"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

International Men of Austerity

After the owners and players agreed on the most recent CBA, the Yankees, and everybody who followed the Yankees, saw there was a giant, flaming loophole begging to be jumped through in 2014. It’s entirely possible the loophole was forged and set aflame specifically to incentivize the Yankees to lower their payroll – temporarily or otherwise.

The Yankees, as gleeful, recidivist violators of the salary threshold, stand to be punished at ever-increasing rates according to the new CBA. However, if they get under the salary limit in 2014 ($189 million), they can reset their clock. The next time they go over, which we all hope and pray will be 2015, they will be punished as first time offenders and save a ton of dough.

Thus a goal was born in the winter of 2011 – to trim annual salary from the customary $210 million down to $189 million within two years. This is made more difficult because the Yankees owe a lot of money to CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in 2014, and Alex and Teix no longer play up to their paychecks. To field a World Series contender in 2014 would take creativity, starting right then and there.

Spending big on free agents isn’t as easy under these new constraints, but there are other ways to acquire talent. International free agents have no track record and less bargaining power, so their first contracts are often very reasonable. Posting fees don’t count towards the salary cap and the contracts that follow them are also very reasonable.

Of course without the Major League track record comes a huge risk of getting a crappy, Kei-Igawa-level talent. That’s why the Yankees usually have an advantage when it comes time to sign them; they can absorb that hit better than anyone else. The Yankees employed Hideki Irabu, Orlando Hernandez, Jose Contreras, Hideki Matsui and Kei Igawa via these routes and, on the whole, they received excellent return on their investments.

Two major players came down the pike just after the Yankees signed the CBA. The Oakland A’s Yoenis Cespedes was one of the best outfielders in the American League last year. He makes nine million dollars a year.

Rather than find out just how much ground Brett Gardner can cover, the Yankees just gave Ichiro Suzuki a two year commitment for $13 million. And now they’ve pumped more 2014 cash into Vernon Wells, where’s there’s plenty of room where his baseball talent used to be. There no question that Cespedes was a risk, but I have a hard time thinking he was a bigger risk of failure than the players who have already proven they have straight sucked eggs for the last two years.

Yu Darvish was hot topic around here last year and he divided the room. Japanese pitchers have faired poorly in the USA, though not universally, domo arigato Kuroda-san, and Darvish came attached to a big posting fee. He won 16 and struck out 221 in 191 innings for the Rangers. He walked too many and wasn’t a Cy Young candidate or anything, but he sure looks good at $9.3 million a year for the next five years. After one-year deals to Kuroda and Pettitte expire and Phil Hughes files for free agency, the 2014 rotation looks like CC Sabathia and a wishing well.

The Yankees did not seriously pursue either of these players, nor did they get close to Aroldis Chapman, though his courtship took place before the current CBA and its loopholes. Whether that makes the Yankees lack of effort to acquire his raw yet undeniable talent more or less forgivable is up to you.

Either the Yankees don’t know how to evaluate international talent or they are cheaper than we thought. When Chapman came and went without any news of an offer from the Yankees, I was surprised. When they lost with a whimper on Darvish and Cespedes (not to mention Jorge Soler)?

The acquisition of Wells and Suzuki suggest a combination of penny-pinching and incompetence and incompetent penny-pinching that is downright scary.

Categories:  1: Featured  Hot Stove  Jon DeRosa  Yankees

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1 Chyll Will   ~  Mar 25, 2013 11:37 am

I'm believing that there's stress in the front office from infighting, and it probably has more to do with the threshold than anything else. Seeing how Cash has until recently has had a sly hand at picking up working pieces on the fly at the trade deadline and during the off-season, it's certainly disconcerting how loudly his private life (possible mid-life crisis?) has been playing in the press. We like to say that one has nothing to do with the other, but I doubt that. At any rate, there clearly is some questionable leadership here regardless of what is being said, and only 2014-15 will tell what's really happening here.

3 Shaun P.   ~  Mar 25, 2013 12:02 pm

No words. There are no words.

[2] Even if the money makes sense, Wells doesn't. He hasn't hit anyone since 2011.

Nice guy, though. His dad does amazing artwork (go look up him up if you aren't familiar with the stories).

4 Jon DeRosa   ~  Mar 25, 2013 12:09 pm

[2] That does take the transaction from catastrophic to merely detrimental. I just can't imagine how much worse than Vernon Wells the Yankees are afraid Melky Mesa (or anybody they currently have at league minimum) would be.

I get the idea that a veteran who sucks but can be expected to perform above a minimum threshold is sometimes preferable to a kid who might implode to soemthing below that. But Vernon Wells recent performance has to be well below that threshold would be for any MLB team.

5 Alex Belth   ~  Mar 25, 2013 12:14 pm

Yes, his dad can draw. So that's a plus. Right? LOL

6 Chyll Will   ~  Mar 25, 2013 2:04 pm

I just can't get up to be outraged by this. I know the Yanks are suffering from injuries to key players and are overprotective of the young players they actually give a damn about (besides the ones they trade away for OPP); I'm not ready to believe they are last place material with the pitching they have and the potential for their injured players to come back and make a difference. I'm just not at all excited for the beginning of the season. And I wish they'd just come clean about their purpose this season.

I don't care if they Yanks do come in dead last this season or if they make a run for or even in the playoffs (until they actually get to the Series), I'm looking at what happens after they pass through the loophole. That's what it's come down to for the Yankees, and it's their own fault if that view causes them any consternation for the next two seasons because that's all anyone's focused on and with transactions like this, that's really all the organization has given us to look forward to.

7 Bama Yankee   ~  Mar 25, 2013 2:43 pm

[5] Maybe we should hold out for Reggie Jackson Pollack or Pablo Sandoval Picasso instead... ;-)

8 Sliced Bread   ~  Mar 25, 2013 2:52 pm

I'm choosing to look on the bright side of the Vernon (great name) acquisition.
Who knows why his production dropped in two seasons with Anaheim? He's not too old to turn his game around.
Plus, I read on one of the Angels blogs (haloshaven.com, I think) that the Yankees are getting $7 million in WBC insurance money to cover Teix's "replacement," so Wells is not costing the Yankees much over two years.

9 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Mar 25, 2013 3:28 pm

Man, I've missed a lot! Vernon Wells plays for us now?

10 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Mar 25, 2013 3:36 pm

(This isn't a big deal or anything, but I just caught the following from Bill Madden, re: Derek: "This is all unchartered territory for Jeter, who could never imagine not knowing when he would be able to start the season. At the same time, he has too much pride to play diminished."

Isn't the opposite true? Haven't we seen Jeter's abject denial that he ever feels so much as a hint of soreness, time and time and time again? That he's played "diminished" more often than he lets on and that often his slumping is directly attributable to his playing hurt?

Just seems a patently false to say about him, is all.)

11 Chyll Will   ~  Mar 25, 2013 3:46 pm

[10] Bill Madden's opinions often supersede his objectivity, so anything he says has to be taken with a grain of salt, whether it's true or not. He earned that.

12 Greg G   ~  Mar 25, 2013 4:18 pm
13 monkeypants   ~  Mar 25, 2013 7:46 pm

[6] I'm just not at all excited for the beginning of the season.

The thing is, I began to notice lat year, maybe even the year before, that I am not all that excited about the Yankees anymore. Sure, they'll win some requisite number of games, but the *irrational* fan in me has rapidly lost interest in nearly the entire roster. I found last year especially that all I really followed was how jeter did day-to-day. I feel the same this year, with added resignation that Jeter will start the year on the DL and may finally, after major injury, be at the end of the line.

I haven't been to the Stadium in three years, and I don't plan on going for the foreseeable future. I cancelled my mlb.tv account because I don't care too much about seeing more games than the ones against the Blue Jays that are televised here. I'm just not excited. At all.

14 Chyll Will   ~  Mar 25, 2013 8:29 pm

[13] Fair enough. The Yanks have really let you down with their moves and it doesn't bode well for the upcoming season and beyond. But I'm willing to give it one last try before I call it quits with MLB, or at least until they wake up and shake up the front office as hard as they have the roster. We knew it was going to end ugly at some point; might as well be now when they are trying to save themselves from being ripped off by Selig and his revenue-sharing minions. The Yanks aren't the deep-pocketed rich kid bullies that they were under George's rule; the playing field has been leveled so other teams can compete with them on a market scale. If that forces the Yanks to get back to what made them great (developing young talent into core contributors), I'm still willing to wait for them to get here.

I know what the fear is with that; the Yanks might trade them away on the stubbornly short-sighted notion of winning now. Or the talent might not be nearly as good as advertised. I'm willing to bet on a couple of things happening in two years: the cream rises and the talent forces its way to the bigs and the coaching and front office lineup changes dramatically. Girardi has proven he can coach in my opinion, despite the iron grip on formula and textbook decision-making. Tony Pena has been an able conduit to many players in the clubhouse, but he may take a job elsewhere. The other coaches are not locks, either. Something will likely give. Then there's Cashman; does he want to continue when his contract is officially up, and do the Yanks want him? Does the threshold passing make a difference in how he operates afterwords; is he Cashman Unchained or Cashman Exposed? I want to find out before I totally unchain my emotions and interest from a team that appears to be doing something as opposed to nothing. But I don't blame you for saving yourself from the hurt, the aggravation and misery of Epic failure that has been building up for the last few years and I'll defend your right to relieve yourself of such woes. I might follow you in a while, but it depends...

15 Boatzilla   ~  Mar 26, 2013 7:05 am

Here's some excitement for y'all.

1. No E only Glee. Seeing what Eduardo Nuñez can do, given some regular time. I am really looking forward to seeing him Gardi and Ichiro in the same line up.

2. Ichiro Superio...for a full season. See above. Sure he is past his peak, but the dude is in phenomenal shape and wants to prove himself in the Bronx.

3. Will the real Brett Gardy, please stand up, please stand....This is his moment. Stay healthy and give us something to cheer about.

4. You Kill Us. Not anymore. Now the Youk is on our side. He ain't that old. Fan favorite, I guarantee.

5. Pitching? schmitching! We got more than enough pitching to cover and then some...with arms waiting to come up. Pineda is still warming up.

This is the year the NEW New York Yankees are born, boyeeeeee!

16 monkeypants   ~  Mar 26, 2013 7:25 am

Meanwhile, the effort to reassemble the 2006 Toronto Blue Jays continues apace: http://tinyurl.com/cm6uq9e.

17 Start Spreading the News   ~  Mar 26, 2013 10:54 am

The only reason why I will go is to see Mo in his last season. I will miss the guy. The rest of the team? Meh.

On the other hand, if the pitching holds up, we should see a lot of fast, low scoring games since the Yanks won't be hitting a ton of homers. So there should be a lot less of heading home from the Stadium at 11:30 at night.

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