The Yankees’ Wallets

By | January 16, 2005

Up until the moment that Carlos Beltran signed with the Mets last week, 90% of the baseball world assumed that sooner or later, George Steinbrenner would come in and outbid everyone for Beltran’s services. I think Scott Boras assumed that, too, which is why he started the bidding at an outrageous 10-year, $200 million price that only The George could afford. All along, I was wondering: why is this such a foregone conclusion?

Now that I know I was right, I feel secure in giving some statistical backup. I made a list of how many times the Yankees have had the highest-paid player in baseball over the past ten seasons. That list took a lot longer to research than it did to write — it has never happened. (Alex Rodriguez may have the highest average salary over the length of a contract, but Manny Ramirez made half-a-million more last season — and A-Rod has nothing to do with free agency when it comes to the Yankees, anyway.) So I counted how many times, in that same period, the Yankees had a player they had signed as a free agent in the top ten salaries. It has happened three times, but not since David Cone in 2000. Here is a list of the players the Yankees have signed as free agents who have been in the top 25 in salary over the past ten seasons:

Name Year (Rank)
Mike Mussina 2004 (12)
Gary Sheffield 2004 (19)
Jason Giambi 2004 (25)
Mike Mussina 2002 (20)
Jason Giambi 2002 (22)
Roger Clemens 2002 (23)
Roger Clemens 2001 (22)
Mike Mussina 2001 (24)
David Cone 2000 (7)
David Cone 1999 (8)
David Cone 1998 (20)
David Cone 1997 (17)
Cecil Fielder 1997 (2)
Ruben Sierra 1996 (15)? (Off the top of my head, I can’t remember if Sierra came to the Yanks that time as a free agent or in a trade.)
Jack McDowell 1995 (24)

I can remember only once in recent memory that the Yankees actually went out and got the top free agent on the market: Jason Giambi after the 2001 season. And no matter what anyone says, even before the steroid scandal, the differences between Giambi and Beltran are vast and many. Jason Giambi was a player who had peaked. His tools did not present the possibility that he might improve. He was a marginal defensive player who had a few great offensive seasons. The Yankees signed him on the assumption that his great offensive seasons would continue.

Carlos Beltran, on the other hand, is a five-tool player whose contract came on the assumption that his best years are ahead of him. He had a very good season last year and a great post-season. He was signed on the assumption that his good season would turn great as he matured. That is not the kind of person George Steinbrenner acquires.

When A-Rod was on the market, Steinbrenner did not sign him, even though he (obviously) could have afforded him. He waited until A-Rod had proven for a couple more years that he was the real deal. The Yankees didn’t sign Kevin Brown; they acquired him for the last few overpaid years of a bad contract. They signed Gary Sheffield at age 107; he is obviously not past his prime, but if he is as productive as last year for more than another year, I will eat my shoe.

Let’s face it: the Yankees are the richest team in baseball, but they aren’t exactly the best at projecting a player’s future. There’s no more reason to be surprised that the Yankees didn’t sign Carlos Beltran than there will be reason to be surprised when they overpay in a trade for him in four years.

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