On the surface baseball's economics are pretty simple. Players that produce at higher levels get paid higher salaries. Fair enough, but that theory rarely, if ever, works out in baseball reality. Injuries and age take their toll on players that were once highly productive by diminishing their skills or keeping them off the field altogether. The unsettling reality is that injured and aging players tend to get paid on past merits, though, because they often have signed longterm contracts in their prime.
The large bags of money shelled out for little or no production on the field skews the production/salary balance. Yankee fans are no strangers to this concept in 2013. On the opposite end of the spectrum, young major league players are relative indentured servants for their teams over the first six years of their career. While their salaries can increase year to year, especially with arbitration eligibility in years four through six, they are often paid significantly less than they would be offered as a free agent.
How can one then put a universal dollar value on production with all of this variability? Luckily, fangraphs provides a dollarized WAR value for every player in the major leagues since 2002. Their dollar value basically takes the money spent on free agents and divides by the total WAR that those free agents were worth. The result is the market value of a marginal win (around $5 million these days) that can be applied to all players. There is a really good explanation of the calculation here.
Armed with the fangraphs dollar values and actual salaries paid to Yankee players so far this year (courtesy of cot's baseball contracts) a comparison of the two for each player can be done easily. The comparisons below are only for the Yankees that have played the most games at each position in 2013. The Yankees have obviously spent a ton of money on players who have played a handful or no games at all, but the focus here is on the money spent and value returned for the players actually playing.
All data as of 7/11/13 (92 games into season), salary data is rounded to the nearest $100,000.
Catcher - Chris Stewart
Yankees $ paid so far: $300,000
Value in $ so far: $4,500,000
Yankees $ saved: $4,200,000
Strange but true. Thanks to some solid work behind the plate, Stewart has actually been pretty valuable to the Yankees this season. Girardi has always stuck up for him when it comes to his defensive ability as a catcher and the advanced metrics agree with him. Get used to players providing value despite hitting like Kevin Maas in the twilight of his career, this team is chock full of them. With the $4.2 million the Yankees are saving they could purchase a Chris Stewart clone to use instead of Austin Romine the day after a night game.
First base - Lyle Overbay
Yankees $ paid so far: $700,000
Value in $ so far: $1,000,000
Yankees $ saved: $300,000
A team normally doesn't expect much from a player that's picked up off the scrap heap right before the season starts. This being the 2013 Yankees, Overbay has gone from afterthought to everyday cog in the lineup. To his credit, he's done enough to warrant his starting gig and help the team tread water so far. Just imagine how many fake moustaches Hank Steinbrenner could buy Lyle with the money he's saving.
Second base - Robinson Cano
Yankees $ paid so far: $8,500,000
Value in $ so far: $17,400,000
Yankees $ saved: $8,900,000
The only true Yankee superstar will be due for a much deserved payday with free agency looming after this season. There's no question that he's been the key to the Yankees success for a while now, so it's obvious how they should spend all of that surplus money: The world's first $9 million bag of sunflower seeds.
Shortstop - Jayson Nix
Yankees $ paid so far: $500,000
Value in $ so far: $1,300,000
Yankees $ saved: $800,000
The quintessential replacement player has gone from fighting for a roster spot to becoming a super-sub to being pressed into everyday duty this year. Unfortunately he's one of the worst hitters in the AL, but has buoyed that with a versatile glove and excellent base running. Regardless, his place is on the bench so Derek Jeter's second try at returning can't come soon enough (again). That's why the Yanks should invest the $800,000 savings in that Extremis regenerative treatment used in Iron Man 3. The league can't possibly test for it yet, so Jeter should get on it pronto.
Third base - David Adams
Yankees $ paid so far: $300,000
Value in $ so far: -$700,000
Yankees $ wasted: -$1,000,000
Poor David was thrown into the shadow of Goliath this year but forgot to pack his sling. In his debut season his bat has just been too weak to provide any value. With the $1 million that he should be paying for the privilege to play baseball, the Yankees could have stocked their craft beer destination with actual craft beer.
Left field - Vernon Wells
Yankees $ paid so far: $6,500,000
Value in $ so far: $1,000,000
Yankees $ wasted: -$5,500,000
Even with the Angels and Blue Jays picking up all but about $14 million of the $50 million he's owed for this year and next, nobody envisioned Vernon Wells to be a steal for the Yanks. At this point he's another lifeless bat that's not totally useless due to his above average fielding (Ah, the calling card of your 2013 New York Yankees). Still, he's costing the team quite a bit of cash due to his still sizable contract, cash that could have been used to purchase, refurbish and reopen Ball Park Lanes, which is missed by many.
Center field - Brett Gardner
Yankees $ paid so far: $1,600,000
Value in $ so far: $12,800,000
Yankees $ saved: $11,200,000
As one of the best fielders in baseball, Brett has been a very valuable, albeit under the radar, player throughout his brief career. With his newfound power in 2013, he has become the second most indispensable player on the roster. Free agency looms for him as well and Cashman would be wise to retain his services for the relative bargain he could probably be signed for. Also, he's saving the Yankees over $11 million, which would be best used to tear down the center field wall, re-build it behind Monument Park, and erase the Mohegan Sun eyesore.
Right field - Ichiro Suzuki
Yankees $ paid so far: $3,700,000
Value in $ so far: $4,800,000
Yankees $ saved: $1,100,000
Here's the last but certainly not least member of the light-hitting yet still valuable 2013 Yankees. Offensively, dribbling grounders all over the infield has become his specialty, but even as an old man his glove and speed on the basepaths are still an asset. With the $1 million+ he's stuffing back in Hank and Hal's pockets, the Yanks can cater to their new white collar fans by providing complimentary Ichi-rolls in the luxury boxes.
Designated hitter - Travis Hafner
Yankees $ paid so far: $1,100,000
Value in $ so far: -$300,000
Yankees $ wasted: -$1,400,000
Going into this year, Yankees management knew that, with Hafner's injury history, whatever production they were going to get from him would be gravy. For about a month and a half Pronk worked out well, but it's clear the gravy has run dry by now. That's a sizable amount of cash he should be giving back, probably enough to entice the Indians to trade back an aging slugger who can actually provide some value in Hafner's place, the Giambino!
The upshot of all this is that while the Yankees are by no means a frugal organization, Brian Cashman has found ways to provide the team with good, relatively cheap, value at a time when the high-paid stars are on the mend. The offense is still pitiful, they're still outplaying their run differential, and they will be lucky to sneak into a wild card spot at best. Things aren't going to get any better in the near future with the $189 million dollar plan still tentatively in place, but Cashman has shown that he can put together a solid, if unspectacular, team when given a tighter budget.