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Yankees Spend for Fountain of Youth

by Tom Phillips

General Manager Brian Cashman set out to do three things this offseason. One, improve the roster. Check.

Two, make the team younger. Check.

Three, cut back on payroll. Um, check, believe it or not.

With the latest move, a last minute "vulturing" of Mark Teixeira from the Red Sox completely out of the blue (sic. most people should have known otherwise) the Yanks have signed 3 of the top 4 free agents for this offseason. Sure, the byline writers want us all to think this is high drama and completely out of the blue, but it was clear the Yanks were waiting for all the competing offers to hit the table and then one up them. Teixeira just made too much sense for the Yanks not to lock up, and now the team is set at both corner infield positions for the next 8 years.

We'll hear a lot of noise about the Yanks "buying championships" and overpaying for over-the-hill players, but this offseason has provided a glimpse at the new Yankee operating strategy under Brian Cashman. The team is simultaneously getting younger while picking up top free agents in their primes. These moves aren't your Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, or even Bobby Abreu trades or signings. Those players, while serviceable, were at the tail end of their careers. This new crop of free agents is in the 27-31 age range, players in their prime years, which will serve to butress the lineup until the Yanks current youth movement becomes major league ready in the next 2-3 years.

One of my professors has a free-agent hypothesis from a few years back, termed the Luke Pettigout theory. In a nutshell, the top free agent at a position sets the market for all the other players at that spot. In Luke Pettigout's case, he was the second best offensive tackle on the market in his contract year for the NFL. Thus, he got the second highest contract, even though he was a vast downgrade from the top OL that year, Max Starks. It's not really revolutionary thought or anything, but since the top guy is setting the market, the goal is to pay the premium for the best player rather than paying out the nose for the next best tier of player. My point is, it's better to pay more for the proven commodity then take the next best thing at a slight discount. But I digress.

The Yanks have now gotten noticeably younger. With the retirement of Mike Mussina, the parting of ways with Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi, and next years expiring contracts of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, the Yanks will have shed 5 of the oldest players on their 2008 roster, significantly dropping the age of the team and prepping for the future.

Oh, and did I metnion that the 2009 roster is still $16 million less than the 2008 roster right now? After Andy Pettitte signs for $11 million, the team will still save $5 million in payroll. Plus, the luxury tax threshhold will increase to $162 million for 2009. That will save the Yanks an additional $3 million in luxury tax payments. That's a net savings of $8 million. Who says the Yanks don't know how to cut a few corners to save some dough?

So hat tip to Mr. Cashman for taking care of all three of his priorities this offseason, and just in time for Christmas.

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