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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.