There's been a lot of web noise recently regarding some enthusiastic support for Mark Teixeira as a front runner for the American League's Most Valuable Player award. It's important to note that VOC is by no means a good indicator as to likely or deserving candidates for this award: pure worth is the only indication. If a player worth 40 million dollars gets paid 40 million, he's the MVP (or at least a strong candidate), at a VOC of 0. I think that's an important disclaimer for all teams, but particularly for this money-gusher of a franchise.
So do the Yankees get their due? I don't mind saying I was surprised. Chart get!
Of the teams where I was anticipating writing a paragraph or two describing a VOC of 0 as still being a winning franchise if the team spends enough, the Yanks outdo me. I'd still believe they're probably in the bottom half of getting their money's worth, but hey, it's a lot of money, and while studying the reasons they are in the black, I learned something interesting: in many ways they are financially more prudent than many teams spending much, much less. Let's start with this guy:
SP Chien-Ming Wang
2009 Salary: 5.0 million
2009 Performance: .55 million
2009 Anticipated Performance: .55 million (season ending surgery)
2009 VOC: -4.55 million
Before drawing up the numbers, this is one of four team numbers I was anxious to see (not coincidentally, these are the players I discuss!). I was really quite surprised that despite his really legendary failures this year, Wang ended up being almost exactly at replacement level. How on Earth did this happen? This is how.
The Yankees end up often not spending as foolishly as other teams because the money is almost meaningless to them. Taken out of the equation, they can evaluate on a case by case basis and are never afraid to pull the plug on a player who isn't living up to their expectation, regardless of salary. Of course they don't want to sign a 25 man roster of Carl Pavanos, but a 5 million sunk cost doesn't phase them in the least. They simply move to a replacement level option or to the free agent wire or to a trade. But in all manners of speech, they move on.
Cheaper teams (see Royals, Kansas City) will give high paid albatrosses every possible chance to succeed and then some(see Guillen, Jose), and will have that player dig such a hole that it's almost impossible to get out of. If Guillen hadn't left the clubhouse this year, he'd value at -12.0 million. If Chien-Ming Wang played for the Royals, he'd Jose Lima his way to a -15, hurting himself more in the process, before they pulled the plug. But the Yankees gave him some work in the pen (where he put up a bit of good value, actually) and then shut him down. It reveals teams like the Royals as the very definition of penny-wise and pound-foolish.
SS Derek Jeter
2009 Salary: 20.0 million
2009 Value to Date: 22.70 million
2009 Projected Value: 31.43 million
2009 VOC: 11.43 million
Statistically-inclined analysts get a lot of flack for their abuse of the quintessential Yankee regarding his defense, so when the chance comes to acquiesce, we should probably take it. G&C predominately uses UZR as it's defensive measurement, but Dewan plus/minus agrees on this point as well: Derek Jeter has steadily improved at defense the last two years and is now playing the best of his career.
Whether this is an indication that the average shortstop has just fallen off a cliff or Jeter has actually made these adjustments himself is completely immaterial. We will compare a man to his peers, and Jeter is looking really good right now. The man clearly loves the new Yankee stadium and is the single most valuable member of this team, and a legitimate MVP candidate. For a legend nearing the end of his career, this is the time to honor him: when he actually deserves it the most.
3B Alex Rodriguez
2009 Salary: 32.0 million
2009 Value to Date: 12.10 million
2009 Projected Value: 16.10 million
2009 VOC: -15.25 million
It's hard to call this contract a turkey, despite it's ludicrously high, almost ridiculous numbers, for the reasons mentioned above. He obviously can't live up to this number this year because of the high margin of time missed due to injury, so there's no fair game in lambasting the fellow. He's actually been the 5th most productive member of this team, which accounting for the missed time, is truly remarkable.
If Pujols has this contract, he's of mid-level value, and he's been healthy and just butchering the ball. But that's the problem with the contract itself: He absolutely has to be that good, for that long, to make himself worth it in the truest sense, and this gives an idea of just how hard that is to do at the very top level of income.
And lastly, the man of the discussion of the hour ....
1B Mark Teixeira
2009 Salary: 20 million
2009 Value to Date: 17.20 million
2009 Projected Value: 23.82 million
Again, the Yankees just want the big production, and don't care where it comes from or how efficient it is. Teixeira is in all likelihood not going to get any better than this. He's been remarkably consistent for most of his career, and is just a better paid, more visible example of himself. This is cliche by now, but it's cliche because it's true: Mark Teixeira is a very good player. Mark Teixeira is not even the MVP of his own team, let alone the American League.
On these big contracts, if they are going to zero out by the time the curtain closes, you are mostly counting on big production in the early years, closest to the player's prime to carry the weight of the backend years. Mark Teixeira is in the first year of a monstrous, long deal. Mark Teixeira is also 29. There's reason to believe he'll age a lot better than Giambi did in pinstripes (even though Jason actually nearly validated his contract) because of his better athleticism and defense, and accounting for inflation it wasn't as expensive of a deal, but Yankees fans should just get accustomed to the fact that a lot of this will be sunk cost in about 6 years. You just have to hope that general inflation keeps up with his decline.