Nobody Spends Like the Yankees

Mark TeixeiraNobody spends money like the New York Yankees. Lots of people have said the Red Sox are the new Yankees, but not even they can compete off the field with their arch rivals. Sure, New York had tons of contracts come off their payroll, so they had nearly $100 million to spend. They had pitching holes too, so it was easy to see them throwing as much money at CC Sabathia as it took to sign him. It wasn't even that far-fetched to see them add A.J. Burnett. But now, adding Mark Teixeira for 8 years and $180 million...come on.

Nobody spends money like the New York Yankees. The top four 2009 player salaries, in order, are as follows (signing bonus payments prior to/during the season included in totals) :
  1. Alex Rodriguez ($33 million)
  2. Mark Teixeira ($25 million)
  3. CC Sabathia ($23 million)
  4. Derek Jeter ($20 million)
What do they all have in common? They're ALL YANKEES. Granted, Manny Ramirez will likely beat out at least Jeter with wherever he signs, but even then four of the top five will be Yankees. For comparison, the Red Sox (a.k.a. "the New Yankees"), will pay their priciest player, J.D. Drew, $14 million this year. That would only be good for sixth-highest salary on the Yankees roster. Nobody spends money like the New York Yankees.

A luxury tax is never going to work with the Yankees. They have a new palace that will rake in significantly more money than their old place, and it's not like they were at a competitive disadvantage without all the new luxury suites. Even without all the new revenue, they found a way to corner the market on premium free agents, to the point that the best have to turn down millions to go anywhere else. The only reason the Yankees do not have all the best talent is thanks to intelligent drafting and signing of young ballplayers by other teams.

I would say that all these huge free agent contracts will come back to bite the Yankees, but they won't. Their last major wave of extravagant free agent spending netted guys like Jason Giambi (who had to be considered a disappointment with the huge deal he signed), and even more notably, Carl Pavano. A normal team would be crippled by signings like these, but the Yankees have way too much money to play around with, especially in their new ballpark. Their money is a resource nobody else can match, and they certainly spend it like they know that.

The empire has returned. Maybe it's not a coincidence that the Yankees seemed to lose strength as George Steinbrenner began to slow down, and that they now seem poised for a big rebound with Hank Steinbrenner and the new ballpark. Maybe it's all lucky timing, and more connected to all the contracts that came off the books this off-season. Whatever it is, the Yankees are back. I've enjoyed watching them struggle (in relative terms) with their massive payroll the last few years, but I've resigned myself to the fact that those years are probably coming to a close.

This Yankees team still won't be as good as the late '90s ones, and they are really going to struggle to build a dynasty. First of all, the late '90s Yankees were largely a product of an excellent farm system, which the Yankees don't have anymore, and won't rebuild real soon with all the picks they forfeit as they sign free agents. However, the biggest differences are the Red Sox and the Rays. Both of those teams are run way better than they were in the late '90s, and though they don't have the Yankees resources, I think they're too smart to let the Yankees run away and hide. If the Blue Jays weren't in unexpected turmoil with the death of their owner, I might include them in the conversation too.

The Yankees are not a budding dynasty, but they have re-established their empire. If baseball were all about the money, the league would be a one-team show. There is little doubt about that. Nobody spends money like the New York Yankees.

Ibanez Signs With Phillies

Raul IbanezWord broke this morning that the Philadelphia Phillies have signed Raul Ibanez to a 3 year, $30 million deal. It never looked all that likely that Raul was going to return to the Mariners, but there is still something about him officially signing elsewhere that is significant. He remains one of the classiest players in all of baseball, and it is not fun saying good bye. However, he wants a chance to win a championship, and that's an opportunity the Mariners cannot provide him right now, even as they move in a positive direction.

It is clear that Jack Zduriencik had discussions with Raul and his representatives, but how serious they were is anyone's guess. At first glance, this appears to be a huge blow the team, given the M's just lost one of the few bona fide good hitters they had. However, consider the entire player that Raul Ibanez is at this point:
  1. He is a good hitter, with a good stroke and good power. Neither is great, but both are quite good. The Mariners will miss his bat.
  2. He is 36, and will be making $10 million a year until he is 39. It is fair to speculate that Raul's offensive production may begin to decline at some point during the contract he just signed.
  3. He has never been a good fielder. In fact, he's really bad. He does not make a ton of errors, and his arm is respectable, but he has zero range. This is not as big of a deal in his new home, Citizens Bank Park (where he replaces Pat Burrell, a similarly bad fielder), but Safeco has a spacious left field. Defensively, he was always a terrible fit for the Mariners.
So while it is true that the Mariners offense took a hit today, it is important to look at the whole picture. This is a team rebuilding, so it does not make much sense to lock up players in the twilight of their primes for more than one year. This is especially true with all the money that Bill Bavasi sunk into mediocre starting pitching the last couple years that the M's still have to pay. However, even from a personnel standpoint, Jack Zduriencik has already creatively gone about replacing Raul Ibanez with the anti-Raul, Endy Chavez. Chavez can't hit worth a lick, but he is the perfect defensive fit for Safeco's left field. That's not enough to make Chavez a better player than Ibanez, but he's also $8 million cheaper.

Raul was no longer a great fit for the Mariners, and the Mariners were not a great fit for Raul at this point either. I wish him well, and hope that he does wins some championships until the M's are a force to be reckoned with again. Much like with J.J., I can't say that I am happy to see Raul leave, but I'm not mad either. More than anything, I'm relieved that he didn't sign with the Angels.

Mariners Take Three in Rule 5 Draft

10 new faces in 24 hours. Wow. To say Jack Zduriencik reshaped the roster at the Winter Meetings is an understatement. This is a new ballclub, which looks like a good idea given that the team lost 100 games. After adding seven new faces last night through the J.J. Putz trade, the Mariners added three more players through the Rule 5 Draft this morning. Here is a quick look at all of them:

Reegie Corona, INF - First of all, I did not misspell his name. It really is Reegie. Corona was the M's first Rule 5 selection (2nd overall), and so he must stay on the 25-man roster. a 22-year-old middle infielder from the Yankees organization, Corona has never played above AA. He also has shown little power and marginal hitting ability. However, Reegie has got some speed, a little plate discipline, and enough defensive ability to possible play second, short, or third. In essence, he is a cheaper, younger version of Willie Bloomquist. Corona does not look like much more than a solid reserve even at his peak, but the M's could use some middle infield depth. He has a chance to stick.

Jose Lugo, LHP - Lugo was actually selected by the Royals with pick number nine and then traded to the Mariners, but it fairly common for one team to pick on behalf of another if they have no interest in a player at that slot. So, for all intents and purposes, Lugo was picked by the Mariners. He is a lefty that will turn 25 in April and has never pitched beyond A ball. However, he has posted high strikeout numbers with an impressive ground ball rate. Lugo's stuff appears to be good, but the jump from high A to the majors is a massive one. Also, he is a little old for the leagues he has been playing in. I am not sure he will make the opening day roster.

Pat Ryan, RHP - Unlike the first two draftees, Ryan was picked in the AAA phase, so he does not have to be on the M's 25-man roster. However, he is still worth looking at. Ryan was with the Brewers, so Jack Zdurienciek undoubtedly knows him well. His strikeout numbers are quite unimpressive, especially for a reliever in his mid-20s in AA. However, his ground ball to fly ball ratio is freakishly good. Ryan clearly has good sinking stuff which more than makes up for whatever shortcomings he may have with velocity or location. Roy Corcoran and Sean Green both made it to the majors largely on the strength of a sinker, so do not underestimate this pick-up. He provides some much-needed bullpen depth at a bargain basement price.

It is going to take some time to digest all these moves. However, today is the most excited I've been about the Mariners in years. I was legitimately intrigued and excited to see what the Mariners would do in the Rule 5 draft today, and I could get used to this feeling of hope and excitement.

Putz Traded in Megadeal

J.J. PutzJack Zduriencik made his first trade as the M's GM, and it is a big three-team one between the M's, Mets, and Indians. Here are the details:

Mariners Get: 1B Mike Carp (from NYM), OF Franklin Gutierrez (from CLE), OF Endy Chavez (from NYM), OF Ezequiel Carrera (from NYM), RHP Aaron Heilman (from NYM), LHP Jason Vargas (from NYM), and RHP Mikael Clato (from NYM)

Mariners Trade: 2B Luis Valbuena (to CLE), OF Jeremy Reed (to NYM), RHP J.J. Putz (to NYM), and RHP Sean Green (to NYM)

Indians Get: 2B Luis Valbuena (from SEA) and RHP Joe Smith (from NYM)

Indians Trade: OF Franklin Gutierrez (to SEA)

Mets Get: OF Jeremy Reed (from SEA), RHP Sean Green (from SEA), RHP J.J. Putz (from SEA)

Mets Trade: 1B Mike Carp (to SEA), OF Endy Chavez (to SEA), OF Ezequiel Carrera (to SEA), RHP Aaron Heilman (to SEA), RHP Joe Smith (to SEA), LHP Jason Vargas (to SEA), RHP Mikael Clato (to SEA)

This is a big deal with lots of players switching addresses. Pretty clearly, it was mainly a deal between the Mets and Mariners, and the Indians became involved to finish the deal. So, I'll start with the Indians.

Why the Indians did the deal:
Cleveland is looking to bolster their bullpen after it took a major step backwards last year. They are finalizing a deal for Kerry Wood to be their closer (pending a physical, which definitely could derail the deal with Wood's injury history), and now they have Joe Smith to be another late-inning guy. Additionally, Smith is young, so he is under team control at a cheap price for several years. Valbuena is attractive to the Indians because it's looking more like Jhonny Peralta will move to third base in the near future, and Asdrubal Cabrera will take over shortstop. Since Josh Barfield has fallen off the map, Valbuena becomes the second baseman when he is ready. Franklin Gutierrez was a natural piece to trade since Matt LaPorta is close to ready to take over an everyday outfield spot, and the Indians already have Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, and Ben Francisco. This is an all-around solid deal for Cleveland that makes a great deal of sense.

Why the Mets did the deal:
Clearly, their top priority this offseason was upgrading their bullpen. They signed K-Rod, and now they traded for Putz. He is the centerpiece of this entire deal, and it's clear that the Mets were willing to give up quite a bit to get him. They did protect some of their more highly touted prospects, but they gave up a bunch of solid players. Still, now they've got J.J. and K-Rod, and that's what made them say yes to this trade. As an added bonus/key component of the deal, Aaron Heilman is gone.

Why the Mariners did the deal:
The M's have lots of needs, and virtually all of them were addressed. Mike Carp is a possible long-term answer at first base. Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez will both help out in the outfield. A couple young prospects are in the trade, and a couple players that might make the pitching staff too. Sometimes trading one great player to plug a bunch of holes is worth it, and Zduriencik feels that is the case with this trade.

How the deal developed:
Looking at the players involved, I feel it is pretty clear how this trade developed. I'm certainly not privy to any of the conversations that actually happened, but if I am right, we just learned a bunch about the new-look Mariners front office. Here is what I think happened. Much of this comes from Geoff Baker's Mariners blog for the Seattle Times.
  1. Omar Minaya came to Jack Zduriencik to ask about J.J. Putz once he had officially signed Francisco Rodriguez. Jack says he needs an outfielder (perhaps preferably one with defense) in return. Minaya offers Aaron Heilman (since he wants to get rid of him) and Mike Carp. The M's are intrigued by the package, but say that it is not enough. They really need an outfielder.
  2. Minaya goes to Mark Shapiro and asks about Franklin Gutierrez. He says it will take a young reliever and middle-infielder. Minaya offers Joe Smith and goes back to the M's to see if they are willing to give up a middle-infielder, as well as replace Joe Smith.
  3. As luck would have it, the Mariners have Luis Valbuena and Sean Green, and they will trade both. Additionally, they like Endy Chavez, and are willing to part ways with Jeremy Reed to get him. For the M's troubles, the Mets include some additional prospects.
Like I said this is part rumors and part speculation, so it could be completely wrong. It makes some sense though, and if it is true, I am excited about Zduriencik even more. Neither Gutierrez nor Chavez provide much offense at all, but those two teamed with Ichiro are an insanely good outfield defensively. That will help the entire pitching staff more than any pitching acquisition, particularly "fly ball specialist" Jarrod Washburn. The upgrade those two provide defensively will go a very long way towards replacing Raul's production, since he was an awful defender. As an added bonus, the better numbers posted by Washburn and others may make a bunch of pitchers on the staff more attractive trade chips. This is the kind of creativity that I never saw out of Bill Bavasi.

Jack Zduriencik showed so much in this trade. He addressed so much in this one deal. I did not even touch on the talent he added to the farm system, particularly in Mike Carp. He doesn't look like a superstar in the making, but he's the young first base prospect that was never drafted under Bavasi. The 25-man roster is better today too, thanks to the killer defensive outfield the M's all of sudden have. Plus, Jack freed up some payroll. This is vision. This is creativity. This is having an encompossing organization-wide plan.

There are some concerns with the deal. First of all, it is hard to see J.J. Putz leave. Second, Aaron Heilman has no business being a starter, but he wants to be one, and he may get to be one. If Morrow is forced into the bullpen as a result, I will be quite disappointed. Still, the positives can't be ignored. Jack Zduriencik is fixing the Mariners.