Low-cost vets bolster Yankees roster

General manager Brian Cashman, however, excels at finding inexpensive veterans to complement his high-priced talent — and this year’s team might be his finest work yet.

The New York Yankees often are criticized for their lavish spending, and why not? Their payroll, hovering around $200 million, again is the highest in the majors.

General manager Brian Cashman, however, excels at finding inexpensive veterans to complement his high-priced talent — and this year’s team might be his finest work yet.

Consider:

New York’s current 25-man roster includes 12 players who came from other organizations and are getting paid $4 million or less by the Yankees this season.

Here’s the list:

Freddy Garcia: $4 million.
Ichiro: Estimated $2.25 million.
Andruw Jones: $2 million.
Boone Logan: $1.875 million.
Raul Ibanez: $1.1 million.
Eric Chavez: $900,000.
Casey McGehee: Estimated $775,000.
Jayson Nix: $550,000.
Clay Rapada: $525,000.
Chris Stewart: $482,500.
Clay Eppley: $481,000.
Derek Lowe: Estimated $140,000.

Lowe’s money is the pro-rated portion of the minimum salary; the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves are paying the rest of his $15 million guarantee for 2012.

The Yankees also received $4.5 million from the Seattle Mariners to cover the rest of Ichiro’s remaining salary and $225,000 from the Pittsburgh Pirates to cover the rest of McGehee’s.

What’s more, the list does not include five homegrown Yankees pitchers who are earning $3.2 million or less — right-handers Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and David Phelps.

The Yankees benefit in part from the desire of some veterans to play for the world’s most famous sports franchise — “I love coming here every day,” Ibanez says, referring to Yankee Stadium. “I don’t even mind the traffic.”

But Cashman also waits out the free-agent market until prices on players such as Ibanez and Eric Chavez drop, and the GM and his staff are aggressive on small trades, the waiver wire and minor-league free agents.

Granted, the Yankees have 10 players earning $10 million or more, and three — Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia — earning $23 million or more. But a number of their high-priced players have been injured this season, and the level of contribution from their bargain-basement types players has been nothing short of astonishing.

Nix, when asked about the Yankees’ reputation as big spenders, “People like to say that, throw that around. Of course the Yankees do spend lots of money. But they do things with a purpose. They know what they’re doing. It’s not an accident.”

The Yankees, when they decide to move on a player, often act quickly. They pounced on Ichiro when the San Francisco Giants balked at acquiring him (Ichiro, who has enough service time to veto any trade, did not want to play for another team that pursued him, the Chicago White Sox, sources said).

The signing of Lowe was an even better example of how the Yankees often outflank their competition. Once the Indians released Lowe, any team could have signed him for the minimum terms. But Cashman, negotiating with Lowe’s agent, Scott Boras, wasted no time.

“It happened literally in 10 minutes,” Lowe says. “We were talking to other teams. They were saying, ‘We’re interested, but give us a day or so.’

“Scott calls and says, ‘I talked to Brian, this is exactly what he wants to have happen as far as the role. Is it something you’re interested in?’ I said, ‘Of course.’ He said, ‘Let me call him back.’

“Two minutes later, Cashman called and it was done.”

Lowe’s experience was not atypical.

The Yankees were equally blunt with Ichiro — they communicated to him that he often would need to play left field instead of right, hit down in the lineup, sit against certain lefties. Ichiro accepted the trade, anyway.

“They’re very honest and straightforward, which I think veteran players appreciate,” Ibanez says. “They tell you exactly what they think your role is going to be, what is expected, what they want.”

The players, in turn, are content to check their egos to fill a small part of the Yankees’ universe.

Cashman, by exploiting the brand, helps perpetuate it. All of the pieces fit. The Yankees, expensive in sum, are an actual team.

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