"A person with knowledge of the team’s thinking said Friday that although the intent still is to try to get to that threshold [of $189 million], the Yankees will not do so if it comes at the expense of fielding a contender. 'Providing a championship team' will take precedence.'
The 2013 AL East will likely be a close race, similar to 2012. 2013 might even be more challenging than 2012, given how the Blue Jays have retooled and the Red Sox have the potential to do so. A player here or there may make the difference between winning the division versus merely getting in the wildcard game or even just going hunting and fishing when the regular season ends.
Thus a test of the Yankee front office's sincerity about 'providing a championship team' is how it handles Nick Swisher's free agency.
In years past, the Yankees would either be pursuing Swisher or replacing him with Josh Hamilton. But this year the media has been reporting that Swisher is a goner because of Hal's austerity stance, and that whomever replaces him cannot have multi-year contract of significant salary. The Yankees could accomplish this either by trading for a good young player such as Alex Gordon, or by signing mediocre players who cannot command much on the market. And unless Cashman fleeces someone, I don't see the trade route as a realistic option
So let's do a thought-experiment to see what this austerity-vs.-Swisher decision means. The Blue Jays have made a lot of noise with their offseason additions, so let's compare the projected Blue Jays offense to that of the Yankees with and without Swisher.
We'll compare using 2013 projections calculated with the Marcels algorithm. What we'll do is compare the projected batting runs of the 2 teams, and see the degree to which Swisher makes a difference.
First, here are some 2013 projections for Toronto's expected lineup and major substitutes:
The Yankees' roster is more of a work in progress, so we'll assume they resign Russell Martin and Eric Chavez. In this phase of our thought-experiment, we'll go the austerity route in right field, replacing Swisher with a combination of Raul Ibanez, Reed Johnson and Scott Hairston (with Ibanez and Hairston also getting some DH time). There are other players we could work in here. But these guys are representative example of the types of players in the bargain bin of the free agent market.
The Yankees and Jays project to be similar so far, with the Jays have a slight advantage.
The teams have different projected PAs so far, so we can't yet compare batting runs. However, the teams will have other bench players, and pitchers will get a few PAs. In 2012, AL teams averaged 6151 PAs, 23 of which were from pitchers. So what I did to make up the difference between the above projected team totals and the remaining PAs is the following back-of-the-envelope method:
- Prorated 2012 AL pitchers' batting stats to 23 PAs. (In 2012, AL pitchers had a slash line of .122/.143/.129.)
- Subtracted 23 from the total PAs from the team's total PAs in the above tables of player projections - let's call the remainder the remaining PAs.
- Prorated the batting stats of 2012 non-pitchers with less than 300 PAs against the remaining PAs. (In 2012, hitters with less than 300 PAs had a slash line of .232/.294/.356. Jayson Nix is a perfect example of this type of player.)
- Calculated each team's totals by summing up the totals from the team's projection table and the prorated stats just described.
Let's finish this thought experiment by looking at the offseason from the classical Yankee approach: going all-in for another ring. In this scenario, instead of signing Hairston to a one-year deal, the Yankees sign Swisher to a multi-year deal, and otherwise make the same moves described earlier. First, let's compare Swisher's 2013 projection to Hairston's:
Swisher projects to slug for a bit more power, to get on base much more, and to have more plate appearances. The latter emphasizes another Swisher strength, which is that he is a switch-hitter, while Hairston's best suited to a platoon role.
Now let's update the total projected team stats with Swisher instead of Hairston:
Swisher bumps up the team totals to 781 batting runs, and the Yankee offense now projects to be 1/2 win better than the Blue Jays. Swisher improves the Yankees' odds of winning a close division race.
The 2013 the season will not play out literally as projected by Marcels and my November 25th roster speculations. Some players will do better, some worse, injuries will occur, etc. Pitching, defense, and luck will also come into play. Some team may do a better job on acquiring role players. And it's certainly possible that the Yankees find a bargain; for example, they could sign Ichiro and have him turn out to be the rejuvenated player of the last part of 2012, not the pale shadow of the prior 1.5 years.
However it plays out, the probability is that in a tough division race, the Yankees are more likely to secure a slot in the ALDS with Nick Swisher in right-field than with a player purchased on clearance.
Note: The "official" Marcels 2013 projections have not been published. These projections are calculated using a program I wrote to implement the Marcels algorithm (documented here).