The four highest-paid players in baseball — in baseball history, actually — all now play for the New York Yankees. For all Major League Baseball’s talk of competitive balance and revenue sharing, that’s as simple a stat as one could imagine. The four men being paid more than anyone has ever been paid to play baseball all get checks from the Yankees.
Yesterday, the Yankees — whose need to spend this off-season was well documented before it began — pulled their biggest coup since trading for Alex Rodriguez four years ago right out from under the Red Sox’s noses. While the Angels, Red Sox, Nationals, and Orioles were diddling around Mark Teixeira, the Yankees swooped in and signed baseball’s top free agent, handing the first baseman $180 million over eight years. This is more than they paid CC Sabathia a couple of weeks ago, though, to be fair, Teixeira does play more than once every five days.
Teixeira fills a far bigger need than Sabathia did, taking over for Jason Giambi at first base, providing far better defense and more consistent power. Teixeira is only 28 years old, so the Yankees are getting him through his peak years. He gives them flexibility in the outfield — now that Nick Swisher doesn’t have to play at first — but more to the point, they’ve signed one of baseball’s most stable offensive producers for the next eight years. Yankees fans will love watching this guy until 2016.
No one else in baseball will, though. As you might suspect, the Yankees’ gobbling up of the top three free agents this off-season — Sabathia, Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett (and they’re not done!) — is not sitting well with teams who have less financial resources. “At the rate the Yankees are going, I’m not sure anyone can compete with them,” Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio e-mailed to Bloomberg News. “Frankly, the sport might need a salary cap.” Attanasio’s still bitter about losing Sabathia (and, presumably, living in Milwaukee), but he’s far from alone. The Teixeira signing came one day after the Yankees paid $27 million in luxury tax for spending too much on payroll last year; it doesn’t appear they’re too concerned about it, considering they’ve spent $423.5 million in one month. (During, we might add, an economic apocalypse.)
The rest of baseball can scoff, but the Yankees are spending their money on talent, rather than pocketing it or stuffing it under their pillow. Spending $423.5 million in a month doesn’t guarantee a title, of course. But it does guarantee headlines, and plenty of butts in seats. Remembering how last year’s cheap youth-movement flirtation went, it’s no surprise the Yankees are buying up everyone this year. The rest of baseball can just deal with it. The Yankees get who they want, when they want them. It’s why they’re the Yankees.