The Yankees’ spending freeze was expected to thaw this winter. With two of baseball’s brightest young stars on the market and reportedly eager to shine in the Bronx, almost everyone assumed at least one would be wearing pinstripes. Conventional wisdom was wrong. In fact, the Yankees didn’t even make a formal offer to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Free agency, it seems, has become too rich for the team with the highest revenue in the game.

Although some fans will undoubtedly feel betrayed by the Yankees’ refusal to spend at levels commensurate with the league average, the team’s reluctance to invest in elite free agents has become a well telegraphed aversion. Throughout the winter, Hal Steinbrenner bemoaned the team’s operating costs and warned about the need to save up for the future commitments that will be needed to retain the team’s young core. No one should take Steinbrenner’s first lament seriously because the high cost of operating in New York is greatly mitigated by the tax-preferred financing and anti-trust protection that have helped the team’s enterprise value balloon. But, what about the appeal to future cash flow? Is the Yankees’ reluctance to spend on free agents justified by the looming cost of retaining its own star players?

To effectively evaluate this claim, we first need to identify the players the Yankees hope to extend. Since Steinbrenner’s comments were made, the team inked Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks to long-term, team-friendly deals, so that leaves Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres as young stars who have the potential to command exorbitant salaries as their careers progress. How exorbitant? The chart below attempts to put a price tag on the team’s new core four.

Projecting the Future Cost of the New Core Four

Note: Current service time records are Bryant at $10.85mn, Betts at $20mn and Donaldson at $23mn. Blue shading represents arbitration eligible years. Torres has four years of eligibility, but a free agent contract after year three is assumed.

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(This updated post was originally published on February 16, 2011)

For over 20 years, Tampa has been the Yankees’ spring training home, but it still seems like just yesterday when the team’s camp was located down the coast in Ft. Lauderdale. I am sure most fans who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s still reflexively harken back to those days of yore, while the real old timers’ memories take them all the way back to St. Petersburg, where Yankees’ legends from Ruth to Mantle toiled under the Florida sun.

Over the years, spring training has evolved significantly. Once upon a time, it was a pre-season retreat designed to help out-of-shape ballplayers shed the pounds added over the winter. In the early part of the last century, before even reporting to camp, players would often attend spas in places like Hot Springs, where they would purge their bodies of the iniquities from the offseason. Then, games would either be played among split squads (in the old days, the camps would be split into teams of veterans and hopeful rookies, the latter often called Yannigans) or against local minor league and college ball clubs. Finally, the teams would barnstorm their way back up north before finally kicking off the regular season.

Today, spring training is more big business than quaint tradition. Thanks to the growing competition between cities in Arizona and Florida (each state now hosts 15 major league clubs), teams have been able to extract sweetheart stadium deals, allowing them to turn the exhibition season into a significant profit center. Still, at the heart of spring training is hope and renewal as teams begin the long journey that is the baseball season.

The Yankees’ spring history has been a journey all its own. Below is an outline of some significant mileposts along the way.

Yankees’ Spring Training Homes Since 1901

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For the second straight winter, baseball’s hot stove has run cold. With the free agent market in a deep freeze, unthawed by the superstar talent of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and the game’s former big spenders conspicuous by their inactivity, whispers about pending labor strife have grown louder. Some have even mentioned the “C” word. But, it’s not collusion that has thrown a damper on the off season. Another “C” word is at the heart of the game’s transactional malaise…Competition…or the lack thereof.

Throughout the history of baseball labor negotiations, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) has been an advocate of the free market, at least to the extent one can exist in a sport with an anti-trust exemption. The union has consistently resisted artificial means of sharing the game’s wealth, such as salary caps and floors, because it believed the biggest piece of the pie could be obtained by allowing free agents to be valued by the highest bidder. And, until recently, they had been exactly right.

So, what has changed? After having the pendulum swing completely in their favor, the MLBPA has gradually ceded its advantage by making concessions. Limits on amateur pay, which increase the value of young players relative to veterans, as well as a more punitive competitive balance tax (CBT) system are two examples that have had a chilling effect. But, they alone are not responsible for the rapid cooling caused by the burgeoning crisis of competition.

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AP has released MLB’s official salary data for 2018, and in many stories there is some conflicting data, particularly with regard to the percentage of revenue allocated to salaries. Following are some clarification and interpretation.

You will often see Scott Boras quoted with a claim that players get a mid-40% share, but it seems like the revenue figures are gross and include MLBAM contributions. Also, only payroll is included (i.e., not benefits and post season share).  This makes sense from an agent perspective.

The union is frequently quoted as saying the share is about 50%. That seems to jibe with a net revenue figure compared to MLB total compensation. I am guessing the revenue excludes Stadium debt, but includes contributions from related businesses.

An owners’ spokesperson will usually cite a mid-50% number, but that includes minor league player expenses and excludes MLBAM contributions (but, reportedly, does not exclude Stadium debt).

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Major League Baseball may be in the midst of a free agency paradigm shift, but Yasmani Grandal’s contract is not the tipping point.

After the 30-year old catcher signed a one-year deal, instead of the multi-year deal he expected, many have wondered whether this will be the last straw that breaks the back of baseball’s recent run of labor peace. Unfortunately, such hyperbole (see below for why Grandal’s contract is not, by itself, unreasonable) distracts from the broader issues that are not only impacting free agency, but also threatening the integrity of the game.

For the first time since 2010, player payrolls and total compensation, including benefits and postseason bonuses, did not grow. As a result, the player’s share of total revenue, as estimated by Forbes, is likely to dip below 50% for the first time since at least 2001 (note: the MLB and MLBPA come to different percentages based on their calculation of applicable revenue and compensation). That’s not a cause for panic, but if the pie continues to shift, there very well could be a labor reckoning down the road.

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Five years after parting, the Yankees and Robinson Cano could be headed for a reunion. The Mariners, who have begun an aggressive tear down, are reportedly eager to shed the $120 million remaining on Cano’s contract, and the Bronx Bombers are one of the teams that has expressed an interest. But, is Cano still a good fit in pinstripes, and, if so, how would such a deal work?

Would Cano have a role on the current Yankee team? Before crunching the numbers, let’s consider that question first. Now 36, Cano’s best defensive days are in the past, and his usefulness as a second baseman is waning, but he can still hit. Looking further out, it’s not hard to imagine Cano serving as a DH in the mold of David Ortiz, who, incidentally, had some of his best seasons after the age Cano is now. For this year, however, Cano’s increased versatility could be of particular value.  With Didi Gregorius expected to miss at least the first half, and the Yankees’ infield now in flux, Cano could be a stop gap at second (even if the team also acquires Manny Machado). In addition, Cano, who played 14 games at first base in 2018, could serve in that role as the lefty platoon complement to Luke Voit, and also DH when Giancarlo Stanton plays the field.

Robinson Cano vs. David Ortiz: wRC+ by Age

Source: fangraphs.com

Getting his bat in the lineup could take some creativity, but the value of doing so is unquestionable. Not only did Cano’s wRC+ of 136 in half a season surpass his career mark, but it ranked 21st in all of baseball among hitters who had at least 300 plate appearances. What’s more, Cano being a lefty and having a relatively higher rate of contact would add needed diversification to the Yankees’ lineup.

The answer is clear. Cano fits. But, does his contract? Continue Reading »

All data is final as of October 29, 2018.

One of baseball’s most often repeated axioms states that, although home runs work just fine in the regular season, once the calendar turns to October, small ball becomes a more effective method for scoring runs. This mantra is proclaimed with such certainty that all who hear it seem to unquestionably accept its infallibility. However, since the dawn of the wild card era, history has suggested otherwise (though home runs have declined in the post season since 1995, runs scored by other means have dropped more significantly). So, as a service to those home run fanatics who refuse to accept the short comings of the long ball in the post season, the Captain’s Blog Presents the 2018 Long Ball Meter (click on the links for 2016 and 2017), which will not only keep a running breakdown of how runs are scored this postseason, but also present that data in a historical context. In addition, a historical comparison (since 1995) of the share of post season innings by role is also presented.

Current Season Data

Long Ball Meter: Regular Season vs. Postseason, 2018


Note: Long/Small Ball Meter compares the rate of runs scored via the home run to all other means. Regular season data is for playoff teams only.  Averages are per team per game.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Long Ball vs. Small Ball Tactics: Regular Season vs. Postseason, 2018

Note: Averages are per team per game.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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