Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Worth It

The Gunn posed an interesting question the other week in the comments section: if the Yankees don't win another World Series over the duration of their contract, will the Sabathia and Teixeira contracts have been worth it for just the one World Series?

I'll answer indirectly in a way that makes the direct answer obvious: the Burnett contract is already worth it.

I understand that Burnett is not signed for as many years or nearly as much money as Sabathia or Teixeira. But he also isn't nearly as important to the Yankees for the money he makes as either of those players are. If his contract is worth it, the Sabathia and Teixeira contracts are definitely worth it.

Digging a little deeper, I'll expand upon the way The Gunn basically answered his own question, which can basically be summed up by one question: why wouldn't the Yankees make these signings no matter what? The alternatives are for the Yankees to not spend money they clearly have to spend or to spend the money on players that aren't as likely to help the Yankees win a World Series. Because let's be honest, Sabathia and Teixeira are not only two of the best players in the game, but two of the best players to hit the free agent market in a decade. In the early-to-middle part of their prime no less. If they can't help the Yankees win it all, chances are very few can. What I'm basically saying here is that they would be worth it even if they never won one. I understand that then we'd be getting into a potential distinction between "worth" (as in return on investment) and "justification for signing them", but as The Gunn basically acknowledged in his own answer that blurry line is inherent to the question. Either way, certainly once they win one they've done exactly what they've been brought in to do.

Hence why Burnett is also worth it. I'm not at all a fan of the predetermined outcome. There is no absolute certainty that the Yankees would not have won the World Series without Burnett, or without Sabathia or Teixeira. But chances are very good that they would not have. As it was the Yankees went with a three man rotation. Who, exactly, would have been starting and going 3-3 in critical Game 2 (who many believe to be the most important game in a series) starts if not Burnett? Whoever it is, certainly that person is unlikely to have gone 19.1 innings and allow only 4 runs on only 10 hits while striking out 19 in those three Game 2 starts. You're brought into win a World Series, especially on the Yankees. When you were a positive part of bringing that result, you are worth your contract. This is exactly what Burnett did. Whatever happens from their is gravy.

And I think we can all agree Sabathia and Teixeira are completely different types of players than Burnett. Burnett is a piece. Sabathia and Teixeira are cornerstones. So if he's worth it, they're worth it. Burnett can really do one particular thing - he has the potential to dominate big games like very few in the game can. The rest is a big question mark from start to start. Sabathia and Teixeira do it all, and have continued to do so in year two the way they did all the way to the World Series in year one. Neither has any problem putting the team on their back for extended stretches, and they (along with Rivera, Cano, and Swisher) are the biggest reasons why the Yankees are where they are this year despite all of the injuries and underperformances. As long as they are healthy, if they don't win another World Series it is unlikely to have anything to do with them. It would have to be the composition of the rest of their team, the talent of other teams in the game, the crapshoot nature of the playoffs, or some combination of these. They go way above and beyond what they are asked. They were only asked to win one title, and they were already front and center in accomplishing that on their first try.

6 comments:

the gm said...

Pat,

Obviously you spent your extended JDcation thinking about general baseball theory, because this is one of the best posts you've done all year.

I understand where you're coming from, and this is just flat-out your theoretical position. I'm not really sure if I disagree with you, either. You got your World Series, which is what you've paid for. The flip-side of it is what happens when it's 2015 and you have a rotation spot given to a guy who's way on the wrong side of 300 and isn't throwing 96 anymore, you have a league-average third baseman in year 7 of a gradual decline, and you have a first baseman also on the wrong side of his career? What about having a shortstop who's still playing every day because he's chasing 4000 hits?

I gave the snide remark last week of "Jason Giambi." But behind the shortness and sarcasm, I meant that. Like Giambi, it's not like you're gonna just release these players. You're most likely going to play these three league-average players simply because they're making a ton of money. And you know what happens when you have a roster full of league-average players: You're a league-average team and you win 81 games. Is Pat F okay with a couple of years at .500 or in third place in the division because he wanted it all in 2009?

I'm not sure if I would be. Maybe you are. Maybe you think the averageness is going to be balanced by the elite-ness of whichever new guys will come in through free-agent contracts, perhaps perpetuating a cycle that led the Yankees to their downfall in the early part of this century. But if that's the price you pay for the 2009 World Series and a good shot at securing a few more while the Five Rings Club is still relevant, good for you.

Patrick said...

The Jason Giambi example does not match up with your proposition. Because Giambi was anything but league average at the end of his contract. He AVERAGED an OPS+ of 139 and a .915 OPS over the last four years of his seven year deal. Not only is 100 average for OPS+, but all of 11 players have an OPS higher than .915 in 2010, and Giambi averaged in for four years. Not only was he not average, he was an elite offensive player, and you live with elite offensive players for bad defense and baserunning (if you want to take that angle). If every long contract ended with Giambi-type production at the end of it, I’d be totally psyched about it. Toss in that Sabathia and Teixeira would have already won World Series while offering that production, and it has to be close to best case scenario. Although I think Sabathia and Teixeira have the potential to be even better if they stay healthy because they are better players than Giambi, but you’d still be over-the-moon happy if they did something similar to Giambi.
The reality is it probably isn’t likely that most long contracts can end as favorably as Giambi’s did. And that is where your argument comes in. Is it worth it to pay big for production early in a contract to win with potential decline that may hampering winning later in a contract? The answer for me is yes. To say otherwise assumes that it’s even possible to be a serious contender every single year without making these kinds of signings. Which it isn’t. We already know that. So if we are saying with these signings the above scenario is going to happen (players become league average albatross later in their contract) then it is also not possible to be a serious contender every year with making these kinds of signings. So if it’s not possible to be a serious contender either way, you essentially have two choices: make the signings and increase your chances of winning in a smaller window, or don’t make these signings and expand the window where you might be able to win but have less of a chance of winning in each of those years because your team isn’t as good as the latter. I’d rather increase my chances of winning in a small window.
And the caveat we have to acknowledge is that the Yankees might be the one team that are able to do both. They might be able to keep adding talent to make up for declining players in one big cycle. If they can do that, that’s the way I want it. If I had to pick one team in baseball that had a chance to win year over year it would be the Yankees. So I want them to do things the way they are doing them.

Patrick said...

sorry, his four year ops average was .916, and only 10 players have a higher ops than that in 2010.

the gm kind of at work said...

Comparing it specifically to 2010 is probably not fair due to the "year of the pitcher" nonsense. But I understand your point.

The Giambi idea I cited (obviously without looking at the stats) was the idea of when the guy was benched after his grand jury testimony where he didn't lie and therefore didn't get indicted. He was benched and they were thinking about straight-up releasing him or sending him to the minors. Quite a change when you give up all that In-N-Out Burger.

But the bottom line is, Giambi wasn't permanently benched. He wasn't sent to Scranton. He wasn't released. And that's largely because they were on the hook for eighty-two million dollars when 2004 was going on. Same goes for Jeter, Arod, Borasbot, and CC if things go wrong: They're still owed a lot of money.

Plus, way to go Theo Epstein on me with the OPS stuff. You weren't vacationing all winter, so you should know that more often than note, even the perfect stat of OPS can be misleading. Was this stuff because he was a baseball player who was good at a lot of stuff? No. It's because about 35% of his 110 annual hits were home runs and because he walked a bunch. That's like saying JD Drew's second-highest OPS of all AL outfielders last year is justification that he's a terrific baseball player.

Anonymous said...

DV

I always thought Giambi was dead weight at the end of his career and I specifically remember PF nearly doing back-flips before the 2005 season because there were rumors that the Yankees were going to attempt to void the rest of his contract because of his ailments (remember, his 2004 was atrocious) and their alleged connection to the steroids he used. That said, as much as we've cautioned against putting all your stock in one statistic, OPS is a pretty good stat. More importantly, JD Drew is an outlier and you can't dismiss OPS simply because JD Drew excels in that area even though he's likely a mediocre player. But even beyond that, I always remember Giambi being clutch. At least against the Red Sox anyway. No, I have no stats to back that up, but unlike JD Drew, who appears to pad his stats in low leverage situations, Giambi always seemed to get hits in big spots (Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS being no exception).

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

PF

I couldn't not comment when you write this type of post.

Obviously, I think that any investment you make is paid off in full when you win a World Series. That said, you make an interesting distinction between "worth it" and "justification." Nobody would argue that the Yankees were not justified in signing those three players in 2008/09. Sabathia and Teixeira were the two best free agents on the market and Burnett was a top-10 guy in a great crop.

Whether those signings are worth it or not will depend on 1) who you ask and 2) what the future holds. As I mentioned before, if the Yankees win another World Series or multiple championships in the coming five years, there's no question anymore. But what if they don't? What if all the potential negatives that DV proposes pop up?

My take is this: Even if all those bad things happen, the Yankees can eat salary and put other players out there and get creative with their DH position, LF, and the pitching rotation. That's what having New York's resources will allow you to do. I just don't see another 3rd place finish any time soon.

BUT--if they end up not making the playoffs in the next few years that's where the debate really crops up--some fans will take the point of view that anything after 2009 is playing with house money. Others will not be so kind. In Oakland or Seattle or Houston I doubt you see any backlash, but New York is accustomed to winning every year. It will, as always, be interesting to see how it all plays out.

--the Gunn