It's been a slog of an offseason. We've talked on this site, ad nauseam at this point, about the Yankees' financial policy, that they are trying to get younger and more flexible while avoiding salary commitments for years down the road. That has manifested itself in a bevy of moves we're now familiar with, like the ones for Nathan Eovaldi, Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, and now even Aroldis Chapman. It has also excluded them from premier free agents on the market, for better or for worse. As has been well-documented, the Yankees have only increased their payroll about $9 million between 2005 and 2015, even though their revenue has skyrocketed to above $500 million a year, easily the highest in baseball.
Even though the Yankees would claim that they're at the upper-bounds of their spending limit, I would argue that their restraints are incredibly misleading. Consider, for example, the fact the Yankees traded for both Castro and Chapman. Chapman is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make $12.5 million–depending on the length of his suspension–and could be in line for another sizable payday next year if his suspension is longer than 46 days. Castro, as well, will make about $8 million this season and $30 million more through 2019. That's about $20 million just this season, and could be as high as $60 million in total money if Chapman does in fact have another year of team control.
Now, the obvious rebuttal is that, yes, of course you could go out and sign Ben Zobrist, for example, for $56 million and hope to get similar value, but you're robbing yourself of any upside and youthful trajectory. I'd definitely agree to an extent, but there's a point when the strategy of spending in the short-term looks a bit thin when actually examined from year to year, starting back in 2013.
That year the Yankees spent about $32 million on Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis, and Ichiro Suzuki. Their payroll was $228 million. In 2014, they spent about $17.4 million on Wells, Alfonso Soriano, Matt Thornton, and Ichiro. Their payroll was $197 million. And in 2015, they spent $15 million on Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, and Garrett Jones. Their payroll was $217 million.
This is a bit of a meandering point, but suffice it to say that is it not a little short-sighted to make band-aid-type moves for upwards of $20 million when free agent alternatives could give you a bit more certainty? Sure, that doesn't give you as much financial flexibility down the road, but it seems kind of odd to squander that flexibility with scrubs year after year.
The example regarding Castro/Chapman and Zobrist could be a stretch, because they're not really band-aid moves, but I don't think it that far off, considering the serious concerns around Chapman's makeup and actual foreseeable playing time, and I don't think the larger point should be lost on us. The front office may feel these flexibility-aiding moves to be necessary, but it still seems wasteful to have nearly $15 million a year of total dead weight, or even the $20 million this season with their own question marks. This at the very least makes Chapman/Castro more palatable, versus past years of added payroll. If the Steinbrenners want to claim that they can't afford long-term commitments, but could pony up for short-term trades/signings, they're either being risk averse at best, or just Scrooges at worst.
I think I can get aboard the bandwagon of Fewer Free Agents, because we are in an era of declined production out of players over 30, so it's becoming harder and harder to win consistently when there are holes each offseason that can only be filled with a high-priced free agent. At the same time, the Yankees seemingly waste a lot of money, and they're also very friendly to take on short-term contracts via trades or incentive-laden one-year contracts. I'm all for relying on younger players that give you salary space when you really want it, but you should be able to flex your financial muscle, and at the appropriate time. If you are a team with $500 million revenue, you should not be supplanting decent free agent alternatives with the hopes of striking gold. And hey, you're the New York Yankees--you could have it both ways if you really wanted.