Evil Empire II

I have bad news for Luke Skywalker: baseball has generated a second evil empire, headquartered just 220 miles northeast of the original. The new evil empire, a.k.a. the “less evil empire”, the “evil twin” or the “Boston Red Sox”, just took Jayson Stark’s award for best Winter Meeting performance by committing more than a quarter of a billion dollars to sign Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

No bitterness here, not from this Yankees fan. The Red Sox have money to spend and they’re spending it. They’re trying to get better. They’re acting within the rules that apply to the richest of baseball teams. That’s the nature of the game.

It’s just that, only a few years ago, the Red Sox were known to criticize the Yankees for playing the game this way.

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“Budget Guy” Says Yanks Have A Budget, Leaves Me Wondering

Being a blogger is a thankless job. I have worked hard here, and here, to give my readers a picture of the Yankees’ budget. While many figure that the Yankees’ budget is a mythic creature like the Loch Ness monster (often discussed, rarely documented), I strove to prove that the Yankees operate under real and defined spending limits. I’m even working on a third post, to go into greater depth on the topic.

Then the Yankees go and blow my work to hell, and in the most insidious way possible, by agreeing with me.

All is revealed in a solid news story by Andrew Marchand of ESPN focusing on something else entirely, the continuing Yankees pursuit of free agent pitcher Cliff Lee. Part of the story is that there’s a limit on what the Yankees are willing to spend on Cliff Lee … because the Yankees do not want to spend on payroll in excess of the Yankees’ budget. The Yankees might be willing to spend up to $25 million a year for up to 6 years of Cliff Lee, but evidently there’s no room in the budget to spend more than this.

All good so far. Things turn strange, however, when Marchand states that the Yankees’ budget is in the range of $200 million to $210 million. To emphasize the point, Marchand quotes Hal Steinbrenner:

“I’m a budget guy, you know that. But, we have some money to spend. If we have money coming off [the books], we put most or all of it back in. That’s what the fans expect. They expect us to field a good team every year. So we expect to field a good team every year and we are going to do that.”

Bad news, budget guy. Your budget isn’t balancing.

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Money To Burn? (More On the Yankees’ Budget)

Two weeks ago, we looked at the Yankees’ budget: whether such a thing really exists (we concluded: “yes”), how large the budget might be (we concluded: in the range of $210 – $215 million for beginning-of-season player payroll), and whether a free agent like Cliff Lee could be fit within this budget (we concluded: no, not without increasing the budget).

The reaction to my post was interesting! Brian, a top poster and great friend to our site, wrote that “the Yankees true budget is… whatever it takes to make the playoffs.” New friend to the site Jim P commented that Yankees spending could conceivably bump up against “what are at some point limited resources”, but Jim seemed to imply that the Yankees were nowhere near that bumping point.

The comments here reflect comments elsewhere. A widely published article last week referred to the Yankees’ “money machine-gun”. ChicagoBusiness.com is one of many places you can read that the Yankees have “money to burn”. Craig Calcaterra (one of my favorite sportswriters) put it this way: “The Yankees basically print money.”

In short: my commenters and the baseball press do not take the Yankees’ budget seriously. The common view is that the Yankees might have a budget in the same way that Bill Gates might have a credit limit on his VISA card, the same way that Michael Bloomberg might clip coupons or Paris Hilton might buy a dress off the rack.

This common view is silly, of course.

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Crazy Talk

It is day 16 of Derek Jeter’s free agency. It only seems longer than 16 days. Jeter and the Yankees continue to negotiate their deal in public. The latest contributor to this public negotiation is Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman. Cashman said this afternoon that the Yankees’ offer to Jeter (reportedly three years at $15 million per season) is “fair and appropriate”, and that Jeter should shop himself around if he thinks otherwise.

Worse: Cashman also said that the Yankees have “concerns” with both Jeter’s age and his recent on-field performance, and that both needed to be factored into any new multiyear contract. Ouch!

(By “recent”, Cashman must be referring to Jeter’s most recent performance in 2010. Cashman is probably not referring to Jeter’s next-to-most recent performance, from 2009, when Jeter finished in third place in the voting for American League Most Valuable Player.)

The common wisdom (see for example here) is that Jeter will not get a better offer than the one the Yanks have put forward, and that Jeter will eventually sign the deal proposed by the Yankees. Dave Cameron on FanGraphs went so far as to compare Jeter’s situation to the one Manny Ramirez faced in the 2008-09 off-season: the Dodgers made Manny an opening offer of $45 million over two years, and never budged from that offer. After realizing that this was the best offer he could get, Manny signed it. There was no haggling, no compromise: the Dodgers said “take it or leave it” and eventually Manny took it.

Cameron’s point is a good one. Manny had no other suitors two years ago. At the moment, there are also no suitors for Jeter (other than the Yankees, of course). In his article, Cameron looks (and dismisses) all of the usual candidates for a player like Jeter: the Red Sox have two shortstops, the Angels are committed to Erick Aybar, the Phillies have Jimmy Rollins, the Mets have Jose Reyes and the Tigers just signed Jhonny Peralta. Seemingly, there’s no one left to sign Jeter away from the Yanks.

No one? I think Cameron missed a possible candidate team, maybe because it would be crazy to think that the team in question would be a candidate for Jeter’s services. When I say crazy, I mean it. The idea is so crazy, I’m convinced that Jason and Brien and Tamar and the others here at IIATMS will pull this post from cyberspace once they’ve read it (so if you’re reading this now, read quickly, because this piece may disappear without warning). My only defense is that I write so many rational pieces, I’m entitled to a crazy piece ever now and then. So I’ve warned you. The following idea is a crazy thought.

The crazy thought is: Jeter might sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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The Yankees’ Budget

The 2010 baseball season is over, and the “Hot Stove League” is in full swing. It’s November, and a Yankee fan’s heart turns to free agency.

We’re like kids before Christmas, only the visions that dance in our heads are of multi-million dollar free agents and not sugar plums. The Yankees have their own free-agents to re-sign: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and (if he still wants to play) Andy Pettitte. There’s Kerry Wood, who might remain a Yankee if we ask him nicely (and pay him well). And of course, there are all those alluring free agents who have never been Yankees, such as Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth.

Let’s bring ‘em all to the Bronx, why don’t we? What’s stopping us? Money? Is money ever an object for the New York Yankees? To quote Wallace Matthews (from one of his recent string of outstanding columns): “the New York Yankees have never allowed money to stand in the way of getting something — or someone — they really want.”

That may change this year. This year, the Yankees may have something known as a “budget” – a spending limit specified in advance by ownership.

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The Battle for Cliff Lee (Texas and Taxes)

The World Series finished up just two days ago, and now its “open season on free agents” (as NBC Sports’ Bob Harkins put it). The number one target in free agency is Texas Rangers’ pitcher Cliff Lee. The Yankees want him. The Rangers want to keep him. Battle on!

Here’s one potential advantage that Texas has over New York: New York has a state income tax. Texas does not. As Texas Rangers’ pitcher (and amateur financial analyst) C.J. Wilson put it [emphasis added]:

“If Boston offers him X amount of dollars and we offer him X amount of dollars, if it’s the same, then he’ll probably choose us over Boston. Because of the good times that he had and the fact that the state income taxes are negligible here.”

Not so fast, C.J.! Cliff Lee cannot avoid state income tax by playing for the Texas Rangers. The situation is a lot more complicated than that. (Any accountants and tax lawyers out there should jump in and correct me if I get any of this wrong.)

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Chuck’s Apology, Explained

Yesterday was not a good day for Texas Rangers president “Chuck” Greenberg. First, Chuck directed a wild rant against Yankees fans, calling us “either violent or apathetic”. (Yes, I know that from the quote, it sounds like he can’t make up his mind what to call us. So to clarify, Chuck said that some of us are violent, others of us are apathetic, and we’re all one of these things or the other.) Chuck added that neither of these qualities are desirable in a fan base, as if we were too stupid to figure this out for ourselves.

Later yesterday, Chuck apologized for his earlier rant, saying that Yankees fans “are among the most passionate and supportive in all of baseball.” Then Chuck’s day ended as his Rangers team proceeded to lose the World Series. All in all, you really have to feel sorry when a guy has this bad a day, and I’d probably feel worse for Chuck if he hadn’t begun his day by insulting me.

I don’t mean to make things any worse for Chuck Greenberg, but let’s take a closer look at what Chuck said about us Yankee fans. Jason here accused Chuck of “backtracking”, as if insulting Yankee fans in one breath and praising us in the next can fairly be characterized as “backtracking”. Sorry Jason, I don’t see the “backtracking”. OK, I’ll admit, when Chuck called us “supportive”, it might have sounded to you like he regretted calling us “apathetic”. But to me, it sounded like he was completing his original thought. I think Chuck meant it both times. He thinks Yankee fans are both “apathetic” and “supportive”.

The words “apathetic” and “supportive” may sound like polar opposites to you and me, because neither one of us is President of a baseball team. But Chuck is President of the Texas Rangers. He is a money guy, a wealthy lawyer from Pittsburgh who led the ownership group that bought the Rangers out of bankruptcy this year. (You think you’ve had an up-and-down year? How about the Rangers?) When Chuck thinks of the Yankees, he’s not thinking of the Yankees’ tradition, or its fans, or its players. He’s thinking about the Yankees’ money, and how that money fuels baseball’s system of revenue sharing.

(Didn’t you just know I’d bring this discussion around to the topic of revenue sharing?)

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Jose Guillen Linked to HGH; Barred from Post-Season?

The New York Times is reporting that San Francisco Giants’ outfielder Jose Guillen has been linked to a federal investigation into shipments of human growth hormone (or HGH).

Is this just another story of a baseball player with ties to performance-enhancing drugs? Or in this case, a story of a ballplayer using a performance-enhancing drug that may not really enhance performance? No, there’s a bit more to this story.

You see, in this case the feds apparently tipped off Major League Baseball that Guillen was under investigation. Major League Baseball then tipped off the Giants. The Giants then removed Guillen from their post-season roster. You may have noticed, Guillen did not play in the division or championship series, and he’s not playing in the World Series.

Is there anything more to this story? Perhaps. MLB Trade Rumors reports that Commissioner Bud Selig “suggested” to the Giants that Guillen be removed from San Francisco’s postseason roster. The New York Times is more blunt in its assessment. According to the Times, the Giants were “directed” by Bud Selig to keep Guillen off the roster.

If this is true, we have quite a story on our hands. Did Commissioner Bud Selig order the Giants to drop a player from their roster, based solely on the player being under federal investigation? Without proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or even proof by a preponderance of the evidence? Without even giving the player a chance to defend himself?

Wow. Can the Commissioner of Baseball really do that?

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Reacting (Rationally) to Losing

In case no one told you, the Yankees lost Friday night to the Texas Rangers by a 6-1 score, and the Yankees’ 2010 season is over. In the words of my buddy and commenter Sabrina, “this truly sucks.”

For the most part, writing for this blog has been a pleasure. Writing this piece is no pleasure. I hate it when the Yankees lose. I hate it more than I can say. I have vented my frustration and disappointment, but I’ve done it in private. Maybe it would be fun to write a public piece full of bile and ill will, where I’d point fingers at individual Yankees and blame the manager (and again) and curse out the front office. But I won’t.

But there are plenty of these pieces out there already. Pieces that say that the Yankees should be embarrassed. Pieces that say that this season was a failure. I’m not going to cite all of these pieces, because they’re typical examples of the knee-jerk journalism written about the Yankees. When the Yankees win in the post-season, these pieces focus on the Yankees tradition and how they know how to win in October (with snarks about the size of the Yankees’ payroll). If the Yankees lose, these pieces focus on how the Yankees underachieved and that anything less than November tickertape is unacceptable (with snarks about the size of the Yankees’ payroll). These pieces are so predictable, it’s pathetic. Most of these pieces could have been written ten or twenty years ago, and taken out of a file cabinet on Friday night for publication (sure, you’d have to change a few of the names).

These pieces betray no knowledge of the game of baseball. These are the pieces that push Yankee fans in the wrong direction, that encourage us to whine and feel entitled to championships simply because our team has pinstripes and a lot of money.

None of these pieces have been written here.

Here at IIATMS, we’re committed to rational analysis based on the best research and the most advanced view we can find of the game we love. I personally may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but at least I make an effort. I made an effort when I wrote my Rational Guide at the beginning of the post-season. The Rational Guide was intended to lead us through the good times, but I wrote it mostly to prepare us for days like this.

So let’s consult the Guide to see if it can provide us with any comfort.

(But before you go further, click here to see an example of a TERRIFIC end of year summary, from River Avenue Blues.)

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