Sometimes, the best trades or free agent signings are the ones a team doesn’t make. Many Yankee fans seem to feel that way about the team’s decision to let Robinson Cano head west to Seattle. Is that wishful thinking? Perhaps, but considering the team’s eager willingness to trade him earlier in his career, such an outcome would be par for the course.
What about the flip side? When it comes to transactions not made, is relief really more common than regret? Or, are opportunities lost just as impactful as serendipitous gains? Since the advent of free agency in 1976, no team has been more active on the open market than the Yankees, so there are plenty of case studies to consider. Listed below are some of the higher profile transactions that the team seriously considered, but never made, accompanied by alternatives that were implemented, when applicable, and an evaluation of how the net result influenced the course of franchise history.
1976: Yankees pursue free agent Bobby Grich, but settle on Reggie Jackson as a consolation.
Background: Baseball’s first free agents were subject to a very different system than today. Instead of simply hitting the open market, players filing for free agency would enter what was known as a re-entry draft. Teams would then select players in a pre-determined order, much like the amateur draft, but instead of acquiring exclusivity, they would simply be granted the right to negotiate. Because only 12 teams could select any one potential free agent, the draft process effectively cut the player’s market in half. In addition, individual teams could only sign two net new free agents (i.e., if a team lost a free agent, it could sign three). These limitations were intended to limit competition for players, but they wound up constraining supply more than limiting demand. Exponentially higher salaries were the result.
Fresh off a World Series sweep at the hands of the Reds, the Yankees entered the winter seeking a player who could put them over the top. As it turned out, Reggie Jackson fit the bill perfectly, but he wasn’t the Yankees’ first choice. When it came time to make their first selection in the re-entry draft, the Bronx Bombers went with Orioles’ gold glove 2B Bobby Grich (Jackson was selected sixth, but that was partly due to the relative lack of interest from teams who knew they would not be able to sign him). The only problem for the Yankees was Grich was intent of playing close to his home in Long Beach. So, when Grich reached an accord with the California Angels, the Yankees shifted their focus to Jackson and signed him shortly thereafter.
Outcome: In five years with the Yankees, Jackson was the straw the stirred the drink. From 1977 to 1981, the right fielder posted an OPS+ of 148 and was a key contributor to two World Championships, including being named MVP of the Fall Classic in 1977.
Over the span, Bobby Grich was equally impressive with the Angels, compiling an OPS+ of 128 and playing strong defense at second base. In 1979, Grich also helped the Angels win their first division title.
Verdict: Although the Yankees very well might have enjoyed similar success with Grich, it’s hard to imagine the second baseman (who would have played short stop for the Yankees) providing more value than Jackson. Also, when you consider the contributions of Willie Randolph and Bucky Dent during the five years in question, it seems clear that the Yankees’ plan B in 1976 turned out to be the best course of action.
1982: Sign Floyd Bannister, trade Ron Guidry to Texas for Buddy Bell, or Ron Guidry or Dave Righetti to Kansas City for George Brett, and deal Graig Nettles to San Diego for a minor leaguer (the quality of which would depend on how much of Nettles’ $500,000 salary the Yankees were willing to eat)
Background: After a disappointing fifth place finish in 1982, the Yankees were looking to shake things up in the offseason, with Floyd Bannister being the linchpin to a series of dramatic moves. The Mariners’ 27-year old lefty was coming off a season in which he led the league in strikeouts, making him one of the most coveted players in the re-entry draft. If the Bronx Bombers were able to sign Bannister, news reports suggested they would then flip Guidry or Righetti for either Bell or Brett and jettison Nettles for a minor leaguer.
Considering all of the moving pieces involved, it’s hard to know whether the Yankees could have executed the plan, but it was all made moot when Bannister signed with the White Sox. So, instead of the exciting chain of events that might otherwise have unfolded, the Yankees’ winter shopping consisted of signing Don Baylor and Steve Kemp.
Outcome: Over the term of his five year deal with the White Sox, Bannister proved to be a solid contributor, (200 innings in all but one season; ERA+ of 107), but hardly the cornerstone of a rebuilding process. Both Guidry and Righetti proved to be more valuable pitchers over the span, albeit not by much.
It’s hard to believe Brett was really available. However, if the Yankees failed to do everything in their power to obtain him, it was a big mistake as the third baseman posted an OPS+ of 148 from 1983 to 1987 and remained one of the best players in the game throughout the rest of the decade. Although a more modest performer with an OPS+ of 108, Bell would have also represented a big upgrade for the Yankees, who wound up losing Nettles via free agency after the following season. It would take nearly a decade for the Yankees to acquire another third baseman of similar stature.
Verdict: In just about any iteration, the Yankees would have benefitted greatly from this deal. The acquisition of Bell would have more than offset the downgrade from Guidry to Bannister, while the idea of Brett in pinstripes seems as cataclysmic now as it must have then. Was such a deal really on the table? If so, the Yankees’ failure to consummate it qualifies as one of the team’s worst non-moves.
1985: Trade Don Baylor for Carlton Fisk
Background: In 1985, Carlton Fisk posted career highs in home runs and RBIs, but the White Sox were not eager to sign their 37-year old catcher to a long-term deal. Instead, they worked out a sign and trade with the Yankees, whereby Chicago would ink Fisk to a new deal and then flip him to the Bronx Bombers for disgruntled DH Don Baylor. However, Baylor had a no-trade clause, and he wouldn’t waive it unless Chicago sweetened the deal. Team co-owner Eddie Einhorn angrily balked at the request, proclaiming, “Let him stay with the Yankees”.
Baylor did stay with the Yankees, but only for another month, at which time he was dealt to the Red Sox for Mike Easler. Fisk’s staying power was much greater. Not only did the catcher sign a new two-year deal that offseason, but he remained with the White Sox for the final eight years of his career.
Outcome: Baylor had a solid year for the Red Sox in 1986 and provided above average offense over the next two, but the Yankees made out better with Easler. However, over the longer term, Fisk would have proven to be a better replacement. Despite having the worst season of his career in 1986, Fisk posted an OPS+ of 112 over the next five campaigns, which easily dwarfed the Yankees’ output from their catchers over that span.
Verdict: Assuming the Yankees had kept Fisk for more than two years, they would have easily come out the victor if Baylor had agreed to waive his no trade clause. Would Fisk’s production and leadership have made a difference on Yankee teams that came up short from 1986 to 1988? We’ll never know, but the value he provided at a very weak position for the Yankees would have made the team even more competitive during those years.
1986: Sign any or all of the following free agents: Tim Raines, Jack Morris and Andre Dawson
Background: During the winter of 1985, many of the best players in the game filed for free agency, but strangely, they attracted little interest around the league. Nearly every free agent that off season not only ended up re-signing with their current team, but they did so at terms well below recent norms. The same situation arose in 1986, but this time players were even more desperate to drum up a market. Jack Morris, then regarded as one of the best pitchers in the game, was so exasperated by the process that he offered his services to a list of five teams headed by the Yankees. Every single one turned him down without even discussing the terms. Morris was eventually forced to accept the Tigers’ offer of arbitration.
Tim Raines and Andre Dawson ran into the same difficulties as Morris, but the Expos’ outfielders didn’t relent as easily. Each outfielder refused to accept arbitration or re-sign with Montreal by the January 7 deadline, making them ineligible to return to the team until May 1. Faced with the prospect of not playing for a month, Dawson practically gave the Cubs a blank contract with his signature on it. Meanwhile, Raines waited patiently for another team to show interest. None ever did, and the outfielder was back in Montreal when the calendar turned to May.
Outcome: Raines, Dawson and Morris all had stellar seasons in 1987, and the two outfielders remained very productive for several years thereafter. However, it wouldn’t have taken a long-term deal to sign either or all three. By simply offering fair market value, the Yankees could have added as many as three All Stars to a team that won 90 games in 1986.
Verdict: By colluding with other teams to depress player salaries, the Yankees forfeited a chance to improve their team and prolonged a postseason drought that would last another eight years. The organization’s short sightedness also exposed the league to a costly lawsuit settlement and years of labor acrimony. Considering all the downside to saving a few extra dollars, the winter of collusion is the most glaring example of the worst moves being the ones you don’t make.
1992: Sign Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux
Background: The previous four seasons had been among the worst in Yankees’ history. After the suspension of owner George Steinbrenner, the team had retrenched and embarked upon a rebuilding process that was just starting to yield dividends. So, with the Boss on his way back from exile, and the Yankees’ farm system stocked with the talent, the team planned a master stroke. That winter, the free agent market was headlined by one of the best pitchers and hitters in the game…players who seemed destined to rank among the all-time greats.
The Yankees aggressively courted Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux, but GM Gene Michael couldn’t reel in either. Bonds’ contract demands, particularly his insistence on more than five years, proved too rich for the Yankees, while Maddux took less money to play in Atlanta. As a result, the team was forced to explore other options, which turned out to be Wade Boggs and Jimmy Key.
Outcome: Boggs and Key proved to be valuable consolation prizes, and were important contributors when the Yankees won the World Series in 1996, but Bonds and Maddux each continued on their paths toward immortality and, in the case of the former, infamy.
Verdict: If the Yankees had been able to sign either or both, it stands to reason that their ascendency toward the top of the baseball world would have been expedited. Having said that, it’s hard to imagine the team being more successful from that point forward, so, even though the franchise would have been given a boost in the early part of the decade, most Yankee fans probably wouldn’t want to change how the rest of it unfolded.
1998: Sign Albert Belle; let Bernie Williams go
Background: The Yankees had just completed one of the greatest seasons in baseball history, and Bernie Williams was at the forefront. That year, Williams won the batting title, gold glove, and posted the league’s second highest OPS+ at 160. It was the perfect time to be a free agent.
The Yankees initial offer to Williams was for five years and $37.5 million (eventually raised to $60 million), but the center fielder wanted something closer to seven years and $90 million. The gap was so wide, the team prepared to move on by courting Albert Belle, the only player in the A.L. with an OPS+ higher than Williams in 1998. Then, the Red Sox stepped into the fray, offering Williams the terms he wanted. Around the same time, the Orioles trumped the Yankees’ offer for Belle, so now even their backup plan was on shaky grounds. For whom would the team up the ante?
Before agreeing to the Red Sox offer, Williams made a last ditch effort to keep his pinstripes by calling George Steinbrenner directly. By the end of the call, the Yankees essentially matched the Red Sox offer, keeping Williams in the Bronx for seven more years.
Outcome: Williams was an elite performer for the first four years of his new deal, and over the full term provided value commensurate with his salary. The center fielder was also a key part of two more World Series victories and ended his career as one of the most prolific post season performers in baseball history. Meanwhile, Belle, who signed with the Orioles for five years and $65 million, had a very strong 1999 campaign, but only played two more years because of a debilitating hip injury.
Verdict: It’s a good thing the Yankees didn’t put plan B into action. The loss of Williams’ consistent excellence over the next four years, and the likelihood of Belle’s chronic hip flaring up in the Bronx, would have removed a pillar from the Yankees’ dynasty and, perhaps, caused it to fall much sooner.
This example most closely resembles the Yankees’ recent decision to effectively replace Robinson Cano with Jacoby Ellsbury (or Carlos Beltran). Interestingly, if the Yankees had increased their last offer to Cano in line with the bump given to Williams (approximately 40% in years and total value), the terms would have matched Seattle’s. However, this time, no phone call was made, and, considering the Yankees’ posture, it probably wouldn’t have been well received anyway. Now, the Yankees have to hope they can replace Cano’s remarkable consistency, which was also a hallmark of Williams.
2003: Claim Manny Ramirez from irrevocable waivers
Background: Manny Ramirez was an extremely productive member of the Red Sox’ lineup, but his mercurial behavior often left the team exasperated. So, after a crushing loss to the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS, the Red Sox determined it was time to go in another direction, which meant shedding the remaining four years of Ramirez’ contract. To bring that about, Boston placed Ramirez on irrevocable waivers, essentially making him available to any team who was willing to pay the slugger $20 million per year.
Outcome: No one claimed Ramirez, who posted an OPS+ of 149 over the next four seasons and played a vital role in two World Series victories for the long suffering Boston franchise. Although the Red Sox relationship with Ramirez ended acrimoniously, they didn’t part company until 2008, when the Red Sox extended his contract by picking up one of the two team options attached to the original deal.
Verdict: The Yankees’ failure to claim Ramirez was mitigated by the signing of Gary Sheffield, who essentially matched the Red Sox slugger at half the cost in 2004 and 2005. However, Ramirez had greater staying power, and, by plucking him from Boston, the Yankees would have benefited from removing one of their chief tormenters from a bitter rival. On the whole, the Yankees would have been a better team with Ramirez during the four years that remained on his deal, and their relative supremacy over the Red Sox would have likely been extended.
2004: Sign Carlos Beltran instead of trading for Randy Johnson
Background: The Yankees were hoping to wash away the bitter taste of their collapse in the ALCS with a big acquisition in the off season, and two long coveted players just so happened to be available that winter. However, the team decided that it could only afford to add one, so the Bronx Bombers passed on Carlos Beltran, who offered the team a discount, in favor of trading for Randy Johnson.
Outcome: In 2005, Randy Johnson was the anchor of an otherwise shaky rotation, and his 5-0 record against the Red Sox turned out to be a crucial reason why the Yankees bested their rival for the division title. After that season, however, the Big Unit petered out in pinstripes and was traded back to the Diamondbacks one year later. In contrast, Beltran posted an OPS+ of 130 over the seven years of the deal he signed with the Mets, although two seasons were cut short by injury.
Verdict: Although Beltran provided much more value than Johnson, in 2005, the Big Unit helped the Yankees rebound from their ALCS collapse. Also, Johnny Damon, whom the Yankees likely would not have signed with Beltran in the fold, helped make up some of the void left in centerfield. On the whole, however, it’s hard to argue that the Yankees wouldn’t have been better off with Beltran. Brian Cashman is undoubtedly hoping that the same is true this time around, making the Yankees recent acquisition of the switch hitter a case of better late than never.
2007: Trade for Johan Santana
Background: It had been seven years since the Yankees last won the World Series, and the team’s lackluster starting pitching was the main culprit. So, with the Twins dangling Johan Santana, it seemed a certainty that the Yankees would backup the truck for the talented left hander. Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, and Austin Jackson were all coveted by the Twins, and it was reported that the Yankees would have to part with at least three to make a deal. That price proved to be too steep, especially considering some of the concerns the team had about Santana’s durability. So, instead of trading for the ace they so desperately needed, the Yankees allowed the Mets to swoop in and claim that winter’s biggest prize.
Outcome: After the 2008 season, it looked as if the Yankees had blundered badly. Santana finished third in the NL Cy Young race, while the Bronx Bombers missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993. However, Santana began to regress and never again threw 200 innings in a season. In addition, all of the players on the Twins wish list contributed in varying degrees (either in pinstripes or as a trade chip) to the Yankees’ future success.
Verdict: Passing on Santana proved to be the right decision, regardless of the package sent to Minnesota, although including Cano in the deal would have been catastrophic. By keeping all of their prospects and signing a healthier ace the following season, the Yankees quickly rebounded in 2009, winning their 27th World Championship with Sabathia, Cabrera, Cano, Hughes, and Chamberlain all playing a key role.
2010: Sign Cliff Lee
Background: The Yankees tried to acquire Cliff Lee at the 2010 trading deadline, but the deal fell through when David Adams’ medical report revealed a red flag. The Yankees weren’t willing to amend the deal, so the Mariners traded Lee to Texas instead. After watching Lee dominate them in that year’s ALCS, the Yankees were determined to sign the lefty during the off season. However, Lee was more interested in beating the pinstripes than wearing them, so he took less money to join the Phillies.
Outcome: In the three years since signing the deal, Lee has remained one of the best pitchers in baseball, posting an ERA+ of 139 in over 660 innings. Not only would he have made the Yankees a better team during that period, but the left hander would also fill the void in the team’s starting rotation that remains today.
Verdict: Because Lee turned down the Yankees, the team can’t be blamed for inaction. However, had the club been willing to sweeten its offer to the Mariners during the 2010 season, he may have been more amenable to remaining in the Bronx that off season. As a result, that initial reticence has become a source of regret for Yankee fans, and, perhaps, Brian Cashman as well.
I hurt my knee on November 10th and it took me a month to schedule a doctor’s visit. Partly because I hoped I would just heal on my own and partly because I’m intimidated by the prospect of finding the “right” doctor. More than seeing this as a chance to solve a problem and improve my life, I saw it as an opportunity to expose my ignorance.
When I finally navigated the insurance web site (no, not THE insurance web site) to find an in-network doctor close to my office, I called them to schedule an appointment and carefully combed over the details of my policy with the receptionist. I still somehow ended up with an appointment with his partner who does not take my insurance. I regretted the decision while making it. Still, I went ahead with the visit just so I would not have to call, again, and reveal my stupidity.
How I long to be the smartest guy in the room and that’s rarely true unless that room is the bathroom and it’s cockroach-free at that moment. I think that’s a universal feeling and it influences the way we talk about the Yankees. But should it? I don’t really care if the Robinson Cano contract is a laughing stock or the Yankees are perceived as stupid for giving it to him. All I care about: is Robinson Cano the best guy they can get to play second base? Yes? Then why isn’t he a Yankee?
In the run-up to Robinson Cano signing with the Seattle Mariners for $240 million over ten years, many Yankee fans thought a contract for seven years for $175 million was OK, but ten years was prohibitive – because they didn’t want to pay him for the very end of his career. The difference ended up being three years, $65 million for Cano’s 38-40 year-old seasons. A similar amount, after accounting for inflation, to what they just gave Carlos Beltran for his 37-39 year-old seasons.
Between the McCann deal, the Ellsbury deal and the Beltran deal we have seen all of the facets of the Cano deal play out over three different players. I observed the following general reactions to these deals:
Brian McCann (C, 5 years, $85 million – with an easy vesting option for a 6th year at $15 million more) – A premium price to be sure, but offense at catcher is so rare that it’s worth it. Also, McCann may not be catching by the end of the deal, but the near-term upgrade is so attractive that we’ll deal with the end of the contract when we get there. There’s always first base and DH, right?
Jacoby Ellsbury (CF, 7 years, $153 million or 8 years, $169 million) – WTF? That’s a lot of money for a guy who’s had two really good seasons. But he’s a solid player and evidently can be an important cog on a championship team, so I’m glad to have him around. Still, that seems like too much money – $22 million a year. Does this mean the Yankees are planning to shoot past the $189 million limit? I sure hope so.
Carlos Beltran (OF/DH, 3 years, $45 million) – Excellent hitter, too bad the Yankees didn’t get him when he could also field and run the bases! Oh well, he’s a one dimensional player now, but will be a nice solution for the middle of the lineup. Three years is at least one year too many since he’s so goddamned old, but that’s the price of doing business I guess.
So that’s the premium price for positional scarcity, the scary high average annual value, and the overpay for the mega-decline years that we’re mocking Seattle for giving Cano. The Yankees are guilty of as much stupidity as the Mariners, the only difference is the Mariners ended up with the best player. Oh yeah, in addition to the oppportunity to pay a 37 year old in 2014 instead of in 2022, the Yankees still don’t have a second baseman for next year.
We can compare projected WAR totals and stab at how badly the Yankees have allocated resources here, but regardless of the metric, wouldn’t the 2014 (15, 16, 17 etc) Yankees have been a better team with Robinson Cano plus the quality outfielders they could acquire with this cash they are throwing around than they will be with Ellsbury and a crappy second baseman? And if they plan to blow past the salary cap, then wouldn’t they be much better with both of them?
I don’t see as much hand-wringing about these three deals. They just represent run-of-the-mill stupidity. Yankee fans will likely never hear another word about them even if they fail spectacularly. The Robinson Cano deal has the potential to resonate for a decade and I think Yankee fans no longer want to see their team top the list of “worst contracts.” We’ve been hearing about how stupid the Yankees are ever since the winter of 2007, when they gave Arod all the moons of Saturn, and they’ve won 3 Division titles, played in 3 ALCS and even a World Series during these dark days.
Did you know a strain of Yankee fan exists that is mad that Robinson Cano didn’t accept fewer years from the Yankees just so he could finish his career reflecting the glory of the franchise? This is a logical fallacy, because the Yankees did not offer Robinson Cano a contract that would take him to the end of his career! And the same fans applauded their restraint. In fact, it was this tail end of his career that scared so many Yankee fans away from the ten-year deal. “Yes, we want you to be a Yankee forever, right up until you are no longer great.”
How can we ask Robinson Cano to invest in the idea of being a career-Yankee when the Yankees were not willing to do the same? The Mariners showed more faith and loyalty to Cano than the team that profited (heavily) off of him for the last nine years.
I’m open to engaging any baseball argument about why keeping Cano is a bad idea. Is his durability a mirage? Is his less-than-max-effort running the bases a big deal? Has he stopped hitting lefties? Is he a PED bust and precipitous decline waiting to happen? But this is where the debate has to be for me because the accounting angle doesn’t work. I cannot prioritize the possibility that 1/25th of the roster (and what, 8% of the payroll?) might be a bad contract in 2022 over winning in the here and now.
Because if we agree that Cano is the best player available, I find it hard to fathom how the Yankees could have spent all this money and still whiffed on the most vital acquisition. It would be like buying the most expensive cranberry sauce for Christmas dinner but refusing to pony up for a goose.
For those of you who have celebrated the Yankees’ intelligence for not matching Seattle’s offer, please consider this question: When will this decision pay dividends for the Yankees? I am a fan who wants to see the Yankees win the World Series as soon and as often as possible. I think that employing the best second baseman in baseball is a step towards making that happen. Will letting him go get the Yankees to the World Series any faster? Any more often? If the answers lie in 2022, then the questions are moot.
The Yankees famously refuse to hang banners for pennants and division titles. I wonder if they’ll alter that philosophy when their fans proudly declare them “smartest team in the league” because that’s the only title they figure to win.
Yentas start your engines.
The Yanks have already made moves. More to come, of course. My favorite spot for all of the latest is MLB Trade Rumors.
Enjoy this open schmooze to chat about all things baseball.
[Photo Credit: Bruce T Brown/Getty Images]
When Brian Cashman said “everyone is replaceable”, he wasn’t kidding. Less than 12 hours after Robinson Cano spurned the pinstripes for the “greener” pasture of Seattle, the Bronx Bombers welcomed Carlos Beltran into the fold. Easy come, easy go.
Yankee fans may have been floored by Cano’s decision to accept a 10-year, $240 million “partnership” with the Seattle Mariners, but the organization certainly wasn’t. Judging by the alacrity to replace him, it seems as if the Bronx Bombers knew what was coming. In fact, their inflexibility with Cano pretty much dictated the sequence of events. Was it a case of the Yankees prudently devising and implementing a contingency plan, or did the franchise actually prefer Plan B from the outset?
Did the Yankees really want Cano? There are 160 million reasons why that might seem like a silly question, but the organization’s posture toward Cano suggests they may have made him an offer he had to refuse. From day one of the off season, the Yankees saturated the media with statements about how much the team would not pay Cano. By drawing a line in the sand, the organization appeared more interested in backing into an exit strategy than moving forward with productive negotiations. And, if any went on behind the scenes, no one was telling, which seems doubtful considering how public the process became.
Even before the Mariners jumped into the fray, the Yankees jeopardized their own offer to Cano by giving the same deal to Jacoby Ellsbury. Did the Yankees really think the Red Sox All Star was an equal to the homegrown Cano? It’s hard to imagine so, but even if their internal projections bucked the conventional wisdom, they had to know Cano would think otherwise. Either way, by announcing the Ellsbury deal before at least attempting an aggressive push for Cano, the Yankees were effectively sandbagging their offer. What’s more, by outbidding the Mariners for Ellsbury, the Yankees were creating a rival for Cano. In a sense, the signing of Ellsbury all but marked the end of Cano’s time in pinstripes. So, when the Mariners came calling, it’s no surprise the second baseman was eager to listen.
When you consider the $80 million difference between the two offers (which doesn’t take into account the tax advantage of playing in Washington state), it’s impossible to argue that the Yankees were competitive in the process. Ironically, Cano will likely be branded a greedy trader for taking the extra money, when it reality that exorbitant sum should be regarded as a symbol of his loyalty. After all, the Mariners would not have blown the Yankees’ offer out of the water if they didn’t have to. Seattle paid a very high price to lure Cano away from his obvious preference, and, for some reason, the Bronx Bombers made little effort to discourage him. By all accounts, Cano was willing to give the Yankees a discount, but the team didn’t seem interested in finding out exactly what it was.
Source: Cots Contracts (opening day payroll) and Forbes (estimated revenue)
Regardless of the Yankees eagerness to retain Cano, there’s still the question of whether they made the right decision to let him go. A surprising number of Yankee fans have looked past Cano’s production and legacy and instead celebrated the move as a sound financial decision. Who knew so many of the team’s followers had so much concern for Hal Steinbrenner’s profit margin? Chalk that up to the Yankees’ constant talk about cost cutting. Instead of holding the franchise up to standards of the past, fans have begun to think of the team’s payroll as a zero sum game. As a result, Beltran is being accepted as a suitable, cheaper alternative to Cano, instead of a complement, as would normally have been the case. Incredibly, the Yankees have created an environment in which payroll reductions are viewed as increases, and the team’s profit margin is viewed by some fans as being more important than its winning percentage. And yet, the Yankees’ ability to spend doesn’t justify every big contract, especially one as large as Cano’s.
Conventional wisdom now dictates that all long-term deals are bad, especially for players already on the north side of 30. In the case of the 31-year old Cano, a 10-year deal looks particularly onerous. There’s no way the All Star second baseman will come close to earning his $24 million salary in the 2020s, the argument goes, so how can a team make such a short-sighted commitment? This logic seems reasonable, but it is mitigated by three factors routinely overlooked: (1) excess return at the beginning of a contract can offset deficits at the end; (2) money has time value; and (3) player costs are subject to inflation.
Can Cano maintain his production for three more years? If so, according to fangraphs.com, he will be worth $90 million, or $18 million above is annual salary. If he has seasons similar to 2012, the surplus would rise to $33 million. There’s no guarantee the second baseman won’t begin an immediate decline, but chances are he’ll provide excess value over the first half of his contract that would offset at least some of the likely drain toward the end of the deal.
Another important consideration of any long-term deal is present value. It’s natural to look at Cano’s $24 million salary in today’s dollars, but money has time value. More specifically, under typical economic conditions, a dollar in hand is worth more than at any point in the future. How does that impact Cano’s contract? The chart below provides a full picture, but in 2023, for example, the second baseman’s salary will be equivalent to about $15.5 million in current terms.
Note: Present Value is based on AAV of contract discounted back by 5% (1% + 30 Year Treasury Rate), with payments assumed as a lump sum on first day of each year and discount rate compounded annually (this actually overstates the present value). Inflation adjustment is a further 3.55% discount based on average annual salary increase between 2003 and 2012. For example, the chart says that in 2013, Cano’s $24 million salary is worth $15.5 million in today’s dollars, and that based on rising cost structure, paying someone $15.5 million current dollars in 2023 would be like a $11.3 million payment today.
Between 2003 and 2012, the average salary in major league baseball rose from $2.3 million to $3.2 million. If similar growth is applied to Cano’s contract, his $15.5 million present value salary in 2023 would be similar to paying a player $11.3 million today. If Cano only has to be worth around $11 million in 2023, not $24 million, and you consider the surplus he may provide in the early years of the deal, all of a sudden what seems like a burdensome arrangement becomes fair value.
But, what about the luxury cap? Inflation and time value mean nothing to baseball’s tax man. Even though Cano’s outer years may be worth less in today’s dollars, a team will still be on the hook for a $24 million AAV in 2014. For the Yankees, that’s particularly onerous because, even with an Arod suspension, the team is all but assured of paying the luxury tax once again. However, it’s hard to say the team was motivated by this factor when their top offer had an AAV just below the $24 million figure that will be assigned to the Mariners. And, if Cano had accepted a $10-20 million discount to return to the Bronx, the AAV of a 10-year deal would actually be worth less than the $160 million offer made by the Yankees (the difference becomes greater if the team’s reported willingness to go as high as $175 million over seven years is true).
At the risk of getting bogged down with financial minutia, the math illustrates that long-term deals are not as burdensome as often portrayed. This realization leads back to the original question. Did the Yankees really want Cano? If the financial implications are not so prohibitive, shouldn’t the team have been more aggressive? And, if so, what explains the team’s lukewarm courtship?
Do the Yankees believe Cano is a candidate for a rapid decline? Did they infer from his relationship with Jay Z that baseball was no longer a priority? Was a lack of hustle and work ethic an underlying concern? What about Cano’s close friendship with Alex Rodriguez and Melky Cabrera? Perhaps a PED undercurrent made the Yankees more cautious. It’s easy to throw out conspiracy theories, but a more logical explanation might actually come back to finances.
Instead of being concerned about how much Cano was going to cost, it could be the team was worried about how money they could make off his star power. In an ironic twist, the Yankees may not have been scared away by the prospect of Cano becoming Arod. Their greater concern may have been Cano’s inability to match Rodriguez as a drawing card. Winning is the ultimate lure, and Cano helps in that regard more than most, but the Yankees’ brand also relies heavily on big names. So, without the extra bang for their buck, the organization may have decided Cano wasn’t worth the price. And, if the Yankees were acting from a financial standpoint, their motivation may have been governed more by marketing than payroll reduction, although the latter was certainly a bonus.
Life goes on for the Yankees. Just as Cano isn’t greedy, they aren’t cheap. However, Yankee fans have every right to question whether the team’s commitment to winning has taken a step back in favor of profit maximization. It’s one thing to build an occasional winner on a more defined budget, but when the mandate is perennial success, a lot more risks have to be taken. The Yankees passed up on a big one yesterday, and, it could turn out that they dodged a bullet. What is certain, however, is they have forfeited any chance at a big reward.
One final note is a personal one, but I hope it’s a consideration shared by many Yankee fans. Cano’s departure transcends win-loss rates and profit margin. It also impacts the team’s legacy. There will be no tearful goodbye to Cano in 10 years. By then, his time as a Yankee will have faded into distant memory. Instead of being the heir apparent to Derek Jeter, that royal line will now lay dormant. That might not seem important to some (including Cano), but having the opportunity to watch great players over their entire careers has been an important part of being a Yankee fan and integral to the franchise’s lore. It could be that the organization perceived a lack of connection between Cano and the fans, but nonetheless, the second baseman would have added to the franchise’s pantheon of all-time greats. Now, they’ll have to share Cano with Seattle.
According to Mark Feinsand Carlos Beltran is coming to the Bronx for the next three years.
One year too long, you say? I hear you. Another old guy? Yeah, I can relate. Almost ten years too late for Beltran in Pinstripes? Hear you there, too.
But Carlos Beltran, who I once believed was heaven sent to replaceme Bernie Williams (Puerto Rican, switch-hitter, understated), is belatedly a Yankee.
And tell you what: I’m not going to think about it being too late, or about him being old, or about the contract. I’m excited we get to watch Carlos Beltran play every day. Sure makes the lineup look a whole better n it did a few hours ago, don’t it?
[Photo Credit: N.Y. Daily News]
Because he’s going to sign a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners.
Love watching Cano play but I’m glad the Yanks didn’t sign him to that deal.
Here’s a Friday baseball open thread fuh ya. While there is word that things aren’t going so smoothly for team Cano in Seattle Jon Heyman reports that the Yanks are close to signing our man Hiroki to a 1-year deal.
Ellsbury’s departure fits somewhere in the middle between Boggs and Damon. Like Damon, he is a more than competent centerfielder, romanced directly off a character-driven, long-haired world championship team. Unlike Damon, he was not the favored face. That belonged to David Ortiz, no argument. Ellsbury was in the second line of stars, high on a long list. Little kids loved him because of his size. Purists loved him because of his speed, his ability to steal a base and track down fly balls. Girls loved him because of his good looks. He was good, good, good, but not break-the-bank good.
There was a curious, season-long disconnect to close out his time in Boston. Despite all the good things he did during the championship run, there always was the sense he was going to leave. He was in the last year of his contract. His agent was Scott Boras, the same no-prisoners negotiator Johnny Damon used. The centerfielder would want the big years and the big money and the Red Sox would not outbid the other bidders. He was good, but not break-the-bank good. Everybody understood.
Unlike Boggs, Ellsbury’s departure would not be without sadness. He would have looked good in a Red Sox uniform for his entire career. Unlike Damon, though, his departure would not be a surprise. He never had promised anything. Everyone knew he was going for the top dollar.
The surprise — ah — would be the destination.
It’s less than 24 hours since the news broke–Jacoby Ellsbury is going to be a Yankee. So: Is this a good thing or not? He’s a fine player but he’s been hurt more than somewhat. Does this mean Cano is a goner or does it mean the Yanks know that Alex is in for a long suspension and hell with it, they’re going to sign Robbie as well?
We didn’t see this one coming, that’s for sure. But back to my pernt–it’s been less than a full day since we heard about this, which is more than enough time for people to weigh in on it.
Here’s the word from:
I’ll update this as the reviews are filed today.
[Picture by Bags]
It’s not like Cano is the sort of marketing machine his team has portrayed him as in meetings with the Yankees and Mets. Beyond setting his price tag at more than $300 million in during-the-season negotiations, the biggest mistake thus far has been emphasizing the off-field exploits of Cano when reality says otherwise.
He didn’t stem hemorrhaging ticket sales or TV ratings during the Yankees’ down year. His jersey wasn’t exactly jumping off shelves; it ranked 19th in sales this season – and fifth in New York, behind Mariano Rivera, Matt Harvey, Derek Jeter and David Wright.
“We’re not the Brooklyn Nets,” one Yankees official said. “We don’t need Jay Z’s marketing expertise.”
The Yankees like to say that Dustin Pedroia re-signed with Boston for $110 million and Wright with the Mets for $138 million, but there is a difference: Cano is a free agent, and a premium exists with those free agents, even if New York is where he wants to be. And it is. Cano told friends in the Dominican Republic this season that he would re-sign with the Yankees, though perhaps he was expecting the dollar figure to be closer to the $200 million-plus that at one point the Yankees were believed to be willing to offer.
[Photo Credit: Marcus Haydock]
The Yanks have traded Chris Stewart to the Pirates for a player to be named later. Mike Axisa has the skinny.
Back-up catchers come and go and they tend to blur together in memory but Stewart was taut and hard–a prototype. Couldn’t hit but then again if he could he’d be a starting catcher. I enjoyed watching him work behind the plate. He has the GRRRRR that you want from a veteran catcher. Wish him well in Pittsburgh.
[Photo Credit: AP]