10:53 am Feb. 27, 2012
While the Mets have been gearing up for the season by attacking players in the media for reporting to spring training on time (you know, appearances) and chartering a private helicopter to speed them to a basketball game (never mind about appearances), the Yankees have quietly added vital depth to their roster at a decidedly un-Yankee cost.
Gone is pitcher A.J. Burnett, and his top-tier starter's price tag. The Yankees traded him to the Pirates, with Pittsburgh taking on $13 million of Burnett's salary, the real prize in the deal, and adding two minimally interesting prospects. Burnett figured to check in around seventh on the New York pitching depth chart, and once Pittsburgh increased its offer beyond the $8-10 million initially offered, this was a great move for the Yankees.
With the savings, the Yankees turned around and signed three players: Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and David Aardsma. Most critically, the combined guaranteed cost of these three players is just $2.5 million.
What do the Yankees get for their money?
In Ibanez, signed to a one-year, $1.1 million contract, they receive a lefty bat who can complement Andruw Jones on the bench, play the outfield occasionally, and fit in well with a clubhouse that values professionalism.
His trend against righties is going the wrong way: .859, .828 and .747 O.P.S. the last three years. That is to be expected from a player turning 40 this year. But the Yankees hope the short right-field porch will be a career-reviver for Ibanez.
Ultimately, for a few hundred thousand over the league minimum, the Yankees have locked in a potential bounce-back player at minimal risk. When the rumors swirled that the Burnett cash would simply be turned over to Ibanez, the deal made little sense. Ibanez, however, is receiving about 1/13 of what the team was spending on Burnett.
The Yankees made a similar bet on Eric Chavez, the once-great third baseman for the Oakland Athletics, now utility infielder for the Yankees, with a one-year, $900,000 deal. Chavez gives the Yankees another lefty bat, though his once-potent offensive output has been reduced to a trickle.
Chavez represents a nominal amount of insurance if Alex Rodriguez misses any significant time due to injury, and gives New York a likely floor of production, like Ibanez does. Both moves, in other words, indicate that the Yankees like where they are, and wish to lock in their gains rather than sign younger players with more upside (but also more volatility).
The final move, post-Burnett, was the acquisition of reliever David Aardsma, on a one-year, $500,000 contract with a team option for the same amount. Aardsma, 30, bounced around for most of his 20s, producing strong strikeout rates and elevated walk rates for a complete package of reasonable effectiveness out of the bullpen. He missed the 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery, which he underwent last July.
The result should be a return at around the one-year mark from the date of the surgery. Put another way, while contending teams are looking to pay exorbitant rates in prospects for the right to add late-inning relievers, the Yankees will have one in their back pocket, for very little salary, that costs them nothing in minor league treasure. And if Aardsma works out, they'll have him signed for very little in 2013, too.
The best may be still to come concerning the Burnett savings. Ibanez and Aardsma do have incentives that can push their salaries higher, but the Yankees still appear to have approximately $10 million to spend that they didn't have prior to the Burnett deal. Should the opportunity to add players other teams are looking to dump, they have added flexibility. Come next summer, they have additional money to spend in the draft. Or come next winter, they can use that money toward a far more effective player than A.J. Burnett.
The move represents Yankee thinking at its best. When the behemoth in The Bronx spends its money without regard to surrounding moves, things like Rafael Soriano and A.J. Burnett happen. But when they are careful, the Yankees can maximize their already-incomparable incomparable payroll. And that's what they've done here, just in time for spring training.