The Big A 6: Playing It Safe

Apparently, the Yankees didn't get the memo about a recession.

 

Three ballplayers and more than $400 million later, the spoiled Steinbrenners have a collection of expensive new toys.

 

The Angels, losing slugger Mark Teixeira and relief ace Francisco Rodriguez to the avarice of the Big Apple, have played the free agency game more in line with the times. They doled out more than $30 million to ink Rodriguez's replacement, Brian Fuentes, and outfielder Juan Rivera, much more modest and economical buys than the aforementioned pair.

 

And that's a good thing.

 

While Arte Moreno has consistently inked A-list free agents in his tenure, the Yankees fire-hydrant-like hemorrhaging of money has made it impossible to do so in times when many baseball fans will be priced out of the escalating cost of the ballpark experience.

 

And while the Yanks may be coming, history shows awarding huge sums to players, pitchers especially, can be fatal moves.

 

In spending more than $210 million on the services of C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, they have taken quite the gamble. Barry Zito ($126 million) and Mike Hampton ($121 million) were paid huge by the Giants and Rockies, respectively, to throw batting practice. The Yanks themselves paid Carl Pavano $40 million -- based off the success of one season -- to watch him win nine games over four injury-marred seasons.

 

Even when the performance is there, exorbitant signings do not translate to success.

 

The Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez to a $252 million contract after the 2000 season to finish in dead last three years in a row as Rodriguez posted MVP-caliber number all along. Hamstrung by his contract, they would trade him to the Yanks in 2004, eating $67 million in the process.

 

"It's about flexibility," then-Texas general manager John Hart said at the time of the deal. "We're trading the best player in the game and we're getting tremendous financial flexibility."

 

Of course, I'm not saying that the Angels signing Teixeira for $180 million would have doomed them. But should things have gone sour, the team would have severe fiscal limitations for years to come and a monster contract few would likely fully absorb.

 

The Yankees dramatic spending spree has rewritten the rules to assure that any prominent player will receive pacts that demand All Star performances year in and year out to justify their wealth. It's just not worth it.

 

Yes, I understand that big contracts are part and parcel with baseball in 2009, but the Angels have played things smart, puttying the cracks left by the departures with more reasonable purchases. Lest us not forget this is still a squad that won 100 games last year. The team might have lost a first basemen, but the won the off-season chess game, staying competitive while keeping their resources plentiful in times that call for it.

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