Baseball Owners, Why are You Helping the Yankees?

I am a die-hard Yankees’ fan. As a Yankees fan, I’m excited by their pick-ups before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, but I am very surprised by what was exchanged in the deals.

Typically, when you see a team make a trade to pick up an impact player, they have to give something up.

Here in St. Louis, the Cardinals had to do just that, giving up starting right fielder Ryan Ludwick to get starting pitcher Jake Westbrook, whom the Cardinals believe will complete their rotation through the end of the season.  Ludwick was a Silver Slugger winner in 2008 and was hitting .283 with 11 HR and 43 RBI at the time of the trade.  More importantly, perhaps, Ludwick was, by all accounts, an exceptionally positive force in the Cardinals’ clubhouse.  Westbrook is a sub-.500 career pitcher, who is 6-7 with a 4.65 ERA in 2010.  The Cardinals wanted him, however, so they had to give up value.

Lance Berkman in His New Yankees Uniform

In Los Angeles, in order to get Ted Lilly for their rotation, the Dodgers had to give up their starting second baseman, Blake DeWitt, and two minor leaguers.  DeWitt is only 25, has a .980 fielding percentage at second base, and was hitting .277 at the time of the trade.  For this up-and-comer, the Dodgers got Lilly, 3-8 with a 3.69 ERA this year and a free-agent at the end of the season, and Ryan Theriot, the Cubs starting second baseman, a bit older than DeWitt and hitting .283 with only 21 RBI when traded.  To compensate the Dodgers for the loss of a potential superstar, the Cubs also shipped the Dodgers $2.5M to cover some of Lilly’s remaining salary.

To their credit, the Yankees picked up three strong role players for their stretch run:

  • Lance Berkman from the Astros, a switch hitting first basement and designated hitter. Berkman is a career .296 hitter, a five-time all-star, and a good first basemen with a fielding percentage of .995 in 2009.
  • Austin Kearns from the Indians, a steady outfielder and possible designated hitter. Kearns is a lifetime .258 hitter, but he was hitting .272 at the time of the trade and has a career .986 fielding percentage playing all three outfield positions.
  • Kerry Wood from the Indians, who will be given the opportunity to take on the 7th or 8th inning set up role for closer Mariano Rivera. Wood is having an unremarkable season and is just off the disabled list, but consistently has more strikeouts than innings pitched throughout his career.

Unlike the Cardinals and Dodgers, however, the Yankees didn’t give up a single player on the major league roster:

  • For Berkman, the Yankees gave up a AAA relief pitcher Mark Melancon, who has appeared in a total of 25 major league games in his career, and Jimmy Paredes, a minor league shortstop at the A level.
  • For Kearns, the Yankees traded a “player to be named later.”
  • For Wood, the Yankees traded a “player to be named later” or $500,000, if the Indians decide against a player

    Kerry Wood Pitches in His First Yankees Game

Let’s delve a bit deeper into the trades.  The Astros also gave the Yankees $4 million towards Berkman’s remaining 2010 salary of $5.5 million and a $2 million buyout.   The Indians also gave the Yankees $2,172,131 towards Woods’ remaining 2010 salary of $3,672,131.  The Indians did not give any money along with Kearns, but, then again, his entire 2010 salary is only $750,000.

I find this amazing.  The Yankees already have the largest payroll in the major leagues ($206 million in 2010), the most revenues (between $450 and $500 million in 2009), and likely turned a profit even with other operating costs.  Yet the Astros, with $189 million in 2009 revenues, and the Indians, with $170 million in 2009 team revenues, both sent the Yankees money.

Why?  Rational economics suggest the Astros must want to save the $3.5 million they will with Berkman, and the Indians must want to save the $1.5M they will with Woods. The other possible answer is that Yankees’ competitors are in such poor economic shape that they can’t afford the $3.5 million the Yankees will pay Berkman and the $1.5 million the Yankees will pay Woods.  I find either difficult to believe.  All deals end in 2010, so there is no savings or extra payments beyond this season.

In the end, Yankees gave up very little to make themselves much stronger for the stretch run.  ESPN, NBC Sports, Yahoo! Sports, and Sports Illustrated all list the Yankees among the trade deadline “winners.”  In my opinion, they were basically paid to take these players.  Could the Jimmy Paredes for Lance Berkman deal work out as poorly for the Yankees as the Curt Shilling for Glenn Davis deal did for the Orioles back in 1991?  It’s possible, but it will take years to know.

For all the complaining about the lack of a salary cap and complaining about how the Yankees buy championships, I’m amazed that other teams are willing to ship the Yankees money to help them make their team better on another championship run.  To me, it doesn’t make sense.  Good for Brian Cashman, Joe Girardi and the Yankees.  Shame on the rest of the league.