The economy is down, unemployment is at a 16-year high and hundreds of thousands of Americans are wondering how they are going to scrape by if a fix does not come soon.

But the New York Yankees were still able to spend $423.5 million on signing free agents CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and their newest addition, first baseman Mark Teixeira. By any standard, that is a lot of cash, but it is especially amazing in the hard economic times.

Not only have the Bronx Bombers invested piles of money into three players, but they are the only ones in our nation who can actually afford real estate. This spring, the Yankees will open their $1.6 billion “House That George Built,” the new Yankee Stadium, across the street in an exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs at the beginning of April. The stadium is the second most expensive in the world, after Wembley Stadium in England.

To put the cost of the three free agents into perspective, that is higher than the gross domestic product of 10 nations in 2007, according to the World Bank. To go further into the numbers, last year, Sabathia had 151 strikeouts. If he puts up similar numbers this year, compared to the $23 million he will be making each year, he will earn $151,317.88 per strikeout. Not a bad day if you get about 10 K’s per game.

With the money the Yankees are paying their big off-season signees, there are a lot more things they could do than almost double the GDP of Tonga. For example, you could pay out-of-state tuition and the segregated fees (a total of $11,354.20) for about 37,299 students for each semester. Or they could buy 423,500,000 double cheeseburgers off the McDonald’s Dollar Menu, which I am sure Sabathia would enjoy.

While the money the Yankees spent on their top-three free agents could pay my rent for about the next 56,791 years (not including inflation, of course), there are some things an absurd amount of money can’t buy. For example, a championship.

Last year, the Yankees had the largest salary in Major League Baseball, dishing out $209,081,579. However, the team that paid its players the largest amount of money, the Bronx Bombers, still only managed to win eight fewer games than the team with the second smallest payroll, the Tampa Bay Rays, who won the American League East Division.

During the 2008 MLB season, five of the top 10 teams in total payroll failed to make the playoffs, including the Yankees, Tigers, Mets, Mariners and Braves. The year before, only four of the top 10 teams in total payroll made the playoffs, while two of the bottom 10 — the Diamondbacks and the Rockies — advanced to the National League Championship Series.

While it seems spending a lot of money annually on big name free agents is one way to put a winning team together, the other option is to go with the “Moneyball” approach. This means looking for quality players with lower salaries or relying on “homegrown” talent.

The spend-less-for-more approach has seen its success, particularly with this year’s Rays, who made it to the World Series with a median salary of just $414,650. However, teams like the Kansas City Royals, who perennially have a low salary, continue to remain at the bottom of the American League Central.

If the MLB is looking for some kind of parity in payrolls and possibly evening up the play of clubs across the board, there needs to be some kind of salary cap. I know Yankees fans will always argue people want to institute a cap because of jealousy for what the Yankees can afford. But, looking at other leagues that have instituted a cap, the parity between the teams has greatly increased, as has interest for the games.

Giving stars that kind of money not only decreases the parity in the leagues, but it also harms teams in the future in terms of the money their aces or stars can demand once they reach free agency. This fact particularly hurt the Brewers this off-season when they tried to re-sign Sabathia but could not afford him.

While Opening Day is still months away, all eyes will be on the Yankees to not only see if their investment was worth it but also to see if the spending spree is going to continue. But, whatever the outcome may be, we will see if money can actually buy a championship.

Either way, I am sure the Yankees could afford to fly about 1,032,926 of us ($410 per flight from Madison to Newark on Continental Airlines on out to New York to see the Cubs take on the Bronx Bombers for the opening of the new stadium.

Ben Solochek is a senior majoring in history and journalism. If you think of anything else the Yankees could afford, e-mail him at [email protected]