The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Yankees Payroll Inefficiency and Interleague Lies

The Yankees payroll has spiraled so out of control. That probably isn’t news to anyone who is reading this. Actually, the fact that the Yankees payroll is 48% more than the team with the second highest payroll doesn’t bother me very much. I think a free market should determine salaries and if that drives the prices up, so be it. My issue with the Yankees is that they aren’t doing a very good job of it.

Really – they aren’t; for (nearly) the same money as the Yankees are spending on their roster this year (based on the specifics that are included in the calculation of the luxury tax payroll), you could buy the entire payroll (this year only) of the Red Sox AND Marlins. So which would you take this year if you could – the Yankees, or the best of the Red Sox and the Marlins? And it’s not even that you would get the best of the Red Sox and Marlins. You would get all of them and you could put the Jeff Conine’s and Derek Lowe’s in the minors (theoretically at least) because they wouldn’t be amongst your twenty-five best players.

According to Dugout Dollars, the Yankees current 2004 cap number is $196.63 million. The Red Sox come in at $132.89 and the Marlins at $64.54 (yes, these two total to $197.43, but that’s essentially the same thing – if you take Ray Castro off of the Marlins, these two will total to less and/or when the Yankees add a high-salary player before the trading deadline, they will total higher).

But back to the question at hand: would you rather have the Yankees for $196 million or the Red Sox and Marlins for $197 million? Yes, I realize we don’t have to really answer this. Intuitively almost everyone, probably even loyal Yankees fans, would pick the Red Sox – Marlins combination (for simplicity, I will call them the Red Fish). Let’s take a look at it though, position by position (assuming no injuries, etc as if it was the offseason):

New York Yankees
C – Jorge Posada – no arguments here. Any team would love to have Jorge
1B – Jason Giambi – his best years were in Oakland, and now he is relatively overpaid; in terms of bang for the buck, you could do better
2B – Enrique Wilson – at least he’s cheap ($700K)
3B – – pricey, but relatively fairly priced; possibly the best ever, everyone would want him
SS – Derek Jeter – like Giambi, his best years may be behind him; regardless, he’s overpaid – you could get more value for the dollar elsewhere
LF – Hideki Matsui – might find a place in the starting nine on the Red Sox – Marlins club
CF – Bernie Williams – at this point, Bernie may be a better musician than ballplayer
RF – Gary Sheffield – Marlins President David Samson constantly talks about needing to have players who outperform their contracts in order to win a championship; to expect Sheffield to do that at this stage in his career is difficult, if not impossible
DH – Kenny Lofton – sometimes you wonder if the Yankees think they’re playing mid-90s fantasy baseball

Starting Pitching
Mike Mussina – a great pitcher with a great career; overpaid relative to performance today
Kevin Brown - a great pitcher with a great career; overpaid relative to performance today
Javier Vazquez – lots of potential; nearly every team would want him
Jose Contreras – we’ll have to wait and see
John Lieber – as 5th starters go, this isn’t the worst thing in the world

Mariano Rivera – the game’s gold standard, possibly of all time
Tom Gordon - solid
Paul Quantrill – not going to make other teams salivate

Best of Red Fish
C – Jason Varitek – possibly the second best in the league, behind Posada (Irod challenges)
1B – David Ortiz – solid bat, carried the Sox last year
2B – Luis Castillo – toss up between Castillo and Bellhorn
3B - Mike Lowell – arguably the best 3B in the game this year (Rolen), definitely the Marlins MVP
SS – Nomar Garciapparra – injured much of the year in real life, but this is make believe
LF – Manny Ramirez – the best left fielder in the game not named Bonds
CF – Juan Pierre – weak arm and no power, but does everything else
RF – Miguel Cabrera – nearly the total package and cheap

Starting Pitching
Pedro Martinez – the definitive ace
Curt Schilling – likes to hear himself talk, but can pitch
Brad Penny – quietly becoming the Marlins ace
Carl Pavano – quietly becoming the Marlins ace
Dontrelle Willis – knock him all you want, but you’d take him as a 5th starter

Keith Foulke – one of the game’s best
Armando Benitez – pitching over his head so far this year (no one can maintain a 0.50 ERA)
Scott Williamson – lots of names to pick from, this one’s as good as a lot of others. This team would have a lot of depth

Yes, I know I didn’t do a lot of analysis here, comparing OPS and other statistics, but I don’t think that’s necessary to prove my point. A lot of the decisions are cut and dry. You’d take the better of the Red Fish player nearly every time and it wouldn’t cost you anything extra.

After last year’s Marlins – Giants series in the NLDS, many commented that maybe the Marlins triumph shouldn’t have surprised us that much, because once you went through the position players and compared them, only Barry Bonds would start for the Giants. At each of the other positions, the Marlins were, arguably, superior. Let’s do the same here for the Yankees and the Red Fish super-team:

C – Yankees – Posada edges out Varitek, but you can’t go wrong
1B – Yankees – close to a push again (taking dollars into account), but for arguments sake let’s give this one to Giambi
2B – Red Fish – Castillo’s more expensive, but a dynamic player
3B – Yankees – is the best, but Lowell’s right there and cheaper
SS – Red Fish – when healthy, I’d take Nomar over Jeter any day
LF – Red Fish – Ramirez for his bat
CF – Red Fish – at this stage in his career, Pierre offers more
RF – Red Fish – Sheffield might be a better player today, but Cabrera has unlimited potential
Starting pitching – Red Fish – the depth here is mind-numbing
Relievers – Red Fish – more depth than is realistically possible

The Yankees have been hugely successful of late. That truth can’t be argued with. But they’ve also been prone to tie up big name players with big time contracts that are worth more than the players are capable of contributing. If the Yankees spent their money as efficiently as the A’s, then we’d really have a competitive balance problem on our hands. Luckily though, we don’t and the game is more competitive for it.

Interleague Blues
Many have talked about how great interleague baseball is for the game itself. Allegedly it increases interest in the game and draws fans to the ballpark when they otherwise might not head out to the ball game. While I haven’t done all the research yet, I think this is a bunch of baloney. Interleague attendance is helped out greatly by a number of variables that MLB has put in it’s favor.

First and foremost are the “natural” rivalries. Yankees – Mets, White Sox – Cubs, etc are automatic sellouts (yes, this also leads to the epic struggles like Devil Rays – Marlins, but those are really no worse than any other garden variety match-up). Second is the time of year. Interleague games get the primo time slots of mid-June through July. In case you’re oblivious to how the world works and/or you are so far removed from school that you’ve forgotten, kids are out of school and thus families are looking for things to do. When they’re brave enough to face the heat, they often go to baseball games. Third, interleague games predominantly take place (in three of the five series this year) on weekends. Think about it. When are you most likely to go to a game - during the week after a long day at work, or on the weekend – when there’s nothing on television and nothing else to do? Exactly.

So interleague games have all of these factors working in favor of them. Once we’re more into the swing of interleague, I’ll check out the attendance we’re seeing, as well as how the alleged spikes that baseball reports compare to what these same time periods experienced (in the context of their season) to those same time periods in the years before interleague play began.

Besides, this year gives us compelling matchups like Marlins at Tigers (only intriguing because Pudge Rodriguez left the Marlins for the Tigers), and three matchups so bad that you can’t even see them in Spring Training: Mariners – Expos, Mariners – Cardinals, and Twins – Diamondbacks.

Enjoy the weekend. Lots of college baseball on the tube. I’ll be at Mark Light watching the Canes take on the Gators.


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