We’re less then a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training and there are still over 100 free agents left unsigned. It’s been as weird an offseason as ever. The Yankees were active early on when they traded for Giancarlo Stanton and re-signed CC Sabathia, but, like the rest of the league, have been sitting quietly ever since.
Part of their offseason agenda was to shed salary. They want to make sure they’re under the $197 million luxury tax threshold, and they’re going to make that happen. They sent Starlin Castro to Miami in the Stanton trade and later traded Chase Headley back to the Padres to offset some costs. With those moves and the large salaries of Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia coming off the books, their financial goals look achievable.
Problem is, they didn’t just trade away the salaries, they also lost their starting second and third basemen. When Castro was traded away, it very clearly opened a door for stud prospect Gleyber Torres to take the reigns. When Headley was traded, it very awkwardly cracked open a possibility for Torres and Miguel Andujar to take over second and third base, respectively.
The feeling was always that the Yankees wouldn’t be comfortable rolling with two rookies in the infield. They’d need a backup plan. The problem that kept coming up was that backup plans cost money, which the Yankees don’t want to spend. That was so weird to type. They don’t want to rely on rookies when their championship window has moved up. However, if it means preserving their financial goals, they absolutely will.
Brian Cashman has said they’re looking to improve, but at their price. If not, they’ll go with Torres, Andujar, and others.
“If the market changes, we’re prepared to adjust,” Cashman said. “But right now, we’re still treading water. This is what we’ve got, in addition to other guys like Tyler Wade and [Thairo] Estrada. I’m excited with what we have.”
Now, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi is reporting that the Yankees have done their calculations, and they have about $15 million left they could spend now and still meet their payroll goals.
Per his calculations, the current payroll commitments add up to approximately $162 million. That number jumps another $10 million after factoring in benefits, insurance and performance bonuses paid to players on the Major League roster. The team also wants to leave about $10 million free for midseason callups and trades. That comes to $182 million, giving them $15 million to play with right now.
Unfortunately, that’s likely bad news for Andujar or Torres (most likely Andujar). The Yankees have been said to want another starting pitcher as well, but I believe if they’re going to add a starter, it’d be a top of the line arm like Darvish. They don’t need an arm just to eat innings, it’s more about getting better. The $15 million prices them out of that.
Where it does keep them in play, though, is the infield. That amount should be enough to sign someone like Todd Frazier or Neil Walker. Obviously, I’m just talking about the 2018 season, the amount of years either want could still be a breaking point in talks, but for 2018 from the Yankees’ point-of-view, they’d be in the clear. And it makes sense to bring one of them on board if they can.
I know, I know. “Play the kids! Give them a chance! Get the bunt out of here, Kunj!” Yes, I’ve heard it all. This plan would be fine, but the Yankees hurt their ability to roll with it by advancing as far as they did last year. They accelerated their timeline, and broke the rebuild. They’re contenders now. Rebuilding teams don’t get Giancarlo Stanton.
The counter to that is that the Yankees have a team that’s deep enough where one “black hole” in the line up isn’t going to kill them. That’s fine, in theory, but in practice it never works. One bad throw to first and the “WHY WASN’T FRAZIER SIGNED?!” yelling will begin. Want proof? People literally wanted Austin Romine to start a playoff game over Gary Sanchez. Literally, Austin Romine.
The thing about signing one of those guys now is that it provides an option and a fallback plan. We all know what Frazier and Walker (or whoever else) are. No one knows what Andujar or Torres are, at least in the majors. If the Yankees roll the dice and either one fails, then what? Sure, they could try and trade for someone then, but who knows who will be available and at what cost.
Signing a veteran now will give them the fallback plan. The best part is that it still doesn’t really stop them from going with the rookies. Say Andujar is just tearing it up in the minors and Frazier is still just Frazier, the Yankees can always bring Andujar up and move Frazier to the bench in a backup role. And then if Andujar struggles, they have their backup plan just waiting.
Ever since Headley and Castro were traded, it’s been said the Yankees wouldn’t be 100% comfortable rolling with two rookie infielders. They have confidence in the two, but (rightfully) may not want to put all their eggs in the rookie basket. Money would’ve been the only reason not to, and now that they “have the money” (we are talking about the Yankees, right?), they’ll probably add some insurance.