- The Washington Times - Friday, November 6, 2009

NEW YORK | As the New York Yankees mobbed one another on the Yankee Stadium mound Wednesday night, exercising their World Series rite of passage to act like the world’s richest 12-year-olds, it was easy to mistake the dogpile for a group of baseball players celebrating the conclusion of a journey.

In reality, it was a solid return on an investment.

The Yankees’ six-game World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, which followed a 103-win regular season and playoff victories over the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels, was greeted with all the enthusiasm of a corporation announcing it had met its earnings projection, and there’s a reason. With the largest payroll in baseball (at approximately $201 million), the Yankees perpetually expect success, but it was an expensive overhaul last winter that deserves the most credit for the franchise’s 27th championship.

Coming off a third-place finish and its first nonplayoff season since 1993, New York spent $423.5 million to remake its aging pitching staff and fortify its lineup. The Yankees started by handing CC Sabathia a seven-year, $161 million deal, the largest ever given to a pitcher, and followed it with a five-year, $82.5 million contract for A.J. Burnett. Then, two days before Christmas, they capped their shopping spree with an eight-year, $180 million package for first baseman Mark Teixeira, wooing the Severna Park, Md., native away from two local suitors (the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles).

All three were major contributors to the championship team - Sabathia and Teixeira in particular - and helped catalyze the Yankees’ first title since 2000.

“Well, this is what the Steinbrenner family has strived for year after year after year and has tried to deliver to the city of New York,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday. “[Owner] George Steinbrenner and his family are champions. To be able to deliver this to the boss, the stadium that he created and the atmosphere he has created around here is very gratifying for all of us.”

The most impressive thing is, the Yankees are unquestionably in better financial position now than they were before they acquired Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira. Their 2009 payroll dropped from 2008, a function of shedding such pricey underperformers as Carl Pavano and Jason Giambi.

They could take left fielder Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui, who each made $13 million this season, off the books before 2010, freeing up room to pursue younger options, such as St. Louis’ Matt Holliday or Boston’s Jason Bay.

And the new Yankee Stadium, which cost $1.5 billion but allowed the team to raise ticket prices and include year-round restaurants, is expected to bring in cash far in excess of what its storied predecessor delivered.

It’s all set up to position the Yankees with virtually limitless resources - especially now that they’ve stopped tossing hefty contracts at veterans in the twilight of their careers - and it’s done within the confines of a competitive balance that has had most of baseball’s other 29 teams howling since New York dropped its millions last December.

The Yankees, and other big-budget teams, pay into a revenue-sharing pool that awards money to smaller franchises, including the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals. But the Pirates, in particular, have come under fire for maintaining a low payroll despite receiving $40 million from revenue sharing and playing in eight-year-old PNC Park, one of baseball’s best venues.

Low-budget teams counter that by saying the Yankees set the prices for players so high, there’s no way they can offer the same kind of money for the same number of years and remain competitive.

Money doesn’t necessarily buy a championship - as the Yankees themselves proved from 2001 to 2008 - but money combined with smarts can; the Yankees led the league in payroll efficiency, a Society of American Baseball Research statistic that attempts to measure how directly a higher payroll leads to more wins.

And with their bottom line looking as bulletproof as ever, the Yankees have the ability to go out and add to their roster this winter.

That would set up the possibility of another nine-figure mosh pit on the Yankee Stadium mound next fall.

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