October 21, 2009
A week from tonight the New York Yankees are going to host the Philadelphia Phillies in Game One of the World Series. This will be the first World Series game played in the new Yankee Stadium; Joe Buck and Tim McCarver will welcome us to the game and subsequently breakdown the matchup before CC Sabathia throws the first pitch to Jimmy Rollins. All of this is going to play out on Fox but is anyone outside of New York or Philadelphia really going to care? Maybe a better question is should anyone care? The answer to the first question is only hardcore baseball fans hopped up on caffeine, but the answer to the second question is a resounding yes. This upcoming Fall Classic is a tipping point for Major League Baseball. In one corner you have the Yankees who are boasting the highest payroll in baseball (mostly comprised of players bought on a salary cap free open market). In the other it’s the Philadelphia Phillies: homegrown talent put together by a smart front office hoping that what they built can take down what is bought.
This World Series will be remembered in one of two ways. The first: the year that the Yankees proved that in an open market enough money can put you over the top and win you a World Series. The second: you still need some semblance of front office savvy to win it all and that there is more to baseball the outbidding your opponents to build a juggernaut.
Bud Selig and his band of nitwits need to pull hard for the latter. If the New York Yankees win their 27th World Championship it will be the latest setback in the long, slow, painful decline of our National Pastime. The small market teams and their fans will have more incentive to throw in the towel because the financial landscape is not a level playing field. It’s not like this is breaking news; as we move into the 21st century the same holds true every passing season, but this is the first season that one group of men (The Steinbrenners) took it upon themselves to insure a World Championship. After being embarrassed by spending close to 200 million dollars and missing the playoffs last year because of a shaky starting pitching staff and some holes in the lineup, the Yankees front office went out and guaranteed 423.5 million dollars in contracts for Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett. The Yankees payroll for 2009 is at 208 Million dollars, 63 million more then the next highest (the Mets) and 183 million more then the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball (The Pirates).
You can’t blame the Yankees for exploiting the capless system. They have the most money and they spend it. There is nothing in the rulebook that states that you cannot outspend your opponents. Baseball has long been losing its luster since the players strike in 1994. There were a few mini-resurgences in the last 15 years with Ripken’s Iron Man streak then the steroid infused home run chase of 1998 but those register as blips on the radar screen these days. We’ve yet to get to a point where John Q. Public has totally stopped caring about baseball, but this World Series could change all of that. If the Yankees win what hope does that leave for a fan of a team with resources like the Pirates, Padres, Royals, A’s or Twins? This will prove that as long as you have an endless well of resources and mild competency in the front office you can win an unfair game. Yes the Twins were scrappy and lovable this season but they were also swept right out of the playoffs. The Rays’ run to the Fall Classic last year was completely unexpected but it only fueled the Steinbrenners on their winter spending spree. “What are the Rays doing in the World Series?! I will not stand for this! Someone get a blank check over to the three best free agents on the open market!” Sure enough the Rays are back on the outside looking in and guess who’s in front of them in the division? The #1 (Yankees) and #4 (Red Sox) payrolls in baseball. Sorry Tampa, hope you enjoyed it while it lasted.
Enter the Phillies: last year’s defending champions and this year’s life raft for a casual baseball fan. The Phillies have a payroll of 111 million dollars, nearly 100 million less then New York. This is a team that has been built from the ground up. In fact let’s break down the starting lineups from an acquisition standpoint.
Philadelphia Projected World Series Starting Lineup:
1. Jimmy Rollins (SS) Phillies’ 2nd Round Draft pick
2. Shane Victorino (CF) Acquired from Dodgers as a Rule 5 Draft Pick
3. Chase Utley (2B) Phillies’ 1st Round draft pick
4. Ryan Howard (1B) Phillies’ 5th Round Draft pick
5. Jayson Werth (RF) Signed as a Free Agent in 2006, resigned last winter to avoid salary arbitration (2 years/10 Million)
6. Raul Ibanez (LF) Signed as a Free Agent last winter (3 years/30 Million)
7. Pedro Feliz (3B) Signed as a Free Agent last winter (2 years/8.5 Million, player option for a 3rd year)
8. Carolos Ruiz (C) Signed as an Amateur Free Agent in 1998
9. Starting Pitcher (See Below)
Philadelphia Projected World Series Pitching Staff:
Cliff Lee (SP) Traded from Cleveland halfway through this season
Cole Hamels (SP) Phillies’ 1st Round Draft pick
Pedro Martinez (SP) Signed as a Free Agent this summer (1 Million dollars for 2009)
Joe Blanton (SP) Traded from Oakland in July 2008
Brad Lidge (Closer) Traded from Houston in Novemeber 2007
New York Yankees Projected World Series Starting Lineup:
1. Derek Jeter (SS) Yankees’ 1st Round draft pick
2. Johnny Damon (RF) Signed as a Free Agent in 2006 (4 years/52 Million)
3. Mark Teixeira (1B) Signed as a Free Agent in 2009 (8 years/180 Million)
4. Alex Rodriguez (3B) Acquired in a trade, opted out of his record contract in the middle of the World Series, then resigned as free agent in December 2007 (10 years/275 Million)
5. Hideki Matsui (DH) Signed as a Free Agent in 2005 (4 years/52 Million)
6. Jorge Posada (C) Yankees’ 24th Round draft pick
7. Robinson Cano (2B) Signed as an Amatuer Free Agent by Yankees in 2002
8. Nick Swisher (LF) Traded from White Sox in November 2008
9. Melky Cabrera (CF) Signed by Yankees as an Amateur Free Agent in 2001
New York Yankees Projected World Series Pitching Staff:
CC Sabathia (SP) Signed as a Free Agent last winter (7 years/160 Million)
AJ Burnett (SP) Signed as a Free Agent last winter (5 Years/82.5 Million)
Andy Pettitte (SP) Longtime Yankee, left for Houston, back to New York as a Free Agent and has since signed three 1 year deals consecutively (1 year/5.5 Million for 2009)
Mariano Rivera (Closer) Signed by Yankees as an Amateur Free Agent in 1990
When broken down it’s pretty simple: all the Phillies thunder in their lineup is homegrown (Rollins, Utley, Howard) and they’ve built a lineup of guys to complement their talented core group of players with reasonable contracts through free agency. In opposition to that, you have the Yankees, who drafted Jeter and Posada (the two remaining offensive players from the late 90s dynasty) and bought a group of all stars throughout the last decade.
Each pitching staff had been constructed differently as well. The Phillies used their resources from a deep farm system to acquire Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton and Brad Lidge. The Yankees have no resources in their farm system, so their hand is forced, which means they can do things like spend 242.2 million dollars to revamp their starting rotation.
Earlier this spring Matt Taibbi wrote about why Brian Cashman is the worst general manager in sports. His premise is that given how easy Cashman’s job is, he is truly horrendous at what he does. Taibbi raises a great question: How can a team with all this money NOT win every year? The answer to that remains baseball’s only hope from fading out of the public eye. It’s fun to root against a team who has exploited an unfair system and for every organization like the Phillies we have teams like the Mets, whose payroll is astronomical but finished 22 games below .500 this year. But this is the season that could change all of that. Despite Cashman’s idiocy over the decade, the Yankees have enough money to forget about their mistakes and move forward. Cashman totally missed on Jason Giambi’s 120 million dollar contract but nailed the Teixeira signing. He couldn’t have been more wrong about signing Carl Pavano to a guaranteed 40 million but has righted the ship this season with Sabathia. Can you think of someone who has blown 160 million dollars only to be allowed to spend over twice as much to make up for those mistakes? That’s baseball right now: if its not enough, spend more and if you can’t, too bad because someone else (usually the Yankees) will.
So when you sit down next Wednesday and welcome Joe Buck and Tim McCarver into your living room, know that what you are about to witness could be the final straw for modern day baseball. If the Yankees win, the magic number to buy a World Series win is 208 million. If the Phillies take them down, hope remains that smart scouts and wise investments can still rule the day. Baseball has reached its crossroads and if you care about the game and its future you should tune in.