The Pirates in the playoffs, with an ex-Yankee or two


The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the playoffs, which means A.J. Burnett is also, for the fourth time in the five years of an $82 million contract the Yankees signed him to before the 2009 season.

Who said a $230 million payroll, what the Yankees paid out approximately this year, doesn’t get you in the playoffs? About $9 million of it did, or what the Yankees are still paying Burnett. Here’s hoping the Pirates win tonight, if only so Burnett can pitch in the NLDS as the Yankees’ personal luxury tax.

The Pirates’ payroll was about $66 million this year and they won 94 games, or about $1.4 million per win. The Yankees’ return was slightly worse, about $.37 million per win.

It was a good year for small markets: teams ranked 26th, 27th and 28th (Pirates, A’s and Rays) in payroll made the playoffs, as did the Indians, who ranked 21st, and the Braves, who ranked 19th.

The Phillies bought 89 losses for their $160 million, the third-highest payroll (at least the Yankees returned a winning record), and only three of the teams with the 10 highest payrolls made the playoffs (the Rangers would have made four had they won on Monday).

Of course, the Dodgers, Red Sox and Tigers spent heavily (no pun intended Prince Fielder), were ranked second, fourth and fifth, respectively, in payroll, and ranked sixth, first and seventh, respectively, in victories. And the two teams which were 29th and 30th in payroll, Miami and Houston, were 29th and 30th in victories. Sometimes spending and results are related.

If there’s a moral to payrolls and 2013, it’s the same as it ever was: it’s not how much you spend, or how little you spend, but how wisely. Which brings us back to the Pirates and Yankees.

The Pirates were pretty universally panned for spending $17 million over two years on free-agent catcher Russell Martin, who had hit .211 with 21 homers for the 2012 Yankees. It seemed curious that a team with limited resources would spend them on a player with limited offensive skills. It seemed even more curious that the Pirates would spend money on a player the Yankees couldn’t afford.

Martin gained 15 point of average and dropped six home runs this year, and lost 10 points of OPS (.713-.703). But his WAR jumped from 1.8 to 4.3, mostly on the strength of Martin’s defense — he threw out 40% of opposing base stealers.

While Martin made his position a strength for the Pirates this year, the Yankees had 475 plate appearances of Chris Stewart, Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy, all of whom combined had an OPS of .560 something. Stewart, at age 31, had 340 of his career 734 at-bats this year and slugged — not batted, but slugged — a whopping .272.

The Yankees had millions invested in their disabled lists this year, but not a penny more for a major-league catcher.

The Pirates are going to the playoffs.

  • If I’m the Red Sox, I’m rooting for the Indians in Wednesday’s AL wild-card game. One team has Matt Moore and David Price in their rotation, the other has Scott Kazmir and a bullpen in disarray.

    The Indians won their last 10 games to get in the playoffs, but all against teams with losing records. And the Indians (thanks to reader Mike L. for the research), were 19-33 against other playoff teams. There’s a reason for that.

    The Rangers aren’t an option any more, thanks to Monday’s night’s loss. The Rangers have gone from blowing the World Series in 2011 to blowing the AL West in 2012 to blowing a playoff spot in 2013.

    I’m sure it’s not all manager Ron Washington’s fault, but it shouldn’t take a Texas-sized intellect — assuming there is one in the Rangers’ front office — to see the Rangers are trending downward.

  • The Cubs fired Dale Sveum on Monday, even if he seemed a perfect fit: a bad manager for a bad team. Baseball-reference.com’s Pythagorean formula said Sveum’s Cubs managed to underperform in each of his two seasons, which wasn’t easy given how little was expected.

    The Cubs won 61 games in 2012 when the formula says they should have won 65, and they won 66 games this year when the formula says they should have won 71. If the Cubs were going for a good draft pick, Sveum helped.

    Now, apparently, it’s time to win, and it’s suggested the Yankees’ Joe Girardi is the manager to do that for the Cubs. It has to be appealing: he’s an Illinois native and an ex-Cub, the Cubs have a strong farm system and a unique opportunity in the history of the game. Whoever eventually does break the Cubs’ century-plus drought can go directly from the parade to induction at Cooperstown.

    And as bad as the Cubs have been, if the Yankees lose Robinson Cano, their future might be worse.

    Of course, if the Yankees lose Cano, it won’t matter much who the manager is.

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