The New York Yankees: Brains Behind the Brawn?

Ah, hating the Yankees. This is a passion that even the most hated division rivals will share. If you’ve never heard someone say “All they do is buy championships,” you must not be from this continent.

Brian Cashman Photo by Icon SMI

Buying championships? I think that undersells the fantastic job that GM Brian Cashman has done. Since From 1973 until 1998, the Yankees went through GMs like Kleenex by hiring 12 – GMs averaged 2 seasons with the club. 2010 is Cashman’s 12th season, much of which he tolerated being George Steinbrenner’s puppet. Cashman’s not perfect, but when he makes a mistake he is sure to make one that the Yankees can easily absorb. And most respectably, he’ll acknowledge when an expensive experiment has failed and he’ll quickly move on (Kei Igawa, anyone? No? Off to Triple-A with you).

Over time, he turned the Yankees from filthy rich disarray (remember Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright and Sidney Ponson?) into the most well-oiled machine in baseball, money or no. Through all the accusations of buying championships, the Yankees have been player development machines. Stars like Robinson Cano and Phil Hughes have led other useful additions like Brett Gardner, Joba Chamberlain and Melky Cabrera (now with the Atlanta Braves). Not to mention other home grown talents from before the Cashman era: future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera as well as the ageless Andy Pettitte are humongous parts of the Yankees’ success from season to season.

Home grown players also have another use: trade bait. Jeff Marquez, Melky Cabrera, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Dunn, Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Coke into Swisher, Granderson, and Vazquez

Over the last two offseasons, trade chips Melky Cabrera, Arodys Vizcaino, Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy, Mike Dunn, Austin Jackson and Jeff Marquez (along with Wilson Betemit, who was also acquired with homegrown talent) have been turned in for Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez. All three had established themselves as young well above average players before donning the pinstripes and were projected to produce.

Put simply, under Cashman the Yankees have earned their money and have earned their championships. One only has to look at their crosstown rival Mets, who have access to the same market, to see that making and spending money doesn’t equate to winning. Being in the right place is a big part of it, sure. According to Bizofbaseball.com, in 2009 the Yankees and Mets were the top two revenue makers in MLB and together they brought in $709 million, which was over 11 percent of MLB’s entire revenue. But among that $709 million, the Yankees made almost twice as much as the Mets: $441 million whereas the Mets made $268.

So why haven’t the Mets made more? Because the Mets suck. I won’t say that the Mets should have made more than the Yankees, who have the benefit of an extremely rich 100 years of history, but the Mets shouldn’t let the Yankees bring in almost twice as much as they have. The Yankees may have a $200 million payroll, but most of that money is spent wisely. The Mets’ big acquisitions of Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, J.J. Putz, Francisco Rodriguez, and Luis Castillo were all poor decisions before they even made their debut. That the results have mostly panned out poorly is merely justice served cold.

Compare that to the Yankees. While they’re responsible for 4 of the biggest contracts in baseball, they also pay them to players who are likely to fulfill or exceed their expectations. In 2009, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia were paid a combined $92 million. Fangraphs values their 2009 contributions at a combined $106.6 million. A visit to Fangraphs will tell you a similar story in 2008. And 2007.

Fans love to say the issue is the Yankees’ $200 million payroll, but the truth is that’s only half of the problem – the other half is that the Yankees spend $200 million well. You know who else spends money well? Practically every team who has ever won a World Series.

The Yankees make smart trades. They make smart International signings. They make smart draft choices. They develop their own young players into Major Leaguers. They fill in any holes in the roster with big free agent signings exactly as the Stars-and-Scrubs handbook says, but unlike other organizations who can afford 8- and 9-digit contracts, they’re smart about it. They scout with the best of them and have a well respected statistical analysis department headed by one of the game’s best blenders of the two: Brian Cashman. If you ask me, that’s more respectable than it is despicable.

Now if only they made less money.

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