I would love to be a fly on the wall in Bud Selig’s office this offseason.
No, it’s not because I’d enjoy the stench of moral decay or to feast on the remains of his integrity nor a desire for the garbage that regularly goes on behind closed doors.
It’s for the phone calls that will go on during the free agent period.
The Yankees are opening a new stadium—their already staggering revenues are poised to get a sizable bump. The Steinbrenners wish to open The House That [taxpayers were suckered into paying for and will be footing the bill for its being] Built with an earth-shattering kaboom. They’re stinging from missing the postseason for the first time since the strike, and what’s worse, the Boston Red Sox may be coming off their third World Series win in five years and the Big Apple might be represented in the playoffs by the hated Metropolitans.
Talk about pouring lemon juice on a nice paper cut.
Available this offseason are names like Manny Ramirez, C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Rafael Furcal, Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, A.J. Burnett, Ben Sheets, Ryan Dempster and Francisco Rodriguez, and the Yankees have more holes than the Blue Jays’ lineup and have a $22 million option on Jason Giambi that they will likely not exercise. Also, Bobby Abreu’s contract expires at the end of the season; other players off the books for next season include Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano freeing up over $70 million in payroll space. Toss in Johnny Damon’s and Hideki Matsui’s contracts coming off the book at the end of 2009 and the Yanks have close to $100 million being cleared from the books in the very near future.
What do you suppose the odds are of (1) a major spending spree and (2) any other team outbidding the Yankees for someone they want?
We know how jittery Selig is about anything that causes salary escalation, and you can bet every agent will say the Yanks are interested in their clients, be he C.C. Sabathia or Vance Wilson.
How will Selig keep a lid on the Bombers? It will be interesting to watch whether Hank Steinbrenner’s statements about wanting prospects, prospects, prospects will mean any difference in behavior in the free agent market.
What is often forgotten about past events is that the spending habits of the Yankees provided the impetus for a lot of dirty laundry on the part of MLB. Marvin Miller opined that the collusion under Peter Ueberroth was directed as much at George Steinbrenner as it was the MLBPA. After all, no player put a gun to owners’ heads to offer large contracts, but the deals made by the Yankees dramatically raised player costs across the board.
To rein in salary costs, it was important to bring the Yankees to heel. Indeed, Miller felt it wasn’t a coincidence that Fay Vincent’s lifetime ban of Steinbrenner had as much to do with salary escalation than it did Dave Winfield. It stretches credulity to think that the rest of the owners gave a rip about whether he gave money to Howard Spira or Howard Hughes but they cared a great deal about the dollars he gave to players like Winfield since it increased their costs as well.
His banning also occurred after the collusion scheme unravelled, it should be noted.
Even more recently, the luxury tax that has emerged after the last basic agreement negotiations was aimed at the Bronx Bombers—indeed the level chosen where the tax would kick in was that year’s Yankee payroll.
We know that Selig and his cartel have lusted for a salary cap for quite some time. While it has the short-term benefit of cost control, its real bonanza lay in what it does to franchise values. A cap would increase equity across the leagues.
Best of all: it keeps the Yankees from escalating salaries, something MLB has tried to deal with since Messersmith/McNally.
Could this free agent market be a watershed?
Will there be repercussions if the Bronx Bombers end up snatching Ramirez, Sabathia, Teixeira and Burnett with deals in excess of $20 million a year? (Well, maybe not Burnett.) I discussed the whole Ramirez-to-the-Yankees in a two-part series on MSN Canada, and the Yankees will be looking to bolster a weak offense and porous rotation.
Let’s face it, there is currently more consensus among the cartel than there is in the MLBPA, and despite soaring revenues, the last two collective bargaining agreements have contained disincentives for signing players. Many clubs already treat the luxury tax threshold as a cap.
What it doesn’t do, however, is keep the biggest of the big spenders (read: the Yankees) from driving up the market for players. The luxury tax wasn’t designed to limit the Yankees’ spending but rather to insure that their expenses go up via the tax just as other teams’ expenses escalate when the Yankees inflate the market or obligate other teams to increase their payroll to compete for scarce playoff berths.
There are a couple of hopes that sanity will prevail. To begin with, the game’s staggering revenues will make it very difficult for the cartel to gamble on a work stoppage that will likely ensue should a cap be put on the table. Secondly, the Yankees spent over $200 million on a third (and possibly fourth—go Jays!) place team and that might serve as deterrent to trying to keep up with the Yankees’ spending since it can lead to bigger flops than Kohoutek (that’s what Google is for people).
Of course, there is always the irresistible allure of free money coupled with a visceral desire for payback on the union for almost four decades of embarrassing defeats at the bargaining table and elsewhere. It will ultimately come down to whether common sense and pragmatism will prevail over greed and ego—don’t forget, the commissioner has his inner circle of small-market hawks that still lust after a cap and haven’t given up hope of getting one from a splintering MLBPA.
This offseason will be telling, but this much is certain: any fly on the wall in Selig’s office will hear plenty of manure between the opening of the free agent market and when pitchers and catchers report.