Few things in life are as jarring as when you doze off to sleep, only to be woken up less than an hour later by the cats running around. It really jolts you awake, even if just for a moment. That happened to me a few hours ago, but it was honestly nothing compared to the feeling I had about a minute later, when I picked up my phone to check the time in the dead of night and saw the following push notification:
“Twins to sign Carlos Correa”
The cats might as well have stood upright and begun to sing the Oompa-Loompa song to me. It would’ve been less shocking.
Yes, somehow after this long, lockout-interrupted offseason with theories zooming left and right about Carlos Correa’s eventual destination, the star shortstop ended up signing a mere three-year, $105.3 million contract with the Twins, per Mark Berman. At the beginning of the offseason, MLB Trade Rumors and The Athletic’s Jim Bowden predicted 10-year deals in excess of $300 million, so Correa ultimately taking this was quite the departure from expectations. His average annual value of $35.1 million will be larger than those estimates and there will be opt-outs, but the mere idea that Correa would decide to accept a deal so short-term was a long shot.
The worst part of all of these developments for Yankees fans? Pick your poison because it’s either one of two options:
1) Given the Twins’ budget, they appeared only able to pull this off because the Yankees did them a favor by taking a little over $50 million off their books in the Josh Donaldson trade.
2) Even at the end, the Yankees never seemed remotely in on a star player at a position where they needed a big improvement — all because of Hal Steinbrenner’s reluctance to spend money.
Despite some of the noise, Yankees were never really in on Correa (despite the due diligence they do on pretty much every free agent) and never really planned to be in on him.— Erik Boland (@eboland11) March 19, 2022
If you read what Hal Steinbrenner said Wednesday, #Yankees weren’t adding $35M for Correa to this season’s payroll.— David Lennon (@DPLennon) March 19, 2022
Donaldson & Kiner-Falefa was a net add of roughly $14M for 2022 with Sanchez/Urshela expected to earn a combined $14M though arb.
Both are truly baffling.
All offseason long, the Yankees have insisted through media outlets that they were more interested in a stopgap shortstop because they had very good prospects in the farm system thanks to Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza. It would be completely reasonable to quibble that this was a short-sighted way of thinking, and that given how bad the Yankees were at shortstop last year, it would be a discredit to this team’s current championship window focused around Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gerrit Cole to settle for a stopgap when multiple stars were available for mere money — Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien, Javier Báez ... the list goes on.
The Yankees appeared to live up to their word and settled on Isiah Kiner-Falefa to be their stopgap at shortstop. They acquired him on March 14th in a deal with the Twins that also sent Donaldson’s contract to the Bronx in exchange for catcher Gary Sánchez and third baseman Gio Urshela. To be fair, Donaldson is not exactly toast; after all, he clubbed 26 homers with a 127 OPS+ in 135 games last year. However, injuries have indeed slowed him down in the past couple years and could strike again. It is a roll of the dice, especially given the loss of offense the Yankees will take behind the plate with the Kyle Higashioka/Ben Rortvedt tandem instead of Sánchez. Maybe their defense will even it out somewhat, but maybe not.
Kiner-Falefa seemed to be a mostly inoffensive part of the trade, though. It was fair to guess that given their comments, the Yankees were simply going to move forward with a stopgap instead of Correa or any of the others. I wasn’t happy about it, but it happens and I was prepared to be modestly hopeful about Kiner-Falefa at least shoring up the infield defense.
Now, to see that Correa could have been that stopgap shortstop all along? And to see that the Yankees still weren’t interested? It’s appalling, and the Twins using the Yankees’ own money against them is just a poke in the eye and a black mark on the records of both Steinbrenner and GM Brian Cashman.
Let’s grant that the Yankees have a budget under Steinbrenner that they refuse to go to Dodgers or Mets levels to match. It’s an annoying hypothetical because the Yankees have Scrooge McDuck-esque swimming pools of money in their metaphorical vaults, but whatever, we’re assuming it and playing a game with our old buddy, mathematics.
Per David Lennon’s tweet above, the Donaldson trade added $14 million to the 2022 Yankees’ payroll. Bringing Anthony Rizzo back to play first base meant throwing another $11 million onto the pile (being generous and subtracting the $5 million saved by trading Luke Voit to the Padres). At that point, it’s $10 million to go to get up to the roughly $35 million that Correa will make in 2022, and that’s assuming no further additions whatsoever to chip away at that total, which is far from clear with Brett Gardner still out there, as well as the possibility of adding an A’s starter.
Suppose none of that happened and the status quo from the end of the lockout was still in place — Steinbrenner can’t do the equivalent of adding a mid-rotation starter to bring in a transcendent player who could still be a stopgap anyway if the team so desperately desired it? Correa would be a more reliable bet than Donaldson or Kiner-Falefa, that’s for sure.
It’s a slap to the face for Yankees fans everywhere, regardless of how you feel about Correa personally after the sign-stealing scandal. Even if you dislike Correa, the thought process behind Steinbrenner’s cold calculation should leave you feeling like the Yankees are truly committed to not doing everything they can to win a 28th championship. They should be embarrassed by what the Twins have done with their own money, and yet I can’t help feeling that they are mildly perturbed, at the absolute best.
But hey, at least the man who owns the most valuable franchise in the sport can tell “partners and banks and bondholders” that he’s doing his best to not spend money. Good for him.