NEW YORK, NY - Alex Avila of the Detroit Tigers celebrates the Tigers 3-2 win as Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees reacts after striking out for the games final out during Game Five of the American League Championship Series. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
The bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers have committed over $40 million to free agents this offseason. The New York Yankees have signed Freddy Garcia for $4 million. What gives?
Oh, you can play around with that statement if you want. You can say that Phil Hughes is, and that he'll be fully back from the abyss next year. You can say that Freddy Garcia is, even though he hasn't thrown more than 157 innings since 2006. It's not like Burnett is automatically the Yankees' third-best starter. But he's in the running. And that's a statement just packed with information.
If the Yankees had a hole in the rotation, bullpen, or lineup in years past, they'd fix it. There wasn't hemming, hawing, or any combination thereof. They'd fix it. I picture Brian Cashman with one or two big Post-It Notes on his desk. One would read, "INQUIRE ABOUT BEST PLAYERS IN BASEBALL" and the other would read "FILL EVERY ROSTER HOLE." And he'd spend the day harassing all manner of teams and free agents, and he wouldn't have to call Chase Bank once to check the team's balance.
Now … it's different. And I fully understand by noon today, there might be breaking news that the Yankees won the bidding for Yu Darvish, and they'll pay $100 million to the Nippon Ham Fighters, and give Darvish seven years, $150 million, and seventeen Bentleys, one of which is covered in pistachio nuts (which are very expensive these days). I'm not suggesting that the Yankees are poor. Far from it. They'll still have the highest payroll in baseball, and it won't be that close.
No, the Yankees won't have a bake sale to raise money anytime soon, but the difference between the 2012 roster and previous collections of talent is they can't afford to be reckless anymore. When it came to getting the best player in the game, they got him. When it came to extending him after an MVP season, they extended him. When it came to getting the best free-agent pitcher on the market, they got him. When Mark Teixeira was the best hitter available, they locked him up for eight years. It went on and on, trickling down the roster. And all the while, they were paying their homegrown players market price because they could afford to keep them Yankees for life.
It looked like a self-sustaining machine that would never stop. This offseason, though, they hardly sniffed at C.J. Wilson, ostensibly the best starter on the market. They didn't want to get into a bidding war with the Marlins for Mark Buehrle -- mail that sentence back to 2008 if you don't like yourself. The Yankees have a rotation that is counting on some low-strikeout guys (Nova, Garcia) and rebounds (Hughes, Burnett). Which is fine. For the rest of the world. The rest of the world would be right to look at that group and hope for the best. The Yankees, though, have never had to.
The quiet offseason seems to indicate that even the Yankees have their limits. Before, their payroll limit was a myth, some theoretical construct that philosophy majors would bounce around a smoky room. Now, for at least the first couple of months of the offseason, it feels like a reality. The Yankees have $125 million committed to six players in 2013, all of whom will be 33 or older. That's not including the $28 million in options they'll likely pick up for Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, either. That would mean $153 million accounted for with 17 roster spots left to fill. You can see why they've held on to Jesus Montero like a can opener in a bomb shelter.
This is the winter that they had to look at a pitcher like Wilson and decide early if they liked him. Liked him liked him, as a fifth-grader might say. And when the answer was "not really," they signed ol' Freddy Garcia for a year and $4 million. They'll keep tabs on the short-term oldies like Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda specifically because they won't require long contracts. The early indications are that they weren't heavy bidders on Darvish. The days of picking up Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright because they were next to the register are over.
Well, for now. It's not going to last. The second that the Yankees get out of balance so much that they miss the playoffs, they'll spend money to make money. But it seems that even the Yankees can have a semi-quiet offseason. And by the time you read this, you might be chuckling because you know about the many millions they stuffed in a trebuchet and flung at Darvish. Yeah. But you can pretend like the Yankees aren't completely reckless spenders, at least for the next week or so. Maybe until the next offseason, even. It's kind of refreshing. Enjoy it while it lasts.