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December 13, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

You could look at it this way:

- Carl Pavano (3.00 ERA in 2004, 4.21 Career ERA)replaces Jon Lieber (4.33 ERA in 2004, 4.20 Career ERA)
- Jaret Wright (3.28 ERA in 2004, 5.09 Career ERA) replaces Esteban Loaiza (5.71 ERA in 2004, 4.70 Career ERA) and Jose Contreras (5.50 ERA in 2004, 4.85 Career ERA)
- Tony Womack (.735 OPS in 2004, .681 Career OPS) replaces Miguel Cairo (.763 OPS in 2004, .692 Career OPS)

In all three of the moves the Yankees have made, they are getting essentially the same production as they did the year before from the same position, and at both the pitching positions they're getting appreciably younger.

Of course, the Yankees paid about $11 million in total for that production last season, and they'll be paying close to $19 million for it in 2005 -- that's before paying the luxury tax, too. Inflation's a bitch.

That's not to say that the Yankees could have paid $11 million for the old players, either. Jon Lieber would have cost about $8 million to keep, Miguel Cairo would have cost $2 million, and Esteban Loaiza would have cost them four or five wins. But that's not the point, that they're paying more for the same production, but rather that they could have spent this money better. The market appears to be valuing these mediocre pitchers at about the level the Yankees are paying them at, but that doesn't mean they're really worth it.

The only real ace on the market appears to be Pedro Martinez, who had a 3.90 ERA last year -- the highest of his career, and has long been saddled with health concerns. But that ERA was largely the result of four starts where he gave up seven or more earned runs and had an ERA of 12.46. His ERA in his other 29 starts was 2.95, and he pitched 217 innings. He's still Pedro.

He would have cost more than Pavano, but is almost certain to outperform him over the length of his contract, and he'll give the Yankees what they so desperately want -- an ace. But it looks like Martinez is likely to go back to Boston, although the deal isn't finished yet.

If the Yankees sign Carlos Beltran, I think they'll win 100 games again and the AL East. I think they'll do better against the Red Sox in the regular season and playoffs next year than they did this year, I think they'll go back to the World Series. If they don't sign Beltran, they should still make the playoffs, but I think it'll be tighter, and they probably won't beat out Boston.

According to this New York Times article, the Yankees are just beginning their courtship of Carlos Beltran, and they're also not particularly interested in trading Javier Vazquez or Kevin Brown. I don't necessarily believe either of the last two statements, but it could be an indication that they're resigned to the likelihood that they'll be unable to trade for Randy Johnson or dump Brown without paying his entire salary and getting nothing in return. And as much as I'd like to have RJ, I view both of those developments as positives.