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A few reasons why the Yankees might dive back into free agency this winter

Prospect hugging and financial restraint have been the Yankees' formula of late. Still, there are some signs that point to a big free agent splurge in the coming months.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

So far, most are predicting another quiet off-season for the Yankees...not quiet in that they won't make any moves - they almost always do something of note - but in the sense that they won't hand out mega contracts with impunity to the top free agents on the market as they did two years ago. After all, the fiscal responsibility and young talent model they're currently following seems to be working alright. They were in the playoffs - short-lived as that trip was - for the first time since 2012. They got big contributions from the prospects whose drums they've been banging, validating Brian Cashman's decision to mostly stand pat at the trade deadline. With guys like Luis Severino, Greg Bird and Rob Refsnyder ready to go again in 2016, it seems the Yankees can afford to wait until some of their huge contracts expire before plunging back in to free agency.

Not all off-seasons are created equal, though. Opportunity doesn't always knock when you're dressed and ready to answer the door. The Yankees will free up nearly $40 million in salary post-2016 when Mark Teixeira's and Carlos Beltran's deals expire - a lot more than what they stand to gain from Stephen Drew, Chris Capuano and Chris Young departing this year - but the quality of players available to spend it on won't be anything close to what it is now. David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist will headline an exceptionally well-stocked group of free agents this winter. The projected 2016-17 class, while ripe with great closers, is startlingly bare on the position player and starting pitcher end. Talent-over-production cases like Stephen Strasburg and Andrew Cashner, Brian McCann's BFF, Carlos Gomez and a 38-year-old Adrian Beltre look so far like the most intriguing buys.

It's not just the level of free agents that will be different next year but also the non-dollar cost of getting them. Cashman loves draft picks like my dogs love bacon. The flurry of activity this past July has prompted him with the chance to sign top players without giving any up. Two of the top three starters on the market - Price and Cueto - changed teams during the season, making them ineligible for $15.8 million draft pick-eating qualifying offer. So did the best second base option in Zobrist, one of the top corner outfielders in Cespedes, and a couple of mid-rotation arms in Mike Leake and Scott Kazmir. Then there are international posting candidates like Korean slugger Byung-Ho Park and Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda, who also won't cost picks. The following winter's elite free agents are mostly on teams who expect to contend, making mid-season trades that avoid qualifying offers less likely.

When you mention the Yankees and free agency lately, often the term that comes next is luxury tax. Given their current commitments, they won't be under the $189 million threshold for 2016, meaning every dollar they spend next year will cost them 50 percent more than most other teams. They should be getting some relief on that front in the near future, though, with the salaries of Teixeira, Beltran, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia all off the books by the end of 2017. On top of that, MLB's current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1st, 2016, so $189 million probably won't be the number the Yankees are working with much longer. The tax apron is based in part on league wide revenue, which increased from the low $7-billions in 2010 and 2011, the years on which the last basic agreement was based, to a record $9 billion in 2014. The players probably won't agree to any deal that doesn't raise the point at which big spenders are taxed. The Yankees should have more wiggle room going forward, which might make them more okay with getting hit hard next year.

The Yankees could also decide that they can't afford not to be big free agent players, thanks to widespread fan apathy that's come from not being World Series favorites for the past few seasons. That sounds sort of ridiculous, but many of today's fans grew up being told by the team itself that nothing short of a championship is acceptable, and that's a tough philosophy to unlearn. The Yankees sold $3.194 million tickets in 2015, which was fourth in baseball, but their lowest total since 1998. Anyone who went to any games knows that figure is hardly reflective of the number of fans who actually showed up. Fewer butts in seats means less income from merchandise and concession stands, and if tickets aren't being purchased on secondary markets, that makes season ticket holders who buy with the intention of reselling the games they don't use wary about renewing. Add to all that tabloid articles and sports radio rhetoric about the Mets "taking over" New York, and the Steinbrenners could feel uncomfortable enough to want to make some noise.