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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New York Money

Okay, so the banking world is in the dumper. Right around the time of the fall of the Houses of Bear and Lehman, the demise of Merrill and the humiliation of Citi, the conventional wisdom was that the recession would hit NYC harder than many areas (save Detroit) because 12.5% of the jobs accounted for about 35% of the tax revenues in NYC. Translated, if the investment banking community takes a broadside and starts listing quickly, the money that customarily cascaded to the restaurants, salons and other service providers would trickle to a halt quickly. Digging deeper, one would wonder what cash many would have left to pony up for the most expensive seats in baseball, big cable bills, and the merchandise that fans started to think was an entitlement.

I even read yesterday (I think it was on Jon Heyman's post on that the second-tier free agents in baseball (Pat Burrell comes to mind quickly) might get hurt in the recession, as teams are worried about their revenues. Now, I'm not the biggest Burrell fan, but guys who hit .270 with an OBP of .385, hit 30+ homers and knock in 95 runs a season are few and far between (okay, he looks like a statue at times in the field, but he'd be a good DH in the AL). Moreover, many teams have to be worried about all sorts of revenue, because in this deep of a recession few get spared.

Unless, of course, you're CC Sabathia or K-Rod, who are signing sizable deals with the Yankees and Mets respectively. Which means that the Yankees are fortifying an area of considerable need -- starting pitching, while the Mets are doing the same with their bullpen. Both teams will be much more formidable with these additions, and you can make the argument (once again) that the Mets are the team to beat in the NL East (despite the Phillies' having won the World Series). But, huge signings don't guarantee World Series appearances, and for all their moves (both through elevations of players like David Wright and Jose Reyes and signings of players like Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana and K-Rod), the Mets still have figured out the algorithm that gets them to their first series since 2000. The Yankees have been more successful, of course, but in the past 5 years they've had more than their share of frustrations.

Put differently, just because you open your wallets doesn't mean that you'll win a World Series (see Mets, Yankees, Cubs). Then again, just because you're smart with your money doesn't mean that you'll win one, either (see A's, Twins). To me, the former have a better chance than the latter because after some point you must pony up and pay for excellence. Naturally, that excellence has to stay healthy and hungry and can't simply mail it in after the big bucks have been guaranteed. Still, the bet here is that while these signings excite Yankee and Met fans, respectively (God forbid you to root for both teams in NYC), the lifelong fans will view these signs with a "wait and see" attitude.

Why? Because Mo Vaughn ballooned and faded after becoming a Met, as did Bobby Bonilla. Carl Pavano, fresh off outstanding post-season work, got hurt, as did Billy Wagner, whose closer skills began to fade. Tommy Glavine was really nothing more than an innings eater, and he went out with a big implosion. Beltrain has not become the next Roberto Clemente, Jason Giambi had as many downs as ups, and the last version of Roger Clemens (a very expensive version, too) was not good.

There have been, of course, many successes. A-Rod, for all of the lightning he attracts, is an amazing player. Mike Mussina pitched very well in New York. Johan Santana is one of the three best starting pitchers in the National League. Wagner was very good for two years, and so forth.

But at the end of the day, it's not just about the money. It's about chemistry, it's about putting together a team that picks each other up and has an attitude that it can win at any time. It's not about people who want to brand themselves and garner endless endorsements. It's about the pitcher who goes on three days' rest, it's about the light-hitting catcher who starts to take command of a pitching staff, it's about the middle reliever who finally listens to the pitching coach, works out harder and turns himself into a setup man. It's about a group of 25 highly skilled players pulling together.

Both NY teams have the ability to put together a roster of all-stars that will sell ticket after ticket. Right now, though, both are searching to get into the groove that all World Series champions find at some point, the groove that the Yankees found so well in the mid-1990's.

The bet here is that these two signings will push both teams closer to finding that groove.


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