Don't blame Yankees for living the American way
December, 24, 2008
They are, after all, the Yankees, as Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have so boldly reminded us. Scott Boras knew that, and knew that no matter where the Red Sox went, he could always come back to the Yankees and get $10 million more because everyone knew how much Theo Epstein coveted Mark Teixeira. That's the way it is. All the innuendo about Teixeira not caring for Larry Lucchino and John Henry doesn't really matter, because Teixeira was going to New York. To the Yankees, who have a brand new Bloomberg ballpark and two Steinbrenner brothers who are sick and tired of hearing how the Red Sox have twice as many world championships as The Bombers in the 21st century. The Yankees patiently waited for a year and allowed Cashman to pass on Johan Santana so that when he rebuilt the Yankees, it would not be at any expense to the farm system he wanted to build. So the Yanks finished eight games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for one season? And, by the way, there may not be three free agents next year worth anything close to $423.5 million (the total amount of money in the contracts given to Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett). Now the Yankees are back in the high life, again, in a position where they will be the heavy favorites with the pressure that anything less than winning the 2009 World Series will be considered failure. Just ask Joe Girardi. The Yankees have the highest-paid first baseman, the highest-paid third baseman, the highest-paid shortstop, the highest-paid catcher, the highest-paid starting pitcher and the highest-paid reliever in the history of the game. Feel sorry for the Red Sox? No. Feel sorry for the Brewers and the Blue Jays and the Rangers? Yes, because for all the Yankees may pay in luxury tax and revenue-sharing money, for all the fannies they put in opposing teams' seats, for all Bud Selig does to try to level the playing field, the Yankees are back to being a smartly run business. And their business is to turn as much of the baseball business as possible into a game of fattening frogs for snakes, as Sonny Boy Williamson once put it. We have months to see how the Yankees mesh, what scabs they develop, what injuries they must overcome, whether the expectations make the game joyless despite the joy that Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Sabathia bring to the ballpark every day. We do know that the Red Sox and Mets are back in the Yankees' shadow; Boston still has close to $40 million to work with, and the Mets claim their baseball operations will not be harmed by the Bernie Madoff scandal, even though Madoff handled some of the revenues the Mets put aside to fund deferred contracts and some other payments. As much as the Red Sox obsess about the Yankees, the Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira signings -- yes, historians, Teixeira's father was a high school teammate and friend of Bucky Dent -- this winter readjusts the landscape. The fact is that in Red Sox Nation, there were a growing number of fans who were more like George Steinbrenner than they wish to admit, who thought what didn't happen for 86 years had become an annual right, misanthropes for whom anything less than winning the World Series was, using George's word, failure. Now they're reminded that the Red Sox cannot win the revenue war, and that winning will continue to depend on the development of players like Lars Anderson, Jed Lowrie, Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden and Justin Masterson. They can be reminded that last season Kevin Youkilis had three more extra-base hits than Teixeira, who had one more than Dustin Pedroia. This isn't like the Brewers not even getting a first-round pick for Sabathia. Even if the Red Sox change their minds about Jason Varitek and his representation by Boras (having turned down $10 million in arbitration for Varitek, Boras has to convince a team to give up a top draft pick and pay Varitek), they can take someone else's bad contract if a catcher comes in the package. They can afford to chance an investment in John Smoltz and/or Brad Penny. They can sign Rocco Baldelli if the doctors think it would be wise. Boras did a great job of pointing out how the Red Sox could be wounded by not shelling out big money for Teixeira, but if Mike Lowell and David Ortiz come back strong physically in 2009, they find a catcher and Josh Beckett gets healthy again, they can chase the Yankees and come October have two top-caliber starters in Beckett and Jon Lester. Come June, when a couple of teams have to move payroll because of the economy's impact on that team's or owner's finances, there may be some very good players (possibly Magglio Ordonez) to be repossessed. But the Red Sox can also resume the role of underdog, which to an organization priding itself on the flow of self-developed talent isn't a bad thing. We have seen how well Ben Cherington, the Red Sox's vice president of player personnel, and Mike Hazen, Boston's director of player development, have built a player development environment which has led to many seamless transitions from the minor leagues into the Fenway Park pressure cooker. And that will continue. It is more difficult these days, because the Yankees are not only rich and abetted by the mayor of their city, but also the Steinbrenners have turned the operation over to a very smart man in Cashman, who, with Hal Steinbrenner's empowerment, seems to be able to run the business without being affected by the irrationality of Hank Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine. The aghast bad-for-the game thing doesn't work. This is the system the Yankees have and the NBA's Lakers and the NFL's Giants do not. It may cause a lot of owners to sit tight and make the middle-class of free agents squirm for the next two months, while the lower-class crawls. This is the baseball world; the union cares only for what Sabathia and Teixeira make, reminiscent of the Mike Barnicle/Pat Buchanan observation on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that Washington focuses its bailouts on people who take showers before going to work rather than on those people who need a shower after they work. Boras doesn't want to be the good guy, and doesn't care who gets burned as long as his clients get the best deal; didn't Edward Bennett Williams do the best he could for Joe McCarthy and Sirhan Sirhan? Didn't Hal Steinbrenner invest $423.5 million to buy back the we're-the-Yankees-and-you're-not swagger? Look at it this way: The Yankees will still be helping some small-market owners pay down their interest. Will the notion that it is wealth, not meritocracy, that earns championships and Illinois senate seats damage baseball? Given the economy the next couple of years, perhaps when viewed in relation to the NFL's parity it will. For now, it's the American way. Wal-Mart eats up small-family businesses. The Yankees eat up the Brewers and the Indians, and there may not be an owner in any sport who, given the opportunity afforded to Hal Steinbrenner, wouldn't have done the same thing.