The Yankees’ youth movement has materialized faster than anyone could have expected. Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin announced their arrivals in historic fashion, and Gary Sanchez at times seems incapable of hitting anything other than home runs. The performance of the youngsters has had an awkward side effect, however: things are a little uncomfortable for some of the veterans on the roster.
With Brian McCann’s starting opportunities dwindling, rumors have begun to swirl regarding the veteran catcher’s tenure with the Yankees. Plus, with Judge raking and fellow outfield prospect Clint Frazier not far behind in Triple-A, outfielders like Brett Gardner, and, in theory, Jacoby Ellsbury, must be looking over their shoulders.
Trading even more veterans, after already undergoing a sell-off at the trade deadline, seems like a possible next step for New York. Their young players are demanding playing time, and keeping them from the field could serve to stunt their development. In particular, McCann’s name has already been discussed in trade talks with the Braves, and Jason just laid out the case for putting Gardner’s name on the block.
There’s one major issue when it comes to trading players like these: apparently, opposing teams aren’t biting. Just a couple weeks ago, Jon Heyman reported that the Braves wouldn’t take on McCann’s full salary in a trade, and that teams simply didn’t have much interest in Gardner.
At face value, this seems strange. Why wouldn’t teams want McCann and Gardner on contracts that aren’t exactly outrageous? McCann, for all his .230 batting averages, still hits for power and profiles as a strong defensive catcher. Gardner, according to Baseball-Reference, is on pace to log over 3 WAR this season. Even Ellsbury is on pace to crack 3 WAR by Baseball Reference’s metrics.
Some of the Yankees’ veterans do seem to have on-field value, but their price tags are scaring teams away. McCann is owed $17.5 million per year through 2018, and Gardner is owed $13 million per year through 2018. Ellsbury’s guarantee of $21 million through 2020 is by far the Yankees’ most onerous commitment.
If the salaries of the Yankees’ veterans is what is keeping them from being moved, the Yankees have to consider paying down their contracts. This is partly because clearing roster spots for their prospects is in the best interest of the franchise, and partly because there are limited ways for the Yankees to flex their financial might in the near-future.
Looking ahead to this offseason, there seems to be little opportunity for New York to demonstrate their financial power. The Yankees will have money to play with, as players like Mark Teixiera and Carlos Beltran (whom the Yankees are still paying even as he plays in Texas) come off the books. But this year’s free agent crop is barren. Beyond Yoenis Cespedes, there are simply no impact names for the Yankees, or any other team really, to pursue.
If the free agent market is simply an impractical option, the Yankees essentially have a pair of ways to utilize their finances: locking up their young guns with preemptive extensions (maybe not a bad idea!), and using their money to make their veteran’s more enticing on the trade market.
$35 million over two years might seem just a tad rich for an aging catcher whose offensive capabilities are on the decline. If the Yankees paid down McCann’s contract to, say, half, like the Braves were requesting? There would certainly bidders at that price. The market was quiet on Gardner at $13 million per year, but if the Yankees paid that down even slightly, that price would surely start to look enticing.
There is recent precedence for trades of this ilk. The Yankees of course included money in the trade of Beltran to Texas. Back in 2014, the Dodgers sent $32 million of Matt Kemp’s $107 million salary to the Padres, and in return received young, talented catcher Yasmani Grandal. The Padres themselves sent Kemp and $10.5 million to the Braves to rid themselves of Kemp and to complete the saddest trade lineage in history.
In San Diego’s case, the Padres were forced to pay down Kemp’s remaining contract just to get Kemp off the roster and clear space down the line for their exciting prospects like Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot. In Los Angeles’ case, the Dodgers managed to actually acquire quality young talent by trading away a veteran and including salary. If the Yankees can make a trade that in anyway resembles the Dodgers’ case, using their financial advantages to get something of value in return for a veteran, it would behoove them to consider it.
In the end, it will be surprising if all the Yankees’ veterans are still on the roster come Opening Day 2017. New York’s younger players require playing time, and that playing time will come at someone’s expense. Though, it must be said, the worst case scenario in which the Yankees keep their veterans isn’t half bad either. If the Yankees can’t get any bites on their veterans, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to have quality veterans like Gardner, McCann, and the like on hand as the the young prospects grow.