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The Value of Mediocrity

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I don't want to pick on Let's Talk About Tex Baby, but something he wrote yesterday got me thinking:

We just haven’t had high quality prospects. Who from the Yankee farm system has gone to another organization and become anything more than a mediocre player, other than Soriano who was already a star when we traded him? Nick Johnson? Juan Rivera? These guys are average at best.

The idea that a top flight farm system should be churning out stars is a sentiment I hear quite a bit, but I think it's failing to recognize the value of a role player.

Johnson has always been fragile, and Rivera is mediocre, but mediocre in Major League Baseball is quite valuable.  Nick Johnson has put up a 125 OPS+ for his career, Juan Rivera has stayed slightly above average.  The players who were significantly better than these guys were when they were with the Yankees and the couple years after are Hall of Fame caliber players.

The arbitration process rewards superstar caliber players.  Derek Jeter made $5M in his 4th season, $10M his 5th season, and then signed his current $189M/ 10Y contract.  Ryan Howard earned $10M his 3rd season and then signed his $54M/ 3Y deal to avert a $14M v $18M arbitration showdown.

An Arod, a Sabathia, a Teixeira are all sound free agent investments because they are transcendent players.

Free agency is expensive when you are paying premium prices for the mediocre talents.

When a setup man like Kyle Farnsworth costs $5.5M and a backup catcher like Molina costs $2M.  These costs compile quickly, so there are no resources to deploy for a transcendent player who  addresses an immediate need like Carlos Beltran.

As a bonus:

When I look over the trades Cashman has made, I feel like I need to say that I've agreed with most of them.  A trade for starting pitcher is almost always a trade I make.  So here are some mediocre players the Yankees haven't had on the team, and how high they rose in the system:

Christian Guzman A
Eric Milton AA
Mike Lowell AAA
Jim Leyritz MLB
Ricky Ledee MLB
Wily Mo Pena A
Damaso Marte (bonus player- started with the Mariners) AA
D'Angelo Jimenez MLB
Randy Flores AAA
Ted Lilly (bonus- started with Montreal) AAA
Marcus Thames MLB
Brandon Claussen MLB
Sterling Hitchcock MLB
Yhency Brazoban AAA
Nick Johnson MLB
Juan Rivera MLB
Randy Choate MLB
Alfonso Soriano MLB
Tyler Clippard MLB
Dan McCutchen AAA
Jeff Karsten MLB
Ross Ohlendorf MLB