When the Yankees sign a big name free agent to a long term contract, they do it knowing that the player might be a burden, financially and on the field, by the end of the deal. They make a bet that in the end, the player's value during his productive years will outweigh the cost of his unproductive ones. Sometimes it works out, but as Yankee haters will quickly point out, most of the time it doesn't.
Prior to the 2002 season, Jason Giambi became the latest Yankees mercenary and he was a monster during his first two years in pinstripes. His back-to-back 40 home run, 100 RBI seasons convinced fans that he was worth every penny of the contract. They got a rude awakening in 2004 though, as he missed significant playing time due to various injuries and hit only .208 when he did play. The whispers of his past steroid use didn't help either. It was safe to say the honeymoon was over at that point. Even though Giambi bounced back to be a productive player for the rest of his Yankee career, the Yankees could not have been thrilled with their investment. Over the last three years of his contract he produced about 2 WAR per season while earning over $20 million in each of them. Not exactly a bargain.
In 2004, Gary Sheffield was lured to the Yankees with a hefty paycheck and promptly put together two great seasons with the bat. By 2006, a wrist injury sidelined him for most of the year and he was vocal with his displeasure about the Yankees' acquisition of Bobby Abreu. He was then shipped to Detroit, leaving a bitter taste in the Steinbrenners' mouths and a dent in their wallets. Next up was Carl Pavano, a pitcher in his prime that was to be the future ace of the Yankees' staff. He ingratiated himself with the fanbase for about a month before a ridiculous string of injuries sealed his legacy as a walking punchline. Altogether, Pavano earned about $40 million for his 26 starts as a Yankee. Ouch.
After missing the playoffs in 2008, the trio of A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira were signed to mega-deals to make sure that never happened again. Burnett was a solid number two starter in 2009 and helped the Yankees to their 27th World Series title. His production plunged to well below average over the next two years, though, and he was booted out to Pittsburgh with a bag full of cash to help pay his sizable salary there. Sabathia seemed poised to be the rare player who actually lives up to the expectations of a $100+ million dollar contract until he came crashing to earth last year. With a knee injury sidelining him for a good chunk of this season, it seems that the Yankees will be counting down the days until his contract is up in 2016. Mark Teixeira might share a similar fate. After his MVP-caliber year in 2009, his performance has steadily declined each season. Even when he bounces back, as he has this year, his chronic wrist injury is always a threat to his effectiveness.
That brings us to Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran signing for big bucks this past winter. They were welcome additions to an offense that was desperate for some heavy lumber even if they were on the wrong side of their prime. The problem is that both McCann and Beltran have skipped right over the part of this process where they perform like stars and prove that they were worth the high price tag.
From day one, they've been hitting like the burdens we knew they would eventually become and that's not a good sign. McCann has struggled hitting into the shift and has yet to find any kind of offensive groove. His lowly 81 wRC+ is good for dead last among major league backstops with at least 250 plate appearances. As bad as he's been, Beltran has been even worse, putting up career lows in every meaningful category which includes his 78 wRC+. That's worse than every major league DH, save for his own teammate Alfonso Soriano and Texas Rangers rookie Michael Choice. Somewhere, Brian Cashman still has his bags packed for a honeymoon that never happened. Even the newly retired Carl Pavano is probably thinking "What gives, guys? Earn your pinstripes!"
Given their awful starts, is there any sign that they can flip the script and return to All-Star form? McCann has the most compelling case. His BABIP is currently riding at about 50 points worse than his career number. While the constant shifts have something to do with that, he is also hitting line drives at the highest rate of his career. That means that a correction is due sooner than later so we should expect his batting average to climb over the coming weeks. While Beltran's BABIP is also riding extremely low this year, improvement seems less probable for him. His line drive rate is sinking rapidly and currently sits at more than 5% below his career mark. At 37 years old, he just seems to be hitting like a player in the twilight of his career, trading in line drives for more lazy fly balls. It could be a very sad run of play for Carlos Beltran as a Yankee.
At least Jacoby Ellsbury has had the decency to get our hopes up before they inevitably come crashing down. That's truly the Yankee way.