Free Agent Dumpster Diving Pays Off for YankeesBy David Golebiewski
The New York Yankees are synonymous with financial largesse. Nine-figure long-termcontracts. A total team payroll that trumps the gross domestic product of some small countries. A$1.5 billion baseball cathedral in the Bronx. Solid-gold bats, gloves and caps (OK, not really, butyou get the point).But, for all the advantages that the
unlimited coffers afford them, a vital reason why theYankees ran away with the AL East in 2011 was that they got some fantastic bargains whiledumpster-diving in the low end of the free agent market.It was hardly by design. New York was left scrambling to fill roster spots as spring trainingrapidly approached. The starting rotation behind CC Sabathia was in flux, as the Yankees lost theCliff Lee sweepstakes to the Phillies,
didn’t pull off a trade for a top
-tier arm and watched AndyPettitte bid the Bronx adieu for a second time by retiring. The outfield featured quality startersbut little depth, and the team needed someone to crouch behind the plate with a creaky, 40-year-old Jorge Posada no longer able to do so.That desperation led the Yankees to dial up some former stars with dubious career prospects andmedical files bizarre enough to fill an entire season of
. Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia,Andruw Jones and Russell Martin combined for 11 All-Star appearances and about $230 millionin career earnings entering the year, but all four were squarely in the Blue Light Special sectionof free agency.New York hit big on each seemingly busted veteran. Well-paid players in the prime of theircareers no doubt propelled the Yankees toward the playoffs, but this quartet pushed them overthe top, providing the difference between October baseball (however brief it was) and a bitterthird-place finish behind the Rays and Red Sox.
It's often said that starting pitchers need three solid offerings to keep hitters off balance andnavigate lineups multiple times. Bartolo Colon spent the better part of a decade debunking thatbaseball axiom. The bulky right-hander peppered batters with one low-90s fastball after another,besting the 200 inning mark seven times in eight years from 1998 to 2005 while ranking ninthamong starters in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a stat that compares a player's value to thatof a readily-available waiver-wire or minor league player.But then Colon fell apart physically, and his fastball abandoned him. Following a 222.2 inningregular season, Colon left Game of the 2005 ALDS against the Yankees with a shoulder injury.He didn't get much offseason rest, rushing back to pitch for the Dominican Republic in theinaugural World Baseball Classic in the spring. That's when the injury avalanche began.