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Yankees, Red Sox, Money

If those three words don't stoke interest and debate, little will in sports these days. There's an eternal debate between the spending of the Yankees, Boston's frequent attempts to catch up to them, and whether the team's more recent, build-from-within plan will continue to pay dividends.

Regardless of the 2009 results of both teams' respective free agency experiments, it's a non-debate to claim that the Red Sox were far more fiscally responsible. As jca-CrystalCity pointed out in the comments under a post earlier this week, the Red Sox top seven starting pitchers are guaranteed less money than just C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett of the Yankees. That's one startling fact, but the list actually goes much deeper.

According to a fascinating piece by ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, the two starting pitchers Boston acquired -- John Smoltz and Brad Penny -- are guaranteed less than 1/23rd of the money New York spent to land Sabathia and Burnett. Granted, that's because Smoltz and Penny are both pitching on one-year deals, but the pure bottom line is terrifying. It gets scarier for Yankee fans when you consider the respective playoff records of both pairs, too: Smoltz and Penny are a combined 18-6, Sabathia and Burnett are 2-3 (Burnett has yet to pitch in the postseason).

Of course, the starting pitching comparisons are a microcosm of the larger free agency breakdown of the two teams. The Yankees notoriously overspent on Kyle Farnsworth to fill a relief gap. This offseason the Red Sox added Takashi Saito, who -- when healthy -- is a potential All-Star and former closer. They spent only $1.5 million to get him. The same goes with Rocco Baldelli, a former sure-star outfielder for the Rays who was released so Tampa Bay could avoid a $6 million year in his contract. Boston wasted little time wooing him back to New England -- he's from Rhode Island -- and landed him for a pittance; $500,000 plus huge back-end incentives if he's healthy and he plays (which he's likely to do, considering the fact that J.D. Drew is never healthy for an entire season).

When you take in the entire picture, clearly these are two organizations on different philosophical trajectories. Did the Red Sox try to sign new Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira in the offseason to a deal that would have broken all their own franchise records for a free agent? Absolutely. But in the end they didn't get him, and while some analysts expected them to overreact by signing all the big names they could get their hands on, the Red Sox instead stuck to a recent franchise edict to buy low on high talent, offering up rich incentives for playing time and performance.

It's a model that seems to be working, though the assets gained with it have yet to make a monumental difference. The Wade Miller experiment never panned out in Boston, and Bartolo Colon's results were decidedly mixed ... and brief.

Instead, this may be year where Theo Epstein and co. have their experimental philosophies tested in the full crucible of the high-spending AL East, with the biggest test coming from right down the road, from the team Boston loves to hate.

By Cameron Smith  |  March 12, 2009; 1:44 PM ET
Categories:  Red Sox , Yankees  
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Next: Moment of Levity: The Big Picture

Comments

Thanks.

Probably when all is finished, the Red Sox will still end up with a payroll that is in the $130 million range, which will leave them within the top 5. That would be especially true if multiple players hit their incentives. Still a lot, but only about 80% of the salary cap level, rather than exceeding as they were in 2004, and near it in 2007.

They did have to unwind some costly contracts (Pedro, Manny, etc . . .) when the Henry group took over. Since then, they have made 2 signings with over a $50m commitment to players - Dice-K and JD Drew. Dice-K gets about $52 over 6 years (and Seibu $51m), IIRC, and Drew gets $70m over 5. It is plainly a different style than the NYY, or even the NYM, Detroit, and LAA.

An interesting aspect of Boston's strategy is that they are quite willing to take on high level ballplayers who are injury risks. You point to Wade Miller and Bartolo Colon, and could add in Schilling '08 as another who they ended up just paying money to for no production. I've posted this before, but it is relevant: there is a sabremetric argument that less than a full season of excellent play, coupled with replacement player fill in, can win you more games than a full season of above average play. An extreme example is Milton Bradley's 126 games last year v. Jeff Hamilton or Ryan Braun (see Eric Seidman's piece in Fangraphs at:
http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/the-bradley-comment).

This is relevant to guesstimating the trade value of Nick Johnson. When healthy, he is a step below the elite first basemen - excellent defense and terrific OPS and other more sophisticated offensive stats. If you believe he is accident prone but when healthy, then is he worth a quality middle reliever if you are Billy Beane? Would he be good Lowell / Ortiz insurance if you are Theo?

I've dreamed up a Kearns and Johnson for Lugo, Kottaras, and Hunter Jones trade for a while. Lugo would slide into 2d base, Kottaras is a lefty power catcher out of options, and Jones is a decent minor league relief arm. Lugo is due $18m over two years, which would net to a only an extra $3.5m for the Nats, or less than $2m a year. Kearns would be a 4th OF who could fill in for the inevitable JD Drew injury.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | March 12, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

I think that it is a bit generous to call Boston's signings some kind of significant strategy. They were making plays for this or that high-priced guy, they just did not land them (and they had the awful contracts of Lugo and Lowell on their books which hurt). They grabbed a buch of bargain guys, who may not be valuable after all.

Boston has likely over paid for Smoltz and Penny. If the logic is that those two guys combined equal one $10.5 Million Dollar guy, OK maybe. But neither is likely to start the season and whether Penny can be effective in any role is suspect at this point. Same thing with Baldelli and Kotsay and Wilkerson -- those guys have shown they can play but have also shown that they cannot. Which guys are gonna show? Who is gonna be healthy?

I think that the Sox are thin. The bench is not great and if Papi blows a gasket (and his shoulder is bawky already), they trot out a pretty pedestrian line-up compared to the rest of the AL East. All I can say is that they had better pitch like all Hell if they want to make the playoffs.

Posted by: dfh123 | March 13, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

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