These guys are supposed to be really damn good. And all of them were really damn good at one point, because that's how you convince someone to give you $20M per year to do something. But how have the four members currently in New York's $20 Million Club fared this season? Well, if you guys were looking for a New York-centric post (because I'm trying to be unique today!), you're going to get one, because you could never really make a post like this with a team from any other city.
The Marlins didn't spend that much money on their entire team in 2006, 2007 or 2008. Obviously Rodriguez is making too much and the Marlins were spending too little, but the madness of that point still stands. But it's been a particularly concerning year for the Yankees regarding A-Rod, who's showing clear signs of decline while the team owes him $179 million through 2017. He's still a fantastic player, but his on-base skills have totally eroded this year: his walk rate dropped over 5% while his BABIP dropped nearly 30 points. He's going to finish 2010 with the worst OBP of his career, and overall numbers that easily mark the worst full season he's ever had since landing an everyday job in 1996. He's not going to be worth even $20 million in 2010, let alone $30 million. This deal may end up looking like an absolute disaster in a couple seasons- luckily it's the Yankees we're talking about, or this could be the kind of contract that ruins a franchise.
The next three highest-paid players in baseball are all Yankees as well, in ace CC Sabathia ($24.3 million), shortstop Derek Jeter ($22.6 million) and first baseman Mark Teixeira ($20.6 million). And while Sabathia is regarded as a major Cy Young Award candidate, it's safe to say that the Yankees haven't totally gotten what they paid for here, either. Sabathia has an impressive 21-7 win-loss record along with a 3.18 ERA, but his peripherals are pretty underwhelming. It's a tad surprising to me that I haven't seen anyone mention Sabathia's declining ability to miss bats- his whiff rate is down to 9.4% compared to 13.9% in 2008, his peak, and his contact rate is up from 72.0% in 2008 to 79.4% this season. He's still durable, and he's gotten some more grounders to make up for the missing strikeouts, but as we've seen with that other New York pitcher that makes over $20 million per season, signs of decline early in a long-term pitching contract are almost always bad omens.
But I'm guessing that Jeter would love to have a season as strong as the one that Sabathia has had. After a monster 2009, Jeter's seen decline in his power, walk rate and BABIP, not to mention that his UZR is back in the negatives after a one-year stint on the other side of the spectrum. He's still a good everyday player, and he's Derek Jeter so he could suck and people would still like him, but this might be another example of a great shortstop aging quickly.
Teixeira's season is more like Sabathia's than Jeter's, though: good, not great; you'd like to see more considering how much money he's making. People might disagree on that point for Sabathia, but a high-3's xFIP for the second consecutive season isn't great for the highest-paid pitcher in baseball. As for Tex, he had to deal with his annual early-season struggles, but this year he didn't go on an absolute tear later in the season to make up for it. He's batted .279/.378/.524 since May 1, but it's still somewhat underwhelming production for the highest-paid first baseman in the game and a guy that's supposed to anchor the entire lineup.
In general, I'm guessing the Yankees expected more than roughly 15 wins in exchange for the $100.5 million that they spent on these guys- that comes out to $6.7 million per win, well above what the average is for a player in free agency. So while the big-money guys have certainly made their contributions to the Yankees' winning efforts, the real difference makers have been the cheaper guys, the guys that aren't Yankees simply because of how much money they were offered- guys like Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Wins are wins, and if any team can afford to pay guys exorbitantly it's the Yankees, but you still need high-quality, cost-controlled players to become a truly great team. And that's the real difference between the Yankees teams of the mid-2000's, and the Yankees of today.