The Yankees struck out on Patrick Corbin yesterday, as the left-handed pitcher agreed to a six-year, $140 million deal with the Washington Nationals. Nearly all evaluators viewed Corbin as the Yankees’ top priority this offseason. Instead, he took his services to the nation’s capital.
The Corbin non-signing came not only as a surprise, but its reverberations will be felt all winter long. There’s a lot to process, and Pinstripe Alley will have more analysis as the days unfold. For now, I’m going to get us started with 12 assorted thoughts.
1. Wait, did that say $140 million? According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Corbin secured the 38th-most lucrative deal — free agent signing or extension — in baseball history. For comparison’s sake, it’s worth looking at where that lands among other pitchers. He fell just shy of Cole Hamels’ $144 million extension with the Phillies, but cleared Johan Santana’s $137.5 contract with the Mets. The Corbin family is going to have the best Christmas ever.
2. Was that an overpay for Corbin? Yeah, probably. He’s fresh off a career-best season, one that saw him post a 3.15 ERA (2.47 FIP) with sterling peripherals. He managed 6.3 fWAR, shattering his previous best mark of 3.5 fWAR in 2013. Corbin had only one other three-win season, though, and that was in 2017. Using our other pitchers as benchmarks, he falls short of the established contract standard. Hamels proved a model of consistency for the Phillies, pitching at a high level year after year. Santana, meanwhile, had a ridiculous peak from 2004-2006 — think better than 2018 Corbin, and for multiple seasons. It was definitely not a buyer’s market in 2018, and that probably resulted in the large payout.
3. That said, the Nationals packed their deal with heavy deferrals. It’s a play they’ve used multiple times in the past. They did it with Stephen Strasburg’s extension, and they did it with Max Scherzer’s free agent contract. The present day value of the signing is worth keeping an eye out for.
4. The Yankees offered a five-year, $100 million contract and ultimately refused to budge. They would not go for a sixth year. They wouldn’t offer a larger five-year pact that would blow away the Nationals’ present day money. That fits with the club’s recent modus operandi of refusing to negotiate with players. It’s the same strategy they took with Robinson Cano and Yoan Moncada. The front office loves a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer, and guess what? More often than not, good players leave it.
5. So, the Yankees lost out big time. Corbin is a left-handed pitcher who misses bats and gets groundballs. That’s a pitcher made for Yankee Stadium. I get not wanting to overpay on past performance, but there’s evidence that suggests he can build off his 2018 success. Josh explained this in great detail back in October.
6. I never want to hear about a hometown discount again. How did the connection between Corbin and the Yankees get so strong? It’s because the left-hander repeatedly acknowledged the Yankees were his childhood team. He grew up in the Syracuse area and idolized Andy Pettitte. All of that, however, means nothing when it comes to signing a free agent contract. Some smart guys once said that cash rules everything around me. Players aren’t going to take less to suit up for the Yankees. That’s a myth now. Either pay up, or live with the reality that the Bombers won’t land the best players available.
7. This all has to do with the luxury tax, doesn’t it?
I thought the Yankees were done with that.
8. Since 2012, the team’s ownership repeatedly shared their desire to stay under the luxury tax threshold. There was a false start in 2013, a spending spree in 2014, and then the team got down to business slashing payroll. Along the way, the club passed on top free agent pitchers such as Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and Jake Arrieta. The team finally reset their luxury tax rate last year, and what did they do? They whiffed on the top free agent starter. That’s a terrible look for one of the most profitable franchises in all of sports history.
9. On its own, the Corbin non-signing doesn’t show that the Yankees will hide underneath the luxury tax threshold in 2019. One could argue the team made a baseball decision. This move doesn’t exist in a vacuum, however, as Randy Levine spent yesterday morning belting out the Yankees’ newfound party line. “We just do the best we can,” he said of the team’s payroll situation. “We really don’t worry about anybody else. Last I looked, we were under the [luxury] tax. We’re pretty financially prudent these days.“
10. Hal Steinbrenner recently stated that he would authorize going over the tax threshold if it would help the team win. “We’re going to get to the threshold, and if I’m not convinced we’re at where we need to be, we will keep adding pieces,” he explained in a YES Network interview. For now, that reeks of lip-service. The team wouldn’t play ball with the top free agent pitcher, a position of stated need. I’ll believe Hal will spend when I see it, and that’s bad news for anyone who wants Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in pinstripes.
11. Speaking of Harper and Machado, it feels like Philadelphia is a major threat for both now. They missed out on Corbin, and their ownership, unlike New York’s, has a hole burning in the wallet. The Yankees have been connected to Machado for a long time, and apparently they sent a delegation to meet with Harper in Las Vegas. I hope the team is all-in on one, if not both sluggers. I just don’t know how the new fiscally conservative Yankees can make a deal with either work. If they can get outbid on Corbin, they can get outbid for the two elite bats. What a world we live in.
12. So, how are the Yankees going to finish their rotation? The initial reports are that the Bombers will pivot to the secondary (and tertiary?) arms in J.A. Happ, Nathan Eovaldi, and Lance Lynn. Those all feel like enormous letdowns, don’t they? Cashman expressed his desire to add two frontline starters, and while he got one in James Paxton, neither of the aforementioned pitchers fit the bill. That’s basically adjusting the rotation, not revamping it. Buster Olney suggested that whoever lost out on Corbin could dial up Cleveland and see if their starters are still available. The Yankees already cashed in one of their trade chips, however, so they would need to pay up for a Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco. Adding one of those right-handers would make for a tremendous upgrade, but it will be difficult to pull off. The Bombers might regret not making a stronger push for Corbin, and sooner than we think.