The Yankees and Bullpen Allocation

When the Yankees announced their signing of Rafael Soriano, General Manager Brian Cashman admitted that he wasn’t fully behind the move. Rarely has an announcement of a big-ticket signing come with such an admission from the team’s General Manager:

I’m charged with getting the payroll down, and this certainly will help us try to win a championship. There’s no doubt about that, so that’s in the plus column, but I didn’t recommend it, just because I didn’t think it was an efficient way to allocate the remaining resources we have, and we had a lot of debate about that … My plan would be patience and waiting. They obviously acted. And we are better, there’s no doubt about it.

That Cashman didn’t find the signing to be an efficient allocation of resources is particularly telling, as many around baseball have questioned spending so much on a bullpen. Our own Dave Cameron has often talked about overspending on relievers, but this is about spending on the team level. Have the Yankees spent too much on the bullpen for the upcoming season? How does their spending this year stack up against years’ past, and other teams?

The constitution of this bullpen is slightly startling. Mariano Rivera ($15M), Soriano ($11.5M), Damaso Marte ($4M), Pedro Feliciano ($4M), Joba Chamberlain ($1.4M), and Boone Logan ($1.2M) are all getting paid more than one million per. Once you add in another minimum salary (perhaps Romulo Sanchez, who is out of options), you’re looking at $34 million for the bullpen (and that’s counting Sergio Mitre‘s ~$1 million as a starter’s salary).

Obviously, that’s a lot of dosh. But the Yankees have a lot of dosh to begin with, which is the frequent explanation for why the move was okay.

How does the allocation compare to previous Yankees’ teams? Well, it’s certainly more, and you might even say it’s, oh, about a Soriano more than usual. Had Cashman prevailed, the bullpen would have been right where it has been in the last five years – around $20-24 million and a little more than 10% of the overall salary number. [*This year’s numbers were fudged with the help of Joe Pawlikowski.]

But Cashman did not prevail, and this is the bullpen that the Yankees are going to war with. It might seem like 17% of the overall salary is reprehensible, but we can see that other teams around the league have allocated a larger percentage of their salary to the bullpen. In 2009, according to Cot’s Contracts, the following teams spent more than 17% of their payroll on their bullpens: Cincinnati (29.21%), NY Mets (22.40%), Philadelphia (19.08%), Cleveland (22.69%), Chicago White Sox (21.30%), Kansas City (19.57%), Toronto (25.9%), Milwaukee (18.58%), Tampa Bay (29.06%), Los Angeles Angels (19.81%), Houston (18.31%), Pittsburgh (18.17%), Baltimore (22.21%), and Minnesota (28.14%). So in 2009 the current Yankees would have finished 15th of 30 teams in terms of the percentage of salary allocated to the bullpen.

We know that it’s important to look at player’s statistics from a rate standpoint, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to us that looking at the team’s expenditures from a percentage standpoint can help put the discussion into focus. The Yankees have more money, so they can afford to allocate more money to the bullpen. Signing Soriano to multiple years may not have been the smartest thing in the world, but buying an expensive setup man has not made this a terribly bullpen-heavy team. When seen through this prism, it’s just about average.

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29 Responses to “The Yankees and Bullpen Allocation”

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  1. Mike Savino says:

    Hmm. I don’t know if percent is the best way to look at this.

    Because I don’t think its the same for the Yankees to spend $35 MM while the Indians spend like $8 MM. Its…just ridiculous.

    I suppose its the Yankee way, though.

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  2. scott says:

    When you have four of the six largest contracts in sports history, it seems a bit silly to simply use percentages as a way of rationalizing. The gross overspending in other areas simply makes this gross overspending not seem so, well, gross.

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    • Vaga says:

      While the amount of money the Yankees have to spend does seem silly, it is still the Yankees money to spend.

      I like this rationalization, as usually teams will try to allocate the resources they *have* efficiently. So if we save the argument for a salary cap, or the argument against 200MM+ payrolls, for later, and assume that they are a given, this provides some insight at the very least.

      I wouldn’t mind seeing a graph comparing the RP/SP/Offense budget allocations for all the teams over the years. This could also show some insight into the mindset of the GM of a particular team.

      I for one, as a Blue Jays fan, would love to see the difference in allocation between the J.P. Riccardi years and the AA years.

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      • Chops says:

        I agree. I think the point people are misunderstanding is that its not about the overall dollar amount, its about the money on their bullpen in relation to the money used to construct the rest of the team, It’s important to stay in this context.

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  3. JoeyPajamas says:

    I was going to post what the previous posters commented on regarding percentages, but I’ll lay off that point now.

    Anyways, even after Cashman had stated that the Yankees would not pursue Soriano, you still had to know they would. A franchise like that can not merely spend an offseason sitting on their hands as all their opponents improve and then hope for the best with the core they’ve established.

    The Yankees need to appease both their fans and themselves, and I guess, at this point of the offseason, Soriano was their only real option. Whether another lockdown RP is the difference between the playoffs or not is yet to be seen, and we can’t forget the inevitable trades we’ll see come July.
    Even though I’m a Red Sox fan, I’m thoroughly interested in seeing how this season shakes out for Cashman and the Yankees.

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  4. Crumpled Stiltskin says:

    I just don’t see it as ridiculous at all. How many innings does a bullpen pitch a year? 420? 450? And it really wouldn’t be hard to imagine a scenario in which Rivera, Soriano, and Chamberlain put up 5.0-5.5 WAR between themselves alone. If that’s the case and the other guys perform the bullpen should be at 6.5-8 WAR, and they’re pitching in high leverage situations a lot of the time. Doesn’t really seem in the context of the total such a large overpay.

    The Yankees had the money to spend, they had a player out there who could be worth two wins over the course of the year, and in the playoffs, with Mariano could form an absolutely lethal combo that will be able to shut good batters down. And that’s why this signing was made, partially for the season, but mostly for the playoffs, where close games make relievers and bullpen flexibility a lot more important.

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    • Dr. Strangelove says:

      The # of 5-5.5 WAR for Mo, Soriano, and Joba might be a bit optimistic but it is surely within a reasonable range. The Fan pridictions for all three have Mo = 2.0, Soriano = 1.8, and Joba = 2.1. If my mental math is right thats a total of 5.9 WAR

      Small problem with that is the fan prediction has Joba starting 8 games and therefore pitching more innings, Bill James has Joba pitching only 76inn compared to the fans prediction of 112.

      Between the three players they are paying $27.9 million and at $5mil per WAR, 5.5 WAR would get us $27.5 worth of value. In other words its an overpay and it could turn out to be a large overpay if things turn out poorly for any of the three but it is likely that is no more than a slight overpay.

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      • hk says:

        You shouldn’t include cost-controlled players like Joba in figuring whether they overpaid for relievers. The ~$5M per WAR equation is used for valuing free agents, so if they do get 3.8 WAR from their free agent RP’s Mo and Soriano for $26.5M, they paid $7M per WAR. You (or they) could argue that they felt they could overpay for Mo and Soriano because they expect to get 2.1 WAR from Joba for $1.4M, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are projecting to pay $7M per WAR for their two free agent RP signings.

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  5. GiantHusker says:

    You can try to rationalize it, but it was a stupid expenditure. I’m glad the Yankees are wasting their money.

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  6. John - YF says:

    A “stupid expenditure” is having a 4th OF (that’s nearly 40) signed in 2011 for $7.5M (See Mike Cameron). Instead of labeling it as “stupid” or filing it under the Yankees throwing money at money, just examine the pure baseball aspect of it. Soriano is a closer, an established, proven commodity. The Yankees were concerned about their starting rotation and they thought by solidifying the back end of the pen they could offset that to a degree. True need is really the only argument here, not Soriano’s value or ability.

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    • Chops says:

      Unless his name is “Mariano Rivera,” I wouldn’t call any reliever a “proven commodity”

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      • fredsbank says:

        billy wagner is waiting on line 1, matt thornton is on line 2, rafael betancourt is on line 3, joakim soria is on line 4

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    • GreggB says:

      As far as Cameron, first, he is essentially backing up three positions, not one, and one of those three is the injury-prone Drew. Second, the Sox have at least two guys who can’t hit lefties — Cameron consistently hits lefties very well. And the AL East is loaded with lefties. Cameron will likely get 400+ plate appearances. $7.5 is a luxury, but not a waste of money.

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    • chuckb says:

      If the argument vis-a-vis Cameron and Soriano has to do with starters vs. backups, it’s pretty clear that Soriano is a “backup” as well. Not only is he not a starting pitcher, but he’s not even the starting closer. So while Cameron is signed for $7.5 M for 1 year to “backup” 3 outfield positions, Soriano is signed for 3 years to be a backup as well.

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    • funkybass says:

      That’s a BS, strawman argument. Cameron was signed to start in the outfield, not as a 4th outfielder. Their 4th outfielder was Jeremy Hermida at the time

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  7. Mario Mendoza says:

    Cash could make a bad situation better just by putting Joba in the rotation.

    But, “for the 200th time, Joba’s a bullpen guy.”

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  8. Mario Mendoza says:

    In case you can’t tell, I think having Joba in MR is a “stupid expenditure” of the “resources you have.”

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    • Chops says:

      Not to go too off-topic, but there is clearly something there in which we do not know. If there wasn’t some external, unknown variable affecting the Joba situation we would have to assume 2 things. That A) No one listened to in the FO believes that Joba is better as a reliever than as a starter and B) No one listened to i nthe FO believes that Joba is a better starting option than Sergio Mitre. I flat out refuse to believe that anyone employed high up in the Yankee department of Baseball Operations believes those two assumptions. There HAS to be something we don’t know.

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      • deadpool says:

        You missed one. The FO could beleive Joba destined to be a better releiver than starter, but still isn’t better than Soriano at the moment.

        If they beleived that then they wouldn’t move him to the rotation, and wouldn’t put him in the back end of the pen either.

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  9. MikeS says:

    I’m not a Yankee fan so I don’t know how the management structure works but when the GM says he didn’t want to sign a guy but “they obviously acted” what exactly does that mean? Is the GM not in charge of putting together the roster? I realize many people may have input, but it sounds like he said no and somebody went behind his back.

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    • odbsol says:

      Steinbrenners pulled the trigger.

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      • MikeS says:

        If so, they sure are lucky to have all that money to cover up mistakes. In the 40 years I have been watching sports, the most efficient way I’ve seen to wreck a franchise is for the owner to play GM. Just off the top of my head – Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins(current), Chicago Blackhawks (until recently) and even the Yankees in the 1980’s and early 90’s were all driven into the ground because the owner wouldn’t get out of the way and let the talent evaluators do their job.

        I’m also surprised Cashman allows himself to be in that situation. I guess if you work for the Stienbrenners going in you know the score but most GM’s wouldn’t want to work that way. It’s bad business in general. As a boss, you find competent people, you let them do their job and if they don’t perform you replace them. The one thing you never do is do their job for them. If you are doing that, why are you paying them?

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    • bill73083 says:

      George Steinbrenner had a reputation of micromanaging the Yankees. He was known to be impatient, and always wanted to sign the biggest name free agents for huge contracts. Sometimes the free agent signings worked, and sometimes they didn’t.

      In 2005, Cashman basically said he wanted more of a say in the decision making process or he would leave the team. The Steinbrenners and other front-office people agreed. Since then, he’s been largely left alone by the Steinbrenners to make baseball decisions. Although I’m sure they’ve been a part of the decision-making process since 2005, this is the first time that the team is openly talking about ownership going above Cashman’s head.

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      • Raf says:

        It seems this would be the first time the Steinbrenners went over Cashman’s head since the Alex Rodriguez contract.

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    • Steve says:

      Yes, Randy Levine negotiated this deal with Boras. Unsurprisingly, he found himself behind the woodshed grabbing his ankles.

      Cashman has struggled with this dynamic for almost 2 decades in the Yankees’ employ, and while he was supposedly granted autonomy in 2006 and the decision making process has improved tenfold, there are still high profile instances like this. It is widely speculated that Hank Steinbrenner, who for one winter decided to become involved with the team, was responsible for the A-Rod contract.

      It drives the Cashman haters crazy to have his questionable moves blamed on the higher ups, but in this case we actually have 100% proof that it happens. All sides are admitting it, and it’s not just second guessing b/c we don’t actually know how this contract is going to work yet.

      I do think Hal is not his father and these instances will be rare, but he still owns the team and it is still his right to overrule his GM.

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  10. NateH says:

    It seems like it would make sense to calculate the amount spent as salary above league minimum because there is a floor for relief pitcher salary. I may have missed it if you did it already, i did just kinda skim.

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  11. bill73083 says:

    I’m not sure that I agree that looking at spending on relievers as a percentage of payroll is really the best way to evaluate the Yankees’ spending on Soriano. As a percentage their bullpen this year lines up with other bullpens around the league. But the Yankees have more money to spend. And so 17% for the Yankees is much more than 17% for anyone else. To me, that means they are spending much more to get a similar level of production as everyone else. Sure they have the resources, and ultimately its better to see an owner spend the money on salary rather than pocket it. But I think the BEST scenario is for a team to make smart baseball decisions, irregardless of how it fits into a certain percentage of team salary.

    In this case, I agree with Cashman that signing an 8th inning guy for $35 million is not the best allocation of a team’s resources.

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  12. Redlegs11 says:

    Cincinnati’s relief allocation changes drastically if you take out Cordero and Chapman’s salaries.

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    • Steve says:

      So does the Yankees’ if you take out Marte. Well, not drastically, but 17% to 15%.

      So I’m not sure why we’d exclude Cordero.

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