The Yankees, one of the most highly-valued sports franchises in the world, are out of money this offseason. Well, they’re not out of money; they just don’t feel like spending more. With the luxury tax at $189 million for one more time before it increases under the new CBA, Hal Steinbrenner and the rest of management are trying to stay under the threshold—finally.
This means that the Yankees will likely halt their rabid spending spree (sarcasm) after signing Aroldis Chapman and Matt Holliday for a total of $99 million. Given the roster that we know, and given the relative uncertainty with the Baby Bombers going into 2017, it’s pretty obvious that these two players won’t be able to put them over the top.
It also means that if the Yankees were to make another acquisition, it would be via trade. The idea of trading Brett Gardner and/or Chase Headley to clear payroll has been floated, and it’s a horrible, horrible idea. Why, you ask? Because even if they trade them, there’s a good chance it does not help you in the short or long term enough to warrant such a deal.
Suppose you’re making this deal for the long term. In that case the plan would be to clear payroll in the short term and gain some prospects for another day. The problem is, of course, that a trade for either Headley or Gardner isn’t going to get the haul you’d get for Chapman, for example, nor would it be as valuable as it would be during the trade deadline, when teams are a bit more desperate for services. The main result is that the team downgrades with no ready replacement, at a very valuable part of the win curve at that.
Now suppose this imagined deal was done for short-term gain, that the Yankees would trade away one of these players to reduce their payroll, allowing them to spend on another free agent in the process. The problem with that, unsurprisingly, is that there just isn’t enough available, at that given price point, that would make enough of a difference to warrant all of that hassle.
Headley’s (two years and $26 million) and Gardner’s (two years and $23 million, one team option) contracts are both very reasonable, and both would only take off $13 million each per year if traded, which doesn’t give the front office that much more leeway. They’re also worth about two wins apiece next season, so the only way it makes sense to deal them is if you can acquire a free agent who is better than that.
The only players who fit that profile are Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and, depending on your opinion of him, Ivan Nova. Nova likely doesn’t return and Encarnacion both doesn’t have a position and costs a draft pick, so that leaves Bautista. I honestly don’t think it’s a bad idea, but that draft pick will turn them off. I think it’s a bona fide upgrade, only if they do this after a Gardner trade. This is the only case. In any other scenario, it would be a tough pill to swallow.
Because of imposed financial constraints, the Yankees are in a bind. Trades are the only way the team can reasonably improve from here on out, and it could have the benefit of clearing some salary space for another player. But given the Yankees’ newfound ambivalence to hand out large deals, and their reticence to move Gardner, it neither seems likely nor does it make logical sense.
It’s mostly illogical because of these various considerations, but also because of this: these are (again) self-imposed restraints, for a team with a $500 million revenue, with an ownership group with endless amounts of cash. I’m not saying that Gardner and Headley are stars, but it’ll be hard to find a replacement for them if they were shipped away, which would be all for naught—as the Yankees strain to fill positions and rotation spots, the Steinbrenners cash another check.