Two of my favorite writers on the web have posts up about baseball salary, so I've been thinking about Yankee salaries for 2010 and beyond.
First, Joe Posnanski* wonders whether Joe Mauer is the most valuable player in the game right now. While Pujols is the superior hitter, the big money teams already have significant investments at first base (though I think the Angels and Sox would put Morales and Youk in left field or at third), and (this is the cogent point) why spend $30M on Pujols if you can have a Tex or a Miggy Cabrera for just $20M? There's not really a $10M difference between the best and the second best.
But Mauer is different because there is a $10M difference and more. Every team needs Joe Mauer because no one has a great hitting catcher. The O's have a hope that Wietters will be that guy, the Yankees have a dream in the minor leagues. But every big money bidder would be in on a 3 time batting champ, MVP, led the league in everything important catcher.
Then Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs hit me with a little musing on why we don't spend more time evaluating a player according to what percentage of his team's budget he occupies. The Pirates could sign Mauer, but then they wouldn't field a team at the other 8 spots (in fairness, the last time I watched the Pirates I was pretty sure they only had 7 guys on the field anyway, so maybe it's not a bad idea).
So I've been thinking about what money means to the Yankees.
And here I'm going to argue that the Yankees are different from 25 or 26 of the teams in baseball because the Yankees are a brand. I think the Cubs, the Red Sox and maybe the Cardinals are in this same class (the Cubs and Sox because of their historic stadiums, the Cards because of the singularity of their fanbase).
People go to a Yankee game because it's a Yankee game. I don't know yet if new Yankee Stadium will positively or negatively effect this. But when a tourist takes a trip to New York City, after they cross off the Statue of Liberty and Times Square, at least some portion of the population will feel "I came all the way here so I should go to the Ballpark in the Bronx."
Second, winning is worth more to the Yankees than any other team in the league. The YES Network gives the Yankees a revenue stream that most other teams can't touch. The Mets and Red Sox have started to catch up, but that's really it. If the Angels or Dodgers have started their own networks I haven't heard about it yet, but I think they should. When the Yanks are winning, the commercials are worth more, the cable rights are worth more, and the Yanks can charge more to My9 or whomever wants the ratings boost of carrying a big game (tangent- how long until we see the MLB schedulers arranging name brand matchups according to sweeps week?).
Watch the stands in Mattingly's Yankeeography. When the Yankees are winning they'll lead the league in attendance- and therefore, concession sales- but when it gets ugly, there's too much else to do in NYC. The Yanks have to field a competitive team to keep the cycle rolling.
Third and finally, because the Yankees are a brand, and because they are a corporate giant always in search of fresh markets, there are certain players who function as assets to the non-baseball wing of the franchise. This reality is a large part of the argument to re-sign Hideki Matsui: he's worth more to the Yankees than his salary because of the exposure he brings them in the Japanese market. This same logic will apply to Derek Jeter; he's already the franchise hit leader, and his 3000th hit and any other baseball or Yankee milestone will be worth as much to the team as they would save by replacing him with another player.
Coming up next: Yankee Salaries and Future Commitments.