Like it or not, the New York Yankees’ 2018 season is over, and that means it’s officially the offseason. The first order of business for the Yankees will likely be to go through the arbitration process with their eligible players. For those unfamiliar with the practice, players with more than three but fewer than six full years in the big leagues can negotiate a new one-year contract with their clubs. The team must offer a contract to the player by mid-December, or that player will become a free agent. Essentially, it’s a way for players to earn slight raises while staying with their clubs before they become unrestricted free agents. Think of it as baseball’s version of hockey’s restricted free agency.
The Yankees have nine players eligible for arbitration this offseason: Didi Gregorius, Sonny Gray, Dellin Betances, Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino, Austin Romine, Tommy Kahnle, Greg Bird and Ronald Torreyes. Our friends at MLB Trade Rumors have also projected a salary for each player; click this link to view each team’s full list. Let’s dive into the Yankees’ arbitration situation, going in order of projected salary.
Didi Gregorius (Projected $12.4 MM)
Spoiler alert: Didi Gregorius is coming back to the Yankees next season. The question is though, for how much money? Gregorius made $8.5 million last year, making him the seventh-highest-paid shortstop in the game. Brandon Crawford, Jean Segura, and Andrelton Simmons make anywhere from $9.5 million to $15 million, and Gregorius is either on par with or better than those players. Thus, MLBTR’s projection of $12.4 million actually makes sense; it would make Gregorius the game’s fifth-richest shortstop. It will be interesting to see if an extension follows suit to keep Sir Didi, a free agent next year, in the Bronx for years to come.
Sonny Gray (Projected $9.1 MM)
Despite the disappointment of Sonny Gray’s 2018 campaign, the Yankees aren’t going to straight-up non-tender a player who started two playoff games for them in 2017 and has a track record as a former MLB All-Star. Admittedly though, it does feel odd to give Gray a big raise from his current $6.5 million salary. I suspect that the Yankees hammer out a one-year deal for around $8 million. That figure is just enough to account for a potential return to form, but also not too pricey. After all, Gray could feasibly provide $8 million worth of production. That said, I think that the Yankees will try their hardest to trade Gray before Opening Day, and I would not expect to see Gray on the big league club next year.
Dellin Betances (Projected $6.4 MM)
Betances has been through the wringer in salary arbitration before, and it’s gotten ugly in the past. Last year though, it was an easy process for both the player and team, as they quickly agreed to a $5.1 million salary. Betances had some question marks heading into the season, and he responded with one of his best seasons. He has earned a raise, and a salary around $6.4 million for Betances compares well with what teams are paying Fernando Rodney, Tony Sipp, Adam Ottavino, and Shawn Kelley. Betances is worlds better than those guys, which makes him a bargain at $6.4 million.
Aaron Hicks (Projected: $6.2 MM)
Aaron Hicks was a top-tier MLB center fielder this year, but he was paid as the 18th-best player at his position. The Yankees won’t break the bank on Hicks, who is already 29 years old, but he does deserve a bump in salary relative to his production. MLBTR’s projection would pay Hicks around what Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Kiermaier, Ender Inciarte, and Starling Marte are making. Hicks is comfortably in that class, and quite possibly above that class, which makes me think he could earn up to $7 million. Even still, it’s a value buy for a guy who will easily cost over $12 million as a free agent in just one offseason’s time.
Luis Severino (Projected $5.1 MM)
Luis Severino is going to be a rich man very soon. The Yankees’ ace barely made $600,000 last year, and is due for a hefty raise. However, first-year-eligible pitchers are still young and risky, and they rarely eclipse $5 million in annual value. A deal for one year at $5 million is a win for both the Yankees and Severino, and it will be a great starting point for potential long-term extension negotiations. You can complain all you want about player salaries, but getting a pitcher like Severino for just $5 million while several flaky veterans make almost four times more than that is a net win every day of the week.
Austin Romine (Projected $2.0 MM)
Romine had a career year this season, and has earned a raise for 2019. $2 million is getting to be a little expensive for a backup catcher, but $2 million is no problem for a team as affluent as the Yankees. The Yankees have a good thing going with Romine as their backup catcher: he’s a great foot soldier and a team player who pitchers like working with. There’s no reason to mess with that by haggling over a couple of extra bucks.
Tommy Kahnle (Projected $1.5 MM)
Now, we’ve reached non-tender territory. Kahnle made $1.3 million last year, and was worth almost none of it. Some might say that the team can afford to spend $1.5 million and take a chance on Kahnle, but bullpen arms are so volatile and he’s looked so bad that I am OK with advocating for the Yankees to non-tender Kahnle. At least we’ll always have the 2017 playoffs, TK.
Greg Bird (Projected $1.5 MM)
Kind of like Sonny Gray, Greg Bird’s abysmal season might have some ready to run him out of town. However, it makes sense to retain Bird at this salary. A projected $1.5 million salary represents a $1 million raise from last season, and I do think the Yankees whittle him down to barely $1 million in total. Keeping Bird for $1 million works. If he gets hot, Bird can very easily provide $1 million in value. If not, he has minor league options and a sunken cost of $1 million won’t kill the club’s bottom line too much.
Ronald Torreyes (Projected $900K)
This is Torreyes’ first foray into salary arbitration, and while he got replaced by Adeiny Hechavarria late in the season, Hechavarria will likely move on to start somewhere else. This opens a path for Torreyes to return as the Yankees’ utility infielder once again next year. Torreyes should easily be brought back for less than $1 million. The team seemed to miss him down the stretch, and for his clubhouse value alone, the Yankees can swing a little money Toe’s way.