One topic that never seems to get old is Hal Steinbrenner’s supposed plans to get the Yankees under the luxury tax threshold at some point in the near future. For years, Plan 189 caused the Yankees to steer clear of international free agents like Yasiel Puig and Yu Darvish, much to the chagrin of Yankees fans. But instead of using the 2014 season to get under the luxury tax threshold, they went on a spending spree, adding Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran.
There are a few things going on in the near future that have some wondering whether Hal is gearing up for another attempt to get under the luxury tax threshold. First, the actual threshold itself will increase under the new CBA. Also, players coming up from the newly-loaded farm system will play for the league minimum salary, while contracts like those of Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia come off the books after the 2017 season. Then, of course, there is the 2018-2019 free agent class, which is set to include the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, and Brian Dozier.
After signing Aroldis Chapman and Matt Holliday, getting under the luxury tax threshold for the 2017 season may prove to be impossible. However, it is easy to speculate that the Yankees might try to slide under the limit in 2018, which would reset their tax rate, giving them more freedom to pursue the Machados and Harpers of the world.
If Hal does indeed plan to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018, one thing will likely hold him back. As things currently stand, the 2017-2018 free agent class is crawling with starting pitchers. The Yankees starting rotation figures to be shaky now, with Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia set to become free agents after the season. Furthermore, Masahiro Tanaka will have the opportunity to opt-out and test the waters as a free agent. By next offseason, the Yankees could be without a viable rotation.
In addition to Tanaka, Johnny Cueto will also be able to opt out of his deal. 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta is set to be a true free agent, in addition to Rangers’ ace Yu Darvish. After them, interesting options will include high-ceiling pitchers like Alex Cobb, Danny Duffy, and Chris Tillman. Then, there are pitchers like Marco Estrada and Jeremy Hellickson who should be able to provide reliable innings for their respective teams.
One interesting option will be groundball specialist Tyler Chatwood. In 2016, Chatwood had a 3.87 ERA in 27 starts with the Colorado Rockies. The righty had a groundball rate of 57.2% last year and would probably find Yankee Stadium to be a bit more pitcher friendly than Coors Field.
While the 2018-2019 free agent class will have several big name position players, it will not have the same level of starting pitching. Clayton Kershaw and David Price will both have the ability to opt out of their deals, but it is unlikely that the Dodgers would let Kershaw see free agency without extending him.
Getting under the luxury tax threshold in 2018, then going crazy the winter after certainly makes sense on paper. But it will be especially tough to pass up on the numerous starting pitchers in the 2017-2018 free agent class. The Baby Bombers have some interesting names on the pitching side, but there is no such thing as a sure-fire pitching prospect. Even if it means staying above the luxury tax threshold, the Yankees might have to pounce on a starting pitcher next offseason.