COMMENTARY | Like it or not, Yankees fans, the New York Yankees are committed to cutting payroll.
Regardless of how many times reporters ask Hal Steinbrenner or Brian Cashman about the team's goal to reach luxury tax-free status in 2014, it's a pure no-brainer. Free money is sitting on the Yankees' doorstep in the form of luxury tax breaks and revenue-sharing funds. While it may seem that the Yankees are punting away their next two seasons, fans should realize that a team can do a lot with a $189 million payroll.
Last year, teams with the top 15 payrolls in baseball averaged 81.4 wins while the bottom 15 had 80.6 wins. In other words, money does not necessarily buy wins, or even guarantee a spot in the World Series. In the past 14 years that the Yankees have topped the major leagues in spending, more than a third of World Series finalists were in the middle or bottom third in total team payroll. Further, even if the Yankees shed enough salaries to get beneath $189 million, they will likely remain among the top five teams in that category. Currently, the Yankees are slated to be second in payroll to the Los Angeles Dodgers next year.
"How many World Series winning teams the last 10 years had a payroll over 189 (million)? One," Steinbrenner reminded reporters as he left Major League Baseball's quarterly owners' meeting this week.
The one team? The 2009 Yankees.
"You don't have to have a $200 million payroll to do that," he said. "And I'm a big believer in that. But you've got to have a good mix of veterans and young talent. … If the young players, the (David) Phelps of the world, who did step up continue to do that and some of the other guys like (Manny) Banuelos, (Michael) Pineda we've yet to see. If they get the job done, the math works."
Phelps, who averaged almost a strikeout per inning last season when he finished 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 99 2/3 innings, has shown signs of brilliance and should play a factor this year. Banuelos, however, is expected to miss the 2013 season as he recovers from elbow surgery, while Pineda is in line to make the team's starting rotation. Other prospects with a chance to have an impact on the club's future include catcher Austin Romine and outfielder Slade Heathcott.
Of course, Yankees fans should not expect too much from these Baby Bombers. Until this year, paying for high-priced free agents meant giving up draft spots. The team has not had a top 10 draft pick since 1992 (Derek Jeter) and, in the past decade, they have only had one pick in the top 20 (2005, C.J. Henry). Nevertheless, the team has been able to develop players like Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Brett Gardner, and Eduardo Nunez.
The goal for the Yankees, in my opinion, is to continue to develop talent from within the organization and wisely use the waiver wire until the trade deadline approaches. Then, if they're as lucky as they have been in years past, they can cheaply pick up a needed arm or bat.
Does Cashman have his work cut out for him? Yes, but he has a lot more money to play with than most other general managers.
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.