Recently Yankeeist’s newest writer, Matt Warden, wrote an excellent post advocating that the Yankees sign Carl Crawford this offseason. Matt and I see eye-to-eye on just about every baseball issue, just about every issue except this one, that is. Unlike Matt, I don’t want to see the Yankees sign Carl at the end of the season.
Matt argues that Crawford is the kind of young, durable, versatile player the Yankees need to sign as many core players begin to age (Derek Jeter, anyone?). Carl Crawford would provide the Yankees speed and power at the top of the lineup, along with excellent defense in the outfield. I agree with every point. I would love to see Crawford bring his exciting game to the Bronx. I just don’t want to pay for it.
My argument against Crawford has nothing to do with baseball. It has to do with the budget the Yankees have demonstrated the past couple of seasons. Only Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners know for sure, but the Yankees seem to have a budget of around $205 million a year for payroll, give or take. They’ve shown a willingness to take on additional payroll mid season, but the team has started the past two seasons right around that mark.
If the $200 million payroll is a cap that is in place for legitimate business purposes, then the team can’t afford Crawford. Unlike in other seasons, the Yankees don’t have a lot of money coming off the books next year. Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez will take a combined $22 million off the budget, but Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano are all due to get pay raises, totaling about $10 million. If Pettitte comes back strong from the DL and decides he wants to give it another go in 2011 the Yankees could find themselves with an incomplete rotation, and a $200 million payroll. And that’s assuming Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter don’t get pay raises after the season as well.
The Yankees need for pitching has to be factored into all this. If this year’s team doesn’t advance far into the playoffs it will be because the team has one sure thing pitcher in CC Sabathia, and then four question marks of varying severity. Even if Pettitte does come back strong, the team will still be short three starters, and Pettitte’s injury serves as a reminder why the rotation needs to be reinforced.
This need for pitching is why Cliff Lee is about to become a very wealthy man. Even with his early season injury and poor showing in Texas, Lee is still on pace to pitch 200 innings of 124 ERA+ baseball. Cliff’s recent struggles may have cost him some money this offseason, but he is still in a position to command a $20 million annual salary. Barring Joba Chamberlain‘s return to the rotation or increased faith in a young player like Ivan Nova, the Yankees figure to be one of the team’s bidding to give Lee his money.
If the Yankees sign Lee then the team’s 2011 payroll figures to be $220 million, give or take. That figure may be a necessary evil if the team will continue to compete at its current level, but it will also loom large at the end of the 2011 season when baseball is due to renegotiate its collective bargaining agreement. If the Yankees are paying $50-60 million more than the team with the next highest payroll the team will go into the negotiations with a target on its back.
In this environment, signing Carl Crawford is precisely the kind of ostentatious move the Yankees should avoid. Great as Crawford is, he’s not worth extending the team’s payroll to $235 million or more. If the Yankees had an urgent need for a speedy outfielder then perhaps the expense could be justified, but the Yankees don’t have a need at that position.
This brings us to Brett Gardner. Brett the Jet may actually be better than Crawford. Coming into Saturday’s games, his .390 OBP was better, but according to Baseball Refence, Gardner’s WAR of 4.2 is higher than Crawford’s 3.5 on the season. Fangraphs doesn’t agree. It has Crawford’s WAR at 5.7, almost a full win ahead of its 4.8 mark for Brett. Whichever method of calculating the WAR stat you prefer (I’m a B-Ref fan myself), the numbers show that Crawford isn’t worth the cost to the Yankees. Crawford figures to make about $15 million more than Garnder next year. To justify that cost he needs to generate three more wins than Gardner will. That seems unlikely.
Carl Crawford is a great player who will make a solid addition to any team. He fits the mold of the new players the Yankees have been targeting, a young, athletic, all-around player who helps his team a variety of ways. Unfortunately for Carl (and his bank account) that team doesn’t figure to be the Yankees next year. The cost-benefit analysis just isn’t there.
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