Yankees keep on spending
By Ronald Blum
NEW YORK ó The big, bad Yankees are flexing their mighty checkbook, and the rest of baseball isn’t happy.
While the recession has many teams cautious about spending, the Yankees remain in a Gilded Age, dropping more than $400 million on high-profile free agents, including an eight-year deal Tuesday with first baseman Mark Teixeira. The Mets have lavished big money, too, and other teams are jealous.
“This year they just both went crazy,” San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito said of New York’s teams. “All these people are going East now. It’s crazy.”
The Yankees tend to let criticism bounce off their pinstripes.
“I’ve got enough things to worry about and think about,” co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner said. “I try not to concentrate on any of that.”
Across a city where cocktail party talk centers on the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme and the demise of Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch, the two baseball teams have grabbed attention with their dazzling deals during a time of retrenchment.
How in the world can they afford this?
Well, the Yankees already own about one-third of their own regional sports cable network.
They’ve started their own concession company in conjunction with the Dallas Cowboys.
And now they have a new, $1.3 billion ballpark opening in April.
The top ticket at the new Yankee Stadium goes for $2,500 next season.
The best seat at Citi Field seems like a discount, averaging $495 (the Mets have five different price scales, depending on the opponent and day).
“We are very sensitive to the economic conditions, to people’s concerns,” Yankees president Randy Levine said. “We monitor it very closely and, if necessary, can made adjustments. But as we stand today, we believe strongly that our fans and customers appreciate that we continue to reinvest in our product.”
The Mets, whose owners also own a share of their own network, made the first big free-agent move. They struck a $37 million, three-year agreement with closer Francisco Rodriguez.
But that was a pittance compared to the nearly quarter-billion dollars ó $243.5 million to be precise ó the Yankees committed on a single day last week for a pair of starting pitchers: CC Sabathia got a $161 million, seven-year contract and oft-injured A.J. Burnett was enticed to the Bronx with an $82.5 million, five-year deal. New York followed that up by striking a $180 million deal with Teixeira.
After the Yankees’ streak of 13 consecutive postseason appearances ended, you could count on them to set the top of the market. Around the rest of baseball, the highest free-agent contract belongs to Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster, who will receive $52 million over four seasons to remain at Wrigley Field.
While the archrival Boston Red Sox play in Fenway Park, with the smallest capacity in the major leagues at about 37,750, the Yankees are moving into a ballpark next season that holds 52,325 ó about 4,500 seats fewer than their old stadium. The Red Sox had also pursued Teixeira.
“From the moment we arrived in Boston in late 2001, we saw it as a monumental challenge,” owner John Henry said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “We sought to reduce the financial gap and succeeded to a degree. Now with a new stadium filled with revenue opportunities, they have leaped away from us again. So we have to be even more careful in deploying our resources.”
Even without the income from the new stadium, the Yankees already have paid out the top average salary in the major leagues for the past 10 seasons, according to the Major League Baseball Players Association. This year’s $223 million final payroll, according to the commissioner’s office, was more than double the $96 million MLB average and more than eight times Florida’s $27 million.
Yet, the Yankees do help subsidize the other teams. New York is paying $26.9 million in luxury tax ó just $141,000 less than the payroll for the Florida Marlins’ entire 40-man roster. Throw in revenue-sharing payments, and the Yankees are contributing $110 million to Major League Baseball for this year.
“As long as we follow all the rules, which we do, provide hundreds of millions of dollars, as we have over the past several years to other teams, and spearhead enormous revenue to the commissioner’s office, networks and other entities, people should allow us to run our business the way we think is the most appropriate,” Levine said.
The Mets’ new ballpark appears modest in comparison. Citi Field costs $800 million, and at 45,000 holds about 7,000 fewer fans than the new Yankee Stadium.
While the Yankees almost never rule themselves out of signing any free agent, Rodriguez is the only pricey player the Mets have signed.
“Everybody is taking a little bit of a cautious approach,” chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said.
Steinbrenner is sensitive to repeated mentions of the Yankees’ 4,300 premium seats, which cost $100 per game and up.
“That’s not a fair assessment as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “The truth of the matter is half the seats in the stadium are less than $45, $45 or less.”
His team hasn’t won the World Series since 2000 and hasn’t even won the AL pennant since 2003. Yankees players are reminded of the goal every time they see the back of manager Joe Girardi, who wears No. 27 ó representing that elusive 27th title.
“If the Yankees don’t make the playoffs, they are going to do whatever they need to do to get back to where they want to go,” the Giants’ Randy Winn said. “You were expecting the New York teams to do something and make a splash.”
And they may not be finished.
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