News

Of late, Yanks' big bucks haven't netted big wins

Kevin Baxter
The Miami Herald

George Steinbrenner has spent $1billion on player salaries for his New York Yankees during the past six years. And what has that gotten him?

Not so much as one measly championship ring!

Boy, talk about inflation. But then again, maybe Steinbrenner just isn't a wise shopper. If he had invested a little more prudently, his $1billion could have funded two Space Shuttle flights (not including peanuts); bought Happy Meals for everyone in Indonesia; or provided minimum-wage jobs to each man, woman and child in Georgia - the country, not the state - for 45 years.

In the Bronx, however, it got him a mere three playoff wins in the past two years. The Oakland Athletics won more than that in the past two weeks. And it only cost them $62 million.

Plus, the A's got closer to where Steinbrenner hasn't been since 2003 - the World Series.

You remember the 2003 World Series. That's where the Marlins, who paid their entire starting lineup less than Steinbrenner paid the right side of his infield, beat the Yankees in six games.

The point of all this isn't that Steinbrenner spends his money foolishly - although anyone who remembers Carl Pavano, Javier Vazquez or Raul Mondesi can tell you that's true. No, the point is money isn't nearly as important in determining playoff success as the Yankees wish it was.

Oh, sure it makes a big difference in the regular season. When you can start an All-Star at every position and have a couple left over to pinch hit, you can grind down opponents over 162 games. Which is why the Yankees have won nine consecutive division titles and made the playoffs each of the past 12 years.

But everything changes in the postseason, where a utility infielder can string together a couple of good games and carry his team to a title. In the postseason, the playing field is leveled. In the postseason, Steinbrenner can't simply open his wallet and bludgeon people into submission by bringing in a Bobby Abreu or signing a Johnny Damon to fill a hole. That's why the Yankees are the only team to win 95 games six years in a row without winning a World Series.

Of the five teams that have won a World Series since the Yankees' last title, just one - the 2004 Boston Red Sox - was among the top seven teams in terms of payroll. And two - the 2003 Marlins and the 2002 Los Angeles Angels - weren't even in the top 14.

Which proves that teams can, and do, win with what Florida Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest likes to call "a reasonable payroll." It also proves that the new economic realities of baseball, including revenue-sharing and a luxury tax, are working.

Half the teams in this fall's playoffs were low-revenue clubs that received some of the $300 million commissioner Bud Selig, baseball's Robin Hood, redistributed from the haves to the have-nots. In most cases, that extra pocket change played a huge role in getting them there.

The Tigers, for example, got $25 million, which allowed them to offer $27 million over two years to free agent pitchers Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones. The Minnesota Twins got $22 million, some of which they gave to Luis Castillo and Rondell White.

The Padres were handed almost $6 million, then promptly gave all of it to closer Trevor Hoffman, and the Athletics got $19 million, freeing them up to sign free agent pitcher Esteban Loaiza.

But that money alone didn't get those teams to the playoffs. Especially in the case of the A's and Twins, low-budget teams that have become creative enough to be perennial playoff contenders, the addition of players such as Castillo and Loaiza simply complemented what wise drafts and good player development departments already had built.

"The similarity between the two organizations is that we bring young guys up here and we develop them," said Oakland manager Ken Macha, whose team upset the Twins in the division series. "And we kind of do it a little bit under the radar, because we don't have the star power or the bling that the other clubs do."

So while the Yankees are spending big for name-brand merchandise, the A's are picking through the bargain bin. That's where they found their brightest offensive star, designated hitter Frank Thomas, who they signed for just half a million dollars last winter. The Yankees paid Derek Jeter that much every four games.

"Really, if you look at it, I always kid people when I go home and I say, `Who's your favorite player on the A's?' And they've got to think a lot about that," Macha said of his anonymous A's. "We brought Frank in this year, and, of course, that increased the expectations here. I was very happy when we clinched the division, so we reached one of the expectations."

And until Saturday, they were reaching for the brass ring while Steinbrenner was reaching for the check.

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