It is important to distinguish between situations in which order does and does not matter. Sometimes, the order in which events occur reveals degrees of importance, preference, or need. Think of your high school or college days. You have two tests tomorrow. In one subject, you are thriving; in the other, languishing. The rational individual would react by studying first for the latter subject, because it is more important than the former. The marginal benefits of studying the more difficult subject outweigh those of studying the easier one. You gain more by increasing your knowledge from middling to average than you do from above-average to exemplary. This is the type of situation in which order matters.
The New York Yankees’ recent spending spree is an example of order not mattering. Brian Cashman has signed C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira this offseason – in that order. This does not mean that Sabathia was more important than Burnett, who was more important than Teixeira. This order is merely the function of a variety of factors that I cannot profess to know. I do know that the Yankees planned to improve both their pitching and their hitting this offseason. The way to do that is to improve the quality of players on the roster by Opening Day of the upcoming season. Order does not matter.
I bring this up because of the general response Teixeira’s signing has elicited. Media types and fans alike seem to be in agreement that this deal was done in the name of wretched excess. Most understood signing Sabathia. Some talked themselves into Burnett. But Teixeira? How much richer must the rich get? The implication is that Teixeira was the most superfluous acquisition of the three. This is because he was the third to be signed. This deal only seems excessive because of the order. In reality, it is the most important signing of the three. Above all else, the Yankees needed to improve their offense this winter. They needed an offensive talent like Teixeira more than they needed pitching. It just seemed like the opposite was true because of the order.
The reason the Yankees missed the playoffs in 2008 was their lack of hitting. Jorge Posada missed much of the season with a shoulder injury. Robinson Cano was arguably the least valuable regular in baseball. Derek Jeter continued his slow decline. Alex Rodriguez followed a brilliant 2007 season with a merely very good 2008. Melky Cabrera regressed. Bobby Abreu saw his first major decline in OBP. Hideki Matsui missed half of the season. No one hit with runners in scoring position. The result was an offense that scored only 789 runs – its fewest in years. In the 2007-2004 seasons, the offense scored 968, 930, 886, and 897 runs, respectively. The Yankees’ run prevention in 2008 actually improved; they allowed 727 runs. In the 2007-2004 seasons, the Yankees allowed 777, 767, 789, and 808 runs, respectively. The Yankees made the playoffs from 2007-2004 on the strength of a powerful offense and passable pitching. In 2008, the Yankees had passable pitching, but nothing resembling a powerful offense.
Mark Teixeira provides a significant upgrade in offense and defense. Last season, Teixeira had a .308 BA, .410 OBP, and .552 SLG. He hit 33 HRs and posted a 10.1 UZR (ultimate zone rating). This combination of strong offense and defense resulted in a WARP of 10, eighth highest in Major League Baseball. Over the last three years, Teixeira is 13th in baseball in HRs, 12th in walks, 11th in OBP, and 12th in SLG. He is fifth in UZR among first-basemen in that time span. Over the last five years, an average season for Teixeira has been a .386 OBP, a .553 SLG, 35 HRs, 80 walks, and a 7.6 WARP in 151 games played. A switch-hitter, he has no discernible problems on either side of the plate. His career line as a left-handed hitter is .281/.371/.541; it is .309/.393/.541 from the right side. Teixeira is also only 28 years old.
Of course, it would be prudent to examine the production that Teixeira is replacing. After all, replacing excellent production with excellent production does little to improve on the margins. Nominally, he is replacing a hodgepodge of Yankee first-basemen, including Jason Giambi, Wilson Betemit, Shelley Duncan, Richie Sexson, and Cody Ransom. As a group, Yankee first-basemen posted a .245/.347/.456 line in 2008. They hit 34 HRs, and had a -5.2 UZR, which was third-worst in baseball. This motley crew had a WARP of 6. Teixeira represents roughly a four-win upgrade at the position, perhaps more considering his improvement. Such an upgrade is enormous, particularly in the brutal AL East.
From these numbers, it is clear that Teixeira is a tremendous acquisition. He gets on base at an excellent rate and hits for very good power. His defense is wonderful by any statistical measurement. He is young, durable, and a switch-hitter with no significant splits. Teixeira’s presence in the lineup will help address the Yankees’ most glaring need entering the 2009 season – offense.
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I would also like to comment on the melodramatic and persistent outcry surrounding the Yankees’ spending. The Yankees’ payroll will almost assuredly be lower in 2009 than it was in 2008. This likelihood seems to have been lost in outrage somewhere. Let me explain.
In 2008, the Yankees’ payroll was $209,081,579. They have since lost Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Kyle Farnsworth, Wilson Betemit, and the greatest Yankee of all-time, Carl Pavano. As a result, roughly $85 million has been slashed from the payroll. This puts the Yankees at about $124,500,000. After adding Damaso Marte, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, and Xavier Nady’s 2009 salaries to that figure, the Yankees’ payroll stands at about $187,400,000. Their last addition figures to be Andy Pettitte, who made $16 million in 2008. He will, however, likely return for less money. For emphasis’ sake, he would have to return for $21 million to approach the Yankees’ 2008 payroll. That is not going to happen.
I understand that harping on the difference between 2008’s $209 million payroll and 2009’s likely $200 million payroll may seem laughable. I would also point out that it is no more laughable than the ill-conceived claims that the Yankees are ruining baseball with their spending. Based on the sports media’s reaction, you would think that the Yankees are pushing $300 million entering 2009. This is simply not the case. They had over $80 million come off the books, and are reinvesting that money into two or three prime free agents. They would be remiss not to.