December 28, 2008 in Sports

Spending on teams rarely pays off

Great squads built, not bought
By Phil Rogers Chicago Tribune
 
Associated Press photo

Associated Press Mark Teixeira puts up big numbers, but the Yankees’ recent acquisition has never finished higher than seventh in MVP voting.
(Full-size photo)

Impatience rarely is rewarded in baseball.

It happens, sure. The World Series the infant franchises in Florida (1997) and Arizona (2001) won come to mind. But there have been a lot more spectacular failures than successes from teams that spend heavily to get themselves to the top.

Think of the White Sox in the Albert Belle-Frank Thomas years. The Dodgers with guys like Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort. The Mets in the era of Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado.

The Tigers of the past two years, when they added Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the mix that had won a pennant in 2006. Even the Cubs, who are yet to get a playoff victory from the purchase of Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Kosuke Fukudome and Mark DeRosa.

The teams that have sustained success in the past two decades were built around players who blossomed into stars during the process: the Braves of the 1990s; the Yankees when they won four World Series in five years; the Indians of Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome; the Cardinals in Albert Pujols’ first six seasons; the Angels of the past seven seasons; and the Jason Varitek-Nomar Garciaparra-David Ortiz Red Sox.

None of the great teams has been purchased, but the Yankees of 2009-11 now are poised to become the first.

It’s true the Yankees still have stars they developed in Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. But after committing $796 million to elite free agents with an average age of 32.4 years the past two years – retaining Alex Rodriguez, Posada and Rivera while adding Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett – there’s little comparison to the franchise that won with guys like Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius and a young Andy Pettitte.

With a new, heavily subsidized – and possibly criminally financed stadium (someone could go to jail over the inflated appraisal of the land) – the Yankees conduct business as if they live in a booming economy. Their fans are thrilled; fans of the other 29 teams, not so much.

The meter is still running, of course. But as of Christmas, the Yankees had outspent the other 29 teams in free agency this winter – $423.5 million to $296.6 million. That’s staggering.

Will it work? We won’t know until next October, and history suggests the odds are against a team built around the superbly talented Rodriguez and Teixeira, who have had minimal effect.

Reggie Jackson thrived as “the straw that stirs the drink” in another era. He didn’t care if he looked selfish, he wanted to win; and his teams played loose enough to win the big games (11 of 17 postseason series with the A’s, Yankees and Angels, including four of five World Series).

Rodriguez (especially) and Teixeira seem to want it both ways. The skills that put them in the middle of the lineup, as well as their paychecks, suggest they should be leaders, but they never have led their franchises. Rodriguez seems to want to be Jeter – a regular guy who drives in runs as he helps little old ladies across the street – and Teixeira seemingly just wants to be left alone.

Imagine the contract Teixeira would have received if he had done anything except put up stats. After all, this is a star who in his first six seasons never has been higher than seventh in MVP voting.

Between them, Rodriguez and Teixeira have played in 11 postseason series. Their teams are a combined 22-29, advancing to the next round only three times.

Sabathia’s teams have won one of his four postseason series. Burnett never has played in the postseason (he was hurt when Florida won in 2003).

For what it’s worth, the Yankees haven’t said they are done spending. Why not still add Manny Ramirez?

He’s like Jackson – a pain who delivers when it counts.


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