The World Series ended earlier this week with the Atlanta Braves preventing the Houston Astros from successfully completing a revenge tour. With that decided, the offseason, that time of year when hope springs eternal for baseball fans, beckons.
Unfortunately, the 2021 offseason is shaping up to be unlike its recent predecessors. A work stoppage looms over the sport of baseball. Indeed, there are concerns that a disruption to the schedule is almost inevitable. This unrest comes at perhaps the worst possible time for the Yankees and the club’s increasingly impatient fanbase. Bereft of a championship since 2009 and fresh off an extremely disappointing season, this would be a perfect time for the club to retool and make a run at another World Series title.
Admittedly, the specter of a work stoppage has not halted all Yankee business. Yesterday, the club parted ways with long-tenured outfielder Brett Gardner and veteran reliever Darren O’Day, in both cases through option mechanisms. Shedding payroll through letting veteran players walk, however, is a much different animal than adding salary, especially the large ones that elite free agents are likely to command.
One of the things weighing on Brian Cashman and the Yankees high command almost certainly has to be what the sport’s salary structure will look like moving forward. In mid-August, Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Major League Baseball had proposed a salary structure that, for all intents and purposes would both lower the threshold of the first luxury tax penalty to $180 million and would penalize offenders more severely for crossing that marker.
For a Yankees club that has spent an inordinate amount of time the past several offseasons either staying within shouting distance of that barrier or sliding under it to reset tax penalties, any kind of decrease from the $210 million that it sat at in 2021 would be catastrophic to the club’s plans.
To put all these numbers into context, it is worth looking at the Yankees’ current situation heading into 2022. Spotrac lists the Yankees’ luxury tax payroll at over $229 million, exceeding the current initial threshold by $19 million. Accordingly, the club currently faces a tax bill for 2022 of just under $4 million.
That is bad enough. But imagine the implications if that first tax barrier either lowers, or the taxes for exceeding it become more onerous. Then ponder the effects of it lowering and becoming increasingly punitive.
All of this does not necessarily mean the Yankees will stand pat this offseason. Quite the opposite. Where there is smoke there is often fire, and there has been a ton of smoke billowing around the Yankees and the addition of an elite shortstop. And on Wednesday, Jim Bowden of The Athletic did not just back that up. He went further. The Yankees, he asserted, will not settle for merely an elite shortstop, naming Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, and Trevor Story as options. They also want to improve at catcher, at center field, and at starting pitcher.
A considerable upgrade at any one of those four positions, let alone at two or more, would considerably increase the Yankees payroll, unless Cashman can find a way to convince trade partners to eat salary. But in an offseason wherein 29 other general managers also cannot predict what the landscape will look like, it seems rather unlikely that many other clubs will be willing to take on costs.
So, the Yankees may well be at an impasse. There seems to be a genuine recognition that the club needs to improve considerably, including a willingness to take on the nine-figure salary that will accompany the signing of either Seager or Correa. But it is difficult to believe that the front office will initiate a spending spree anytime soon. Clubs have no idea what the next Collective Bargaining Agreement will contain, how long it will last, and to what extent it will try to disincentivize the game’s major markets from flexing their financial might.
So, as a Yankees fan who is dreaming hard for a 2008-esque offseason that will bring in elite talent at multiple positions, I am resigned to remaining patient. The hot stove may stay tepid until we have labor clarity so New York knows what the consequences of any major roster additions are. Even if I had no other reason to root for a quick resolution to a distressingly ugly labor situation, my impatience and excitement to see the Yankees go for broke has me crossing my fingers that baseball and the players sort their issues out sooner rather than later.