If you’re a baseball fan, or if you happened to watch ESPN for more than a minute in the past five days, you’ve likely been bludgeoned with the sledgehammer that is the Jorge Posada-New York Yankees soap opera.
For those of you unfamiliar, here’s what went down…
Jorge Posada is the long-time catcher of the Yankees, a great player in his prime and part of the core that won multiple World Series titles between 1996 and 2009. Currently, he’s 39 years old, in the final year of a four-year contract that pays him a total of $52.4 million and is struggling mightily at the plate. His OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) is .653 which puts him 144th out of 189 players that qualify for the batting title.
Translation: He stinks out loud.
Because of this, Yankees manager Joe Girardi had the audacity to drop him to 9th in the lineup this past week. Posada was originally reported to be livid with that injustice, pulled himself out of the lineup, and it became the only topic of discussion around Major League Baseball for the remainder of the weekend, complete with the national media asking fans whose side they were on.
Further complicating matters was the fact Yankees icon and starting shortstop, Derek Jeter, came to the defense of Posada in the following days. Jeter, of course, was involved in a very public, and at times overly dramatic, contract negotiation in the offseason that resulted in the 36-year-old receiving a three-year, $51 million deal despite the fact he is clearly on the downside of his career. This only added to the controversy because the Jeter-front office relationship was already considered to be on the rocks because of this past winter’s dealings.
Instead of parting ways with popular players that once helped lead the team championships and are now on the decline, the Yankees dug into their bottomless pit of money and drastically overpaid for decreasing production.
I happened to (unintentionally) catch part of Mark Madden’s show on Tuesday as he was talking about this story and brought up an interesting comparison: the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers never find themselves forced to play aging, once-great players that no longer are because their approach seems to be one of “it’s better to get rid of somebody a year too early than a year too late.”
The Yankees and Steelers, of course, operate in different sports with different rules. The Yankees, a cash cow that hasn’t been restricted by a salary cap, can spend any amount of money they want on any player without having to worry about how it could hurt the rest of their team (even if it does). If they make a $20 million mistake and miss on a player, it doesn’t matter as much as it would a team in a salary cap sport (or a team that doesn’t have their financial resources).
But it still matters. Opportunity cost is still at work.
By paying Derek Jeter or Jorge Posada over $15 million per year at this point in their career, it makes it impossible for them to be benched, and there’s no way they’re going to bring in somebody else to replace them. Had they done the unpopular thing and simply moved on, they would have been able to fill that spot with a younger, better player. Would Yankees fans have been pissed? In the short term, yes, but they would have quickly gotten over it and still had the memories.
The Steelers aren’t afraid to move on. Can it be cruel? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.
This kind of goes back to the argument from last week about whether or not the Steelers should have kept Alan Faneca, and what, if any, difference he could have made for the 2011 Steelers. Faneca was a great Steeler, a Hall of Famer, and one of the best offensive lineman to ever suit up for the team. He was also a popular player that fit the “image” of a Pittsburgh Steeler: Tough, hard-working, no-nonsense, etc., etc., etc. That also made him extremely popular, which didn’t stop the Steelers from parting ways when it became obvious his price was going to go beyond his current level of production. And for as loathed as the interior of the Steelers offensive line has been over the past three years, they were still probably better off, both in a football sense as well as a financial sense, to let Faneca go.
The biggest thing I remember about the Jeter negotiations was the public perception (mainly from the media) that they HAD to pay him because of everything he did, what he meant and how unfathomable it would be to see him in another uniform. And that’s just crazy. Franco Harris and Mike Webster finished their careers in Seattle and Kansas City respectively, and the world didn’t spin off of its axis. Thirty years later, it’s not even a blip on the radar screen.
For more recent examples you have guys like Carnell Lake, Joey Porter and Willie Parker. It doesn’t always work out perfectly, though. The Steelers clearly let Rod Woodson go too soon, which was clearly a mistake, and they’ll be the first to admit it (and they have admitted it). Still, there’s going to come a time, perhaps sooner rather than later, when the Steelers are going to have make difficult decisions on guys like Aaron Smith, Hines Ward and perhaps even Troy Polamalu. Great players, championship players and popular players. Guys you would love to see play their entire career with the Steelers, but If history is any indicator they’re likely — and perhaps rightly — to be willing to let them go as soon as their price tag exceeds their on-field value.