How long until the Bobby Abreu Yankeeography?

December 02, 2008 - 9:07 am

The dust has cleared, and arbitration has been offered--or not--to free agents. There were a few stunners, among them the decision by the Phillies not to offer arbitration to Pat Burrell and the Diamondbacks' move not to offer arbitration to Adam Dunn. But none was more surprising than the Yankees' decision not to offer arbitration to Bobby Abreu. Ken Rosenthal, the omniscient writer from Fox Sports, does a great job breaking down this hint of baseball's economic apocalypse. But a couple of items stood out, including this snapshot of the Yankees' payroll:

The Yankees' 2009 payroll will not be as outrageous as many believed.
The Yankees still expect to field the game's highest payroll next season, but the number almost certainly will be below their $209 million figure at the start of '08.
The baseball world was understandably fascinated to see what the Yankees might do in a world when they could tack on an additional $50-100 million in revenue and shed $50-75 million in payroll. (I will confess to some fascination on this point as well.) The early returns, however, suggest that the Yankees are not going to repeat the same throw-money-at-it approach that prevailed earlier this decade (including from 2002-04, when the rest of MLB operated along rather conservative financial principles). Abreu, Dunn and Burrell are all guys who enjoy reputations as excellent on-base guys. Back in the offseason of 2002-03, at the start of Theo Epstein's tenure as Red Sox general manager, the Sox could cash in on an inefficient market that undervalued plate discipline and pluck free agents like Bill Mueller, Jeremy Giambi (good idea; bad result), Kevin Millar and David Ortiz. But soon, OBP became the single most important predictor of salary for position players. Now, so-called on-base machines Abreu (.371 OBP in 2008; .405 career), Dunn (.386; .381) and Burrell (.367; .367) weren't offered arbitration, for fear that they would accept and get a one-year deal that their clubs deemed too expensive. So it seems fair to ask: is on-base percentage currently overvalued (by the market, explaining teams' reluctance to offer arbitration) or undervalued (leading teams to believe that there wouldn't be a trade market for players if offered arbitration)? I thought that the title of this post was rhetorical. But it turns out that I'm late to the game -- Abreu already has plenty of tribute videos, including this one: Inspirational, to be sure.
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