Somewhat overshadowed this past week by yesterday’s opening of spring training games were the remarks of Yankee General Partner Hal Steinbrenner. He made the rounds in both print and radio, and confirmed what the Yanks have been saying consistently since the beginning of this off season. The 189M payroll number is real, and they have a blueprint for getting there over the next few years. With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at what that might mean in terms of personnel decisions and who stays and who goes. Of course, all of this is subject to change. Injuries and ineffectiveness can throw a wrench into the best laid plans. I just wanted to see how they get there from where we stand today.
Here’s the spreadsheet from Cots. The Yanks have only 75M committed, but it’s wrapped up in just three players (CC, Tex, Alex). There are a few no-brainers after that. If Robbie Cano and Curtis Granderson stay healthy and continue to perform, there’s no doubt the Yanks will retain both of them. Both are elite offensive performers at premium defensive positions, and both play the field well. Let’s use a ballpark number of 20M a piece for Robbie and Grandy, that takes you to 115M for just 5 players. Next let’s look at the arb guys. Nunez, Nova and Pineda will be in their 1st year of arb, meaning they will get a nice bump from the MLB minimum but still be vastly underpaid for their services. 2nd year arb guys are Francisco Cervelli, Chris Dickerson, Ramiro Pena and Cory Wade, none of whom I’d worry about much either way. 3rd year arb guys are David Robertson and Brett Gardner, both of whom figure to be key pieces and make decent money through arbitration. Using some very rough math, I’ll project these players put the Yanks in the 140-145M payroll range.
Now let’s total this up from a roster standpoint. The first 3 spots in the rotation are locked up, as is the closer’s role. Around the diamond the Yanks are set at 1B, 2B, 3B, CF and LF. SS is an open question, Derek Jeter will be age 40 and has a player option for 8M for the 2014 season. I have to think the Yanks have their fingers crossed that Nunez will be ready to man the everyday SS role by the end of next year. Nick Swisher is a FA after this year and assuming he continues to perform and stay healthy at age 32 he should garner a 3-4 year deal in the 12-15M range. He would represent arguably the 2nd best available RF on the market next year, just behind Andre Ethier who is younger (30) and figures to get both more years and dollars on the open market. With no MLB ready RF options in the farm system as of today, I’ll assume the Yanks bring back Swisher pushing them to just below 160M in payroll.
This is where it starts getting tight. You have 30M to work with. You need an everyday Catcher, 4th and 5th starter, and an entire bullpen. The bullpen is the least of my worries, after the closer and primary set up man the rest of them are fungible assets. Last year the Rays completely rebuilt their entire bullpen and still made the playoffs. The 5th starter has to be someone inexpensive, that’s where Banuelos or Betances comes in. One of them figures to be in the rotation by next year, perhaps the other working in relief. Both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes are due to become FAs in 2014. If Joba is still a set up man its plausible he can be retained at a reasonable cost. If Hughes has a healthy and effective campaign in the rotation this year and next, he’s going to get paid on the open market. I could see the Yanks retaining Hughes on a short deal around 10-12 per, and I could easily see them letting him walk or dealing him after this year. They still don’t have an everyday Catcher, unless they see Austin Romine being groomed this year to take over full time in 2013. But all indications are Romine needs another year in AAA, so the Yanks may have a decision between Hughes and Russell Martin. I would bet they retain Martin and deal off Hughes if he reestablishes his trade value. The Yanks have lots of options for starters at AAA, and Hughes has been a big disappointment from the top prospect status he had back in 2007. Given how he’s performed, he won’t be that hard to replace.
Another issue that comes into play are the milestone HRs for Alex Rodriguez. He currently has 629 HRs. His contract agrees to pay him $6M each for reaching 660, 714, 755 and tying and breaking major league HR record. Let’s give him around 30 HRs annually over the next few seasons. 660 could happen late this year, which means #714 would figure to happen sometime in 2014. If that’s the case, you’ll need that second Killer B or another young starter (Campos?) to fill out your rotation, and we’ll need to assume that one of Banuelos/Betances has already locked down a spot in the 2013 season. But one way or another, two of the 5 rotation spots would need to be filled with young, cheap arms.
A few thoughts. Everyone else in baseball has a lower payroll than the Yankees do, and the last time I checked the Bronx Bombers have only won the World Series once in the past decade. Spending the most guarantees nothing, anyone who follows the game closely should know that by now. Next, its important to remember that the best Yankee team of most readers lifetime was the 1998 edition, and they were #2 in payroll behind the Baltimore Orioles. There’s something to be said for teams that are younger, hungrier and more flexible in how they can win games. Yankee fans shouldn’t assume that the team is no longer committed to winning because they’re not spending money like crazy the way George did. They can deploy more resources elsewhere, whether it be more scouts to find the next hidden draft gem or better development people at the lower levels to develop the skills of the prospects they have. The Yankee teams that won annually in the late 90s were largely homegrown, with a few big ticket items thrown in that often were acquired (Cone, Clemens, O’Niell) via trade. The 189M payroll seems to be a return to that way of doing business, and I’m all for it.
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