With the New York Yankees facing early elimination by the Detroit Tigers once again, Yankees fans are looking toward a long winter of complaints about umpires and pondering the future of the team. Is this a Yankees site, or one for Yankees fans??? Of course not. It’s a Tigers site – and that means one for baseball fans who loathe and detest the “Evil Empire”. Fans of the Sawx are, for some reason, usually considered unique in their vehement hatred of pinstripes. They are not alone – fans of every team (particularly AL teams and teams of current or past iterations of the AL East) grind their teeth when the Yankees win. SO… ready for some Schadenfreude?
Never before in recent memory have we had to wonder if the Yankees would have to do anything but put the best team that money can buy on the field. Despite a relatively quiet offseason the Yankees entered the 2012 season with a payroll reckoned at $209 million – and, of course, an extremely talented group of players on the field. The Yankees sell enough tickets and enough merchandise and (especially) receive enough from local broadcast rights that they can afford that kind of a payroll year after year. The fact that most teams cannot is – as you are all well aware – what earns them the ire of fans nationwide. But… next year will be different. The new CBA includes stiffer penalties for those who break the luxury tax threshold (which we expect to be in the neighborhood of $180 million) and Yankees brass seems serious about getting the team down below that threshold either by 2013 or failing that 2014.
The Yankees? Cutting payroll??? Probably. And unfortunately for the Yankees, they might now find themselves in that rock-and-hard-place position that every other competitive team has (but the Yankees have been able to pay their way out of)… dead weight eating up so much payroll that it’s hard to compete. There is a little genuine dead weight on the Yankees payroll – like the $8 million that they still owe A.J. Burnett – but mostly they have too many guys getting paid more than they’re worth and too few that are getting paid less. All told, the Yankees have $119 million in hard commitments for next season – which doesn’t include the $15 million club option on Robinson Cano or the $15 million club option on Curtis Granderson (though it does include their respective buyouts). The Yankees also have 8 arbitration eligible guys, none of whom is particularly unproductive or overpaid, which means another probable $20 million.
By my calculations that leaves the Yankees with about $15 million dollars to play with if they want to get under the luxury tax threshold and a whole bunch of holes to fill. Why so many holes for such a good team with so many payroll commitments? They have a lot of free agents this fall… Those include midseason acquisitions Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Lowe, but also key cogs Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte as well as bench players Freddy Garcia, Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez. Unless they totally give up on the idea of getting under the luxury tax, the Yankees will not only have to stay out of the top and middle ends of this year’s free agent market but also make some hard choices about who they want to keep for 2013. They might decline Granderson’s option – despite the 43 home runs his season has been considered a disappointment. They might be able to resign their veteran part-timers for similar below-market contracts that they played on this year (though Chavez and Ibanez have definitely earned a raise) – but even so they won’t be free.
For anyone they let go – there aren’t painless internal options to fill in. Michael Pineda might be able to fill one of those two potential rotation vacancies. But when a guy misses a whole year after surgery, you can’t exactly pencil him in for 200 innings or count on the same level of effectiveness. Ivan Nova and David Phelps have been effective at times, they could also be called upon in a pinch – but notice that they aren’t starting any playoff games for the Yanks. The Yankees farm system isn’t exactly barren – it never is, however few of their own players the organization gives roles to – but the “replacements” for Swisher/Granderson and Martin (I’m referring to BA top-100’ers Mason Williams and Gary Sanchez) were playing A-ball last year. They had a couple of starters in the BA top 100 as well in Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos… Betances stunk in AAA in 2012 and is unlikely to be on anyone’s top prospects list (like – say – Andy Oliver) Banuelos missed most of 2012 and after Tommy John surgery will miss 2013 as well. There doesn’t seem to be anyone out there waiting in the wings that a Yankees fan would be thrilled to have take over a spot. There are plenty of options that I (who am NOT a Yankees fan) would be thrilled to see taking over those spots.
Every other fan has had offseasons – usually more years than not – when they start looking on the prospects for the next season with less confidence than concern or trepidation. Not the Yankees. Their fans might complain about this decision or that, but they have always been able to have confidence that if the Yankees had a hole a check would fill it and if the Yankees would be better with someone than without him he was darn well going to be playing in pinstripes next year. Not anymore… The Yankees would be better with Nick Swisher than without him – but most seem to expect he’ll wind up elsewhere. The same goes, unquestionably, for Kuroda, Pettitte, Granderson and Martin. Probably for Chavez, Ibanez & Jones as well. In years past would you ever wonder if those guys were going to be resigned? Unless, that is, Yankees brass decided to go after someone like Josh Hamilton instead… Not this year – and I think I’m going to enjoy watching the Yankees’ angst and dread this offseason almost as much as watching them lose in the playoffs.
So IS it time for the New York Yankees to rebuild? Of course not. The Yankees don’t rebuild. Period. They never hold onto enough prospects to do it well anyway, and it’s still hard to imagine a Bronx fire sale. Usually, the Yankees reload and that’s the issue. It doesn’t look like they can reload this year, so they’re just going to have to take their chances. But don’t worry, Yankees fans – you might be forced to do what White Sox fans did (hope and pray that Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy start earning what they’re owed) but… It’s not entirely outside of the realm of possibility that Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira earn their $70 million, is it?