Love it when the $200 million team trots out Buddy Carlyle and Luis Ayala back to back in an extra-innings game.
The implication here is obvious. Passan is stating that a team with a huge payroll should not be reduced to having players like Buddy Carlyle and Luis Ayala on the roster, as their wealth should afford them the ability to have better depth than other clubs. This is a sentiment that comes up all the time amongst Yankees fans, and Passan was not the only person to raise this issue last night. However, while the idea that rich teams should have more depth is intuitively correct, there is a point where being a wealthy team may actually hurt your ability to compile quality back-up plans.
When it comes to constructing your Opening Day roster, a huge payroll is obviously an asset. You can offer MLB bench jobs at competitive prices to players who might be able to finagle a starting position in a city like Pittsburgh or Kansas City. You can afford to carry both Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher and just assume that things will work out, despite the fact that both are starting caliber players who can get regular playing time elsewhere. In terms of compiling depth at the Major League level, having a huge budget is undeniably a good thing.
However, this ability to build a great 25 man roster limits your opportunities when it comes to stashing depth in the minor leagues. What Major League quality player would want to sign with the Yankees to sit at AAA and hope that both the superstar who plays his position AND the highly qualified backup who made the Opening Day Roster get hurt or flop enough to allow him to receive regular playing time? To use the example that inspired this post, few MLB-quality pitchers would want to sign with the Yankees to stay at AAA just in case Rafael Soriano and Pedro Feliciano get hurt.
While some might suggest that the Yankees should throw above-market money at those arms so that they could have them in case of emergency, that is clearly a poor use of resources, as it would represent the expenditure of millions of dollars on players who may never see meaningful playing time in the Bronx. Furthermore, this would push the payroll closer to $225 or even $250 million, as following the reasoning to its logical conclusion would require that the Yankees pay a MLB-quality roster of players to wait at AAA in the event of an emergency. Additionally, even if the Yankees made the best offer financially, most players would likely prefer to go to a city where the path to playing time at the MLB level is considerably clearer. Players are always thinking forward to their next contract, and most would rather showcase their skills at the MLB level than take a chance on spending the year in Scranton.
In sum, when it comes to attracting depth that is certain to begin the season in the minors, the Yankees are no better off, and are likely in a worse position, than teams with lesser talent and smaller payroll. Once you get past the first level of depth, the Yankees are forced to depend on replacement level talent and unproven minor leaguers, much like everybody else.