The Yankees are pinching pennies

Now, if Cashman’s superiors have finally learned the virtue of not chasing whatever offseason acquisition you can get simply for the sake of doing something, I don’t really want to complain. Over the long term, I will certainly advocate the sort of restraint we’re seeing this offseason. The problem, however, is that they’re not implementing the concept correctly from a baseball standpoint. If you’re only worried about the baseball, the correct strategy would be to take your lumps on the cost of those past mistakes while avoiding further long term spending errors and hope that you can get to where you want to once those contracts come off the books. That is decidedly not what the Yankees are doing, if their cries of poverty are to be believed.

Instead we’re getting a crash-diet of austerity, and as in most such cases, the prescription is leaving the patient in a precarious position. At the end of the day, it simply must be noted that the Yankees’ starting rotation is a huge question mark. Most troublesome, it’s a question mark with a wide range of plausible outcomes. It’s one thing to say someone could be terrible, after all, anyone could be terrible. C.C. Sabathia could have one of the worst seasons in big league history. But he probably won’t. That degree of confidence is what typically guides our confidence when we make predictions about various players and informs our sense of how good players are. And I have to be honest, that sense of confidence is completely lacking in me when it comes to the other four starters currently slated to start the season in the Bombers’ rotation. The worst case scenario (within the realm of things that are reasonably plausible) in which Ivan Nova regresses from how he pitched after his demotion last summer and Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes are all terrible simply isn’t that unlikely at all. Throw in the possibility of C.C. Sabathia getting hurt, and this group is playing another game of Russian Roulette. And after the luck the organization had with their scrap heap acquisitions last year, I’d say they’re about four chambers in.

Thankfully, the baseball gods have gift-wrapped a couple of gifts just for the Yankees this holiday season, with Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt both available to be had on a one year contract to provide some insurance and upside to the roster. The Yankees are, reportedly, declining that gift, because ownership doesn’t want to spend more money in luxury taxes thanks in no small part to their previous tendency to light money on fire at inopportune moments.

Pardon me for being more than a little perturbed about that.

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

32 thoughts on “The Yankees are pinching pennies

  1. San Ramon Fred

    Right on. Could not agree with you more. Fred

  2. forged

    Kuroda has pitched 57 games out of his 115 in Dodger stadium. He has pitched 6 games in AL parks. Maybe he can make the switch to the AL and be fine, but we know pitchers don't always fare well making the switch from NL to AL … and that also isn't accounting for the fact that Dodger stadium is pitcher-friendly.

    So what are the realistic expectations if he switches from NL to AL and possibly a less favorable home park for pitchers?

    As far as your other point goes Brien, I'm generally against making moves for the sake of making moves. The team just won the AL East and it seems just as reasonable to not expect Nova or Hughes to digress from where they are. I think it is a bit early to start worrying about next season considering it isn't even January at this point.

    • BrienJackson

      On the first point, I need to see some sort of quantification because I worry about that. Frankly it seems that the idea that it's (probably slightly) easier to pitch in the N.L. than the A.L. has become so ossified in peoples' brains that the effect is being vastly overstated.

      On the last paragraph, I just don't agree. It does not seem reasonable at all to not expect some level of regression from Nova and Freddy Garcia, and Hughes is a true wild card, which means that you can't reasonably have a high level of confidence that he'll pitch well enough to be a sufficient 3rd starter in a winning rotation.

      And I really don't understand the charge of doing something just to do it, in so much as (putting Oswalt's injury issues aside for a second), both Kuroda and Oswalt are very good bets to be better pitchers in 2012 than any non-Sabathia starters the Yankees have. Signing Rafael Soriano when you already have a deep bullpen just because he's a sexy name is making a move just for the sake of it, making a substantial upgrade to an important position is the opposite of that.

  3. yardisiak

    Not sure I see the pont of signing an Oswalt or Kuroda. They profile as back of the rotation startters in the AL east. Also, they would take starts away from Hughes, Noesi and potentiall the kids in AAA. The Yankees are better off seeing if they can develop another starter or hope Hughes turns things around then bring in a shot term option.

    If things don't work out with option A(Hughes) or Option B(Noesi) there is plenty of depth to pull from. The difference in 2012 is small and the payoff beyond is mush greater then what a Oswalt or Kuroda would provide.

    • BrienJackson

      Well, false on both counts. For one, neither profiles as a back end starter. Regardless of what you think of Kuroda, he'd clearly project as the Yankees' third starter at worst right now. Oswalt is a bit trickier, because of the back injury, but he were able to pitch 180+ innings in 2012 he'd very likely be the Yankees' second best starter.

      As for the kids, none of them are presently slated to open the season in the rotation, so Kuroda/Oswalt can't possibly take a spot from them (Hughes being different, of course, since I can't very well help it that the team refuses to acknowledge Burnett just isn't very good anymore).

      • yardisiak

        The point is the difference between a Oswalt or Kuroda projection versus a Highes or Noesi is not enough to give up the long term up side.

        Listen, I know the Yankees clearly need another good bet outside of Sabathia but niether of these guys are close enough to give up the possibility of developing a long term asset.

        • BrienJackson

          We're talking about one year deals for pitcher who would be in the top part of the Yankees' rotation. There is no trade off between the long-term and short-term here. None at all. That's even more true because Hughes certainly shouldn't be the first in line for a demotion, and Noesi isn't likely to be in the Opening Day rotation in either case.

        • Art Vandelay

          In addition to what Brien said, I'm not sure which "long-term assets" you think Oswalt or Kuroda would be blocking. Are you talking about Betances and Banuelos, or more like Noesi, Warren, Phelps, et al? Because the latter category truly profile as "back of the rotation starters," to the extent that phrase has any meaning other than "fringe major league starter. It's off-base to lump Kuroda and Oswalt (if reasonably healthy) in the same category as those guys (that's what I read you to be saying, but I could be wrong). If you think it's reasonable to expect the same "back of the rotation" production from Noesi as, say, Kuroda, then I think you're dead wrong.

          As for Betances and Banuelos, I think it would be a mistake to rush them to the majors this year from a baseball development standpoint. But more to your point, the same problem noted above still applies; while maybe Banuelos could become an above-average MLB pitcher someday, he most likely will suck pretty hard if he gets called up this year.

          • BrienJackson

            I won't even go that far, because I don't think there's any reason not to preference younger and cheaper back end starters over older and more expensive such players. The problem is that none of those minor leaguers is going to start the season in the big league rotation in either case, so they simply don't have any bearing on the discussion at the moment.

          • Art Vandelay

            Wouldn't go that far in what respect? I imagine (but don't know for sure) that yardisiak is assuming that some of the AAA guys will see time in the rotation this year, whether it be due to injury or ineffectiveness of the current 5, and Oswalt/Kuroda might block that without providing much improvement.

            To your point, sure, if you think Kuroda or Oswalt are merely back-end starters, then by all means, just throw Noesi in there and see what he can do. Obviously you shouldn't waste $12 million/year for production you can get dirt cheap from the minors. My point is that I'm not overly concerned with the "blocking the development" argument, since most of the minor league arms are pretty low-ceiling guys, by most accounts (except maybe Noesi, but who knows). I'm much more concerned with "can you get major league hitters out"? It's not like the 2012 Yankees are a rebuilding project.

          • yardisiak

            A Oswalt or Kuroda signing would take starts away from Hughes and Noesi immediately( rotation would be CC, Nova, Freddie, AJ and Oswalt/Kuroda). If you think the Yankees would sit AJ or Freddy last year should be evidence other wise.

            Oswalt was a 2.5 WAR player last year(who carries injury concerns), Kuroda 2.4( with disturbing peripherals). Hughes on the other hand is only a year removed from a 2.5 WAR season(2010) and is 10 years younger. Who has the better chance of providing that 2.5 WAR season in 2011? I bet Oswalt/Kuroda by a hair. Is that worth giving up on a chance to bring Hughes back to 2010 form? Because two years removed from significant innings means he is a LONG shot to ever return to the rotation, at least with the Yankees.

          • BrienJackson

            Okay, it could take starts away from Hughes, but:

            1. If it does, it's because the Yankees foolishly insist on keeping faith in Burnett.

            2. Noesi still has nothing to do with anything, since he'd still be the 6th starter without another starter.

          • BrienJackson

            Additionally:

            "Oswalt was a 2.5 WAR player last year(who carries injury concerns), Kuroda 2.4( with disturbing peripherals). Hughes on the other hand is only a year removed from a 2.5 WAR season(2010) and is 10 years younger. Who has the better chance of providing that 2.5 WAR season in 2011? I bet Oswalt/Kuroda by a hair."

            If we're going by 2010, it seems unfair to not point out that Oswalt was *very* good that year. Of course it's also somewhat unfair to not note that Oswalt recorded that WAR in just about 140 innings last year. Injuries are a concern, but the stuff is probably still there. If he stays healthy, there's tremendous upside there, and if not, you're only making a one year commitment.

            As for Kuroda's peripherals, what's disturbing about them?

          • yardisiak

            If you could tell me the Yankees would sit AJ I would have no issues with either signing but they will stubbornly pitch him.

            Noesi would be first in line if Hughes fails but you are right, he is still the 6th man regardless.

            Kuroda's LD and HR/FB rates are up and his GB% are down. An extreme flyball pitcher who gives up HRs at a good clip in YSIII scares me.

          • BrienJackson

            Batted ball profiles can fluctuate pretty starkly if you only go by year to year numbers. The key is keeping an idea for what each number represents in its own context. So, yes, his groundball rate was down in 2011, but it was still about league average, and his line drive rate was up, but it was lower than Sabathia's. So I don't necessarily see anything to really freak out about in those numbers, and indeed his xFIP- was 92, which isn't bad at all.

          • Art Vandelay

            Also, hypothetically Oswalt/Kuroda could take starts away from Freddy if they don't want to bench A.J. (which they should). I could see them making Freddy the long man until an injury occurs or something. But I'd agree that Hughes should definitely be starting this year no matter what.

  4. LarryAtIIATMS

    Brien, the new CBA represents a sea change. The soft cap represented by the luxury tax has gotten a lot harder. We'll need to do some analysis of this. But assuming that the Yanks don't go and blow this line of thinking to hell by signing Prince Fielder to a nine figure deal, the simple fact is this: the old luxury tax did not dissuade the Yanks from spending. The new tax does.

    No argument, the Yanks enter 2012 with a shaky starting rotation. They did the same in 2011, and I famously (around here, anyway) predicted that the rotation would not be good enough to make it to the post-season. I was wrong about that; the rotation exceeded expectations. But I agree, we cannot expect that to happen again.

    But back to that sea change. If the CBA does represent a harder salary cap, then part of the sea change I mentioned is that the Yankees cannot necessarily expect to make the post-season every year. In other words, with this sea change there must follow a change in our expectations.

    • BrienJackson

      That's not an unfair point, but it doesn't really contradict my point either. The luxury tax may be more punitive in the rate it applies, but it is not harder in the sense that it's still merely a tax on "excess" spending, and there are no extra penalties for exceeding the "cap." They *could* spend it if they chose to, they've just chosen not to because of what seems like an irrational aversion to paying the tax.

      • LarryAtIIATMS

        It's not just the tax, it's also the savings through market disqualification revenue sharing. You've seen the size of these numbers, right? http://bit.ly/tqcr5K

        • BrienJackson

          A one year contract wouldn't affect the Yankees' plans in that respect.

          • LarryAtIIATMS

            Are we 100% sure of this? I haven't seen the actual terms of the new CBA, and it's my understanding that the terms of market disqualification revenue sharing are not yet written.

          • BrienJackson

            If nothing else, present allocations would prevent the Yankees from getting below the tax threshold this year. So yes, it would be entirely irrelevant in 2012.

          • forged

            When is it expected to have them written?

            I could easily see the organization waiting to see exactly what the rules are before committing to spend more money if they are worried about the long-term ramifications of the luxury tax.

          • LarryAtIIATMS

            forged, don't know when we'll have the actual CBA text. Brian is probably right here, in that the luxury tax threshold for 2012 is supposed to remain at $178 million, and it does not appear that the Yankees have any thought of getting payroll below this number.

  5. Regis

    Imagine rooting for New York's other team! The Mets haven't been to the playoffs in half a decade, are coming off another down season, the team is cutting payroll AND just lost their best player to free agency. That has got to suck!

    I'd rather see them practice restraint. Just because they made the overpays that you listed above doesn't mean that they should continue to spend that way. But don't worry, I'm sure they will sign some doofus at a premium next offseason and we can all complain about that.

    • BrienJackson

      I really hesitate to call this "restraint." Restraint would have been not spending the money on Soriano. This is…something else.

      • Mister D

        But why did we get Soriano? Season ticket sales were down, and Scott Boras whispered into Levine or Baby Stein's ears that a big signing would bring them back up (the idea that the economy was in the crapper did not seem to be a factor in their thinking). Cashman says we don't need him, we can rely on the kids and budget signings. Boras wins the day, and Soriano is in pinstripes. Season ticket sales don't move. Soriano gets injured. Colon and Garcia perform a minor miracle. Fans fall in love with Nova. When Soriano comes back, he finds himself behind D-Rob in the pecking order. He isn't even the guy who will take over for Mo anymore. In the end he was HALF as many WAR as Luis Ayala, put fewer fans in the stands than Ivan Nova, and cost more than all of Cashman's offseason acquisitions combined. And that's just one guy. Add on the poor seasons by AJ and Posada, underperforming seasons by ARod and Teix, and the nonexistent season of Feliciano, and wrap it all up in the new CBA, and I'm not sure how the owner's could not be forced to reevaluate their priorities.

  6. sdelmonte

    So I am wondering something: is there any debt service for the new stadium that is also contributing to the frugality? Here in MetsLand, we know all about debt service, which includes money owed for the new park and for starting SNY. Did the Yankees issue construction bonds as most teams do in this sort of situation? Are there bills coming due? And do they make any difference to a team they seems to routine print money stamped "in YES we trust"?

  7. Mister D

    Boras is Boras. He will do anything to get his client a deal, and things were looking desperate for Soriano last year. I have no doubt that he did an end run around Cashman to get this deal done, and I am sure he made every argument under the sun to persuade them to sign on the dotted line.

  8. RobMer

    I agree, sort of, yet by adding in Oswalt and his injured back, and/or Kuroda and his fringy stuff, we will simply be adding yet two more question marks to your Nova, Hughes, AJ and Freddy concerns. All legit, but adding more question marks to other question marks doesn't answer any questions.

    I think the Yankees are simply refusing to chase question marks. No more Pavanos and Igawas. Focus on players morel likely to deliver quality, be they named Sabathia (success), Lee (failed signing), and perhaps next year, Hamels and or Cain.

    The Yankees have built up depth in AAA with young arms like Noesi, Phelps, Warren and Mitchell, with Banuelos and Betances offering even more high end, but probably a year behind. I'm willing to give those kids the shots if the guys on the big-league roster fail. Fact is, some of your fears will come true, yet in baseball, there will also be surprises.

    The Yankees will be fine in 2012.

    • BrienJackson

      "…in baseball, there will also be surprises."

      True, but there's no guarantee that your surprises will be pleasant ones.

  9. forcomiver

    awesome!.

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