarily from better seasons from Beckett and Lackey.

    • Brien,

      On the replacement of Beltre with Adrian Gonzalez, I'm with you–but the Red Sox LF was manned by Bill Hall (380 PA), Daniel Nava (188 PA) and Jeremy Hermida (171 PA) in 2010, good for a total of 0.1 WAR in that time. Add in small spurts by Ellsbury and Patterson, and LF was worth a whopping -0.5 WAR to the Red Sox in 2010. On the other hand, Carl Crawford was worth 6.9 WAR on his own. (these all fWAR, btw). Even if he regresses to the mean a bit, which should be expected, the addition of Crawford to the Red Sox is likely worth upwards of 5 wins (with possible upside).

      The loss based on moving Youk to 3rd from first isn't nearly enough to wipe this out….it's a drop in the bucket. Crawford represents a huge upgrade for them as a team.

      • Yes Crawford is better than the other outfielders, but you lost a big bat when V-Mart left, and now you don't have a catcher who can even catch a ball let alone hit one.

  3. Shoefits, thanks! Yes, the competitive challenge is there, for sure, and come next August, I'll probably wish for a "competitive environment" where the Yankees have a 15 game lead on everyone else. But you're absolutely right: great competitive balance is what it's all about.

    Brien, I'm not trying to figure out whether the Red Sox are getting the kind of value that the Yankees received two years ago — I'm merely saying that there are strong parallels between the economic positions of those two teams. But I don't see how you can argue that Crawford is not a huge upgrade over a Mike Cameron. As for Gonzalez, you've already made the point (so has Rob Neyer, I think) that Gonzalez is no upgrade over the kind of numbers Beltre produced in 2010, but Gonzalez IS a substantial upgrade (offensively at least) over the numbers Beltre was likely to produce in 2011. Agreed though, the defensive quality of the Red Sox infield will erode somewhat, maybe by quite a bit. I'm no expert, but I think that Youk at full-time 3B is risky.

    • But Crawford isn't an upgrade over Cameron/Ellsbury, becuse one of those two is still going to start in CF. Crawford is replacing Beltre/Martinez in the Red Sox lineup.

      • I think Crawford is best seen as replacing whatever CF is not playing that day. Don't see how Crawford is replacing Beltre at 3B or VMart at C-DH.

        • I'm not a fan of focusing on the defensive position they play. That's too much like the people who said Gardner had to play center last year because he didn't have enough power for left field, oblivious to the fact that, either way, Gardner and Granderson were in the lineup. Offensive production is more important, so I prefer to look at that compared to where they're going to play on the field.

          • Brien, OK, I get that. So, the Sox have Beltre and V-Mart departing, and either Cameron or Ellsbury going to the bench, with the replacements being Gonzalez, Crawford and Saltalamacchia/Varitek and maybe Russell Martin. You'd prefer to view this as Crawford and Gonzalez replacing Beltre and V-Mart, this being something closer to an apples to apples comparison when it comes to offensive production. OK. It's a little strange to think that Russell Martin might be replacing Mike Cameron, but OK.

            From that perspective, fWAR says (looking over last 5 years) that Gonzalez and Crawford combined offer about a 1 WAR improvement over V-Mart and Beltre. That's hard to believe — I would have figured something like 4 WAR — but the numbers confirm what you're saying.

            I have trouble remembering how highly fWAR values Beltre, not just for what he did last year, but overall.

            This is worthy of its own post, I think. Great comment!

          • Adrain Beltre had a phenonmenal year last year. People seem to have a really hard time remembering that.

            Anyway, like I said, this makes the Red Sox better than they would have been in 2011, but comparing to 2010, the trade off alone doesn't get you much improvement. For the Red Sox to get significantly better, Lackey and Beckett are going to have to pitch well. That's really all there is to it.

  4. I'm a Sox fan, have no real problem with teams spending money. However, if we are going to take heat for hypocrisy/being Evil Empire II, it would be nice to have the extra 60 million! in payroll. Ah well.

    • anonymoustea, I understand. You wish it were possible to be just a little bit pregnant.