Yankees Spend Modestly In Free Agency, Just Like…Usual?

With James Shields now firmly ensconced in San Diego, the meaningful portion of this winter’s free agency has come to a close. It seemed to me like one thing was missing from the last few months of sizzlin’ stove gossip: the New York Yankees weren’t breaking so many banks in their signature big-money championship pursuit.

Looking at the table below, while the Yankees tied for fourth in the total years that they committed to in free agency, they finished fifth in terms of overall financial commitments made to free agents in the 2014-15 offseason. The table below was made with salary information from the FanGraphs Free Agent Tracker. The teams are listed in alphabetical mascot order and can be sorted by clicking on the top of each column:

Team Total Years Signed Total $M Commitment
Angels 1 0.2
Astros 5 21
Athletics 3 30
Blue Jays 7 83.2
Braves 11 63.8
Brewers 1 3
Cardinals 3 5.7
Cubs 12 187.1
Diamondbacks 1 0.5
Dodgers 7 59
Giants 6 47
Indians 3 4.4
Mariners 4 58
Marlins 4 18.2
Mets 3 22.5
Nationals 10 216.2
Orioles 2 2.5
Padres 6 79
Phillies 2 6.5
Pirates 5 50
Rangers 0 0
Rays 3 8.5
Red Sox 12 196
Reds 0 0
Rockies 6 10.9
Royals 10 66.3
Tigers 6 70
Twins 6 67.7
White Sox 15 134.2
Yankees 11 101

While the Yankees’ spending outlay would still be unattainable for plenty of more modestly endowed franchises, there is nonetheless evidence of restraint and prudence here. The Yankees spent around half of what the Nationals, Red Sox, and Cubs invested at up at the top of the list. Looking at the specific free agents they signed, there are a handful of experimental fliers surrounding two longer-term, well, bargains. (List is organized chronologically, with most recent signings on top.)

Player Years Total (in $M)
Stephen Drew 1 5
Chris Capuano 1 5
Chase Headley 4 52
Andrew Miller 4 36
Jose De Paula 1 0.5
Chris Young 1 2.5
Total 11 101

With Steamer projecting Headley for an impressive 4 WAR next season, and with old closer David Robertson signing a 4-year/$46M deal, both of the Yankees’ biggest signings this winter look, frankly, like the handiwork of an A’s or Rays or Pirates team that is renowned for wringing all the value they can out of every last dollar.

I figured that this show of restraint was pretty well out of character for baseball’s biggest spenders. I mean, check out what the Yankees did last winter:

Player Years Total (in $M)
Masahiro Tanaka 7 155
Matt Thornton 2 7
Brian Roberts 1 2
Hiroki Kuroda 1 16
Carlos Beltran 3 45
Kelly Johnson 1 3
Jacoby Ellsbury 7 153
Brendan Ryan 2 5
Brian McCann 5 85
Derek Jeter 1 12
Total 30 483

Alright, so maybe Jeter was a free agent in name only, but still: wow! This is twice the years and well more than twice the money that any team invested this winter.

But that’s the Yankees for ya, right? This is what they’ve done every winter since they were the Highlanders. Well — no.

The winter before last — that would be between the 2012 and 2013 seasons — the Yankees invested in a lot of different veterans, but all on a short-term basis:

Player Years Total (in $M)
Brennan Boesch 1 1.5
Travis Hafner 1 2
Ichiro Suzuki 2 13
Kevin Youkilis 1 12
Mariano Rivera 1 10
Andy Pettitte 1 12
Hiroki Kuroda 1 15
Total 8 65.5

And then in the winter before that, between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the Yankees were borderline frugal:

Player Years Total (in $M)
David Aardsma 1 0.5
Eric Chavez 1 0.9
Raul Ibanez 1 1.1
Hiroki Kuroda 1 10
Andruw Jones 1 2
Freddy Garcia 1 4
Russell Martin 1 7.5
Total 7 26

Considering the Yankees got 2.0 WAR from Martin and 3.7 from Kuroda, doggone if this wasn’t one of the most efficient offseasons in recent memory.

The Yankees spent a bit more during the winter between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, but, as you can see, it was for a reasonable cause:

Player Years Total (in $M)
Andruw Jones 1 2
Rafael Soriano 3 35
Pedro Feliciano 2 8
Russell Martin 1 4
Mariano Rivera 2 30
Derek Jeter 3 51
Total 12 130

Again — were Rivera and Jeter ever really free agents? This hardly counts as splashy winter maneuvering. The Soriano contract wasn’t necessarily stellar, but the list of busts going back to this point in time is pretty short (Beltran, Youkilis). And, hey, mistakes happen: Jim Johnson was the second-highest-paid player on last year’s A’s. What can ya do.

Going back to the winter between the 2009 and 2010 seasons, we see that the Yankees only took thrifty second chances on veterans as they bathed in the warm glow of their World Series victory:

Player Years Total (in $M)
Chan Ho Park 1 1.2
Randy Winn 1 1.1
Sergio Mitre 1 0.85
Nick Johnson 1 5.5
Andy Pettitte 1 11.75
Total 5 20.4

And now, moving back one last winter, between the 2008 and 2009 seasons, we see the Yankees going absolutely bananas:

Player Years Total (in $M)
Andy Pettitte 1 5.5
Mark Teixeira 8 180
Chien-Ming Wang 1 5
A.J. Burnett 5 82.5
CC Sabathia 7 161
Damaso Marte 3 12
Sergio Mitre 1 1.25
Total 26 447.25

It’s funny: these same contracts that look so doggone bad now unquestionably led to that 2009 World Series Championship.

While these are historic spending splurges, that’s still two splurges over the last seven winters, with some highly efficient dollars given out in-between sprees. I don’t know if there’s any significance to the five-year gap separating the two spending binges. Does that mean you need to look out for the Yankees in the winter between 2018 and 2019?

Well, maybe. There isn’t an obvious time before then when the Yankees will feel a rush of contractual relief. Let’s take the nine Yankees contracts that pay out at lead eight digits annually. In descending average annual value, that’s: Teixeira, Sabathia, Tanaka, Alex Rodriguez, Ellsbury, McCann, Beltran, Headley, Brett Gardner. None of these contracts are expiring after the 2015 season. Teixeira’s, Sabathia’s, and Beltran’s contracts are expiring after the 2016 season. That’s a lot of relief right there, but there’s still $115.6M committed towards the 2017 Yankees (and that’s before considering things like Dellin Betances’ first year of arbitration) and, well, that seems like a lot of money to owe before the start of a spree. Rodriguez’s contract expires after the 2017 season (!!!), and maybe then, with the current commitment to the 2018 Yankees under nine digits, could we see another historic spree.

It’s tough. Without that pre-2009 spree, the Yankees wouldn’t have won that World Series, and isn’t winning the World Series what it’s all about? And without that pre-2014 spree, the Yankees wouldn’t have had their most valuable offensive player (Ellsbury, 3.6 WAR) or two of their three most valuable pitchers (Kuroda, 3.5 WAR; Tanaka, 3.2 WAR), and their 84-win fringe-contender would have looked pretty sorry indeed, and the Yankees face totally different consequences than the other 29 teams for looking sorry even for a single year.

It looks like there will be a couple of odd truths about the Yankees in future offseasons. One, they actually won’t outspend each and every of their rivals. And two: the Yankees can get mighty efficient when they act that way.

Compiled with information from ProSportsTransactions, Spotrac, and Cot’s Contracts.

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Miles Wray contributes sports commentary to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Ploughshares, The Classical and Hardwood Paroxysm. Follow him on Twitter @mileswray or email him here.

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Jose
Guest
Jose

How do we punish the yankees for restraint?

Yirmiyahu
Member

I suggest that we saddle them with the financial / public relations albatross known as Alex Rodriguez.