Bronx Bombers. Five O’Clock Lightning. Murderer’s Row. Whatever the moniker, the New York Yankees are a team that is synonymous with winning and financial might. With the exception of a brief period from 1964 to 1972, when the Yankees were run (into the ground) by CBS, the franchise has otherwise been owned by men who were every bit as competitive as the athletes they employed to play for their team. From Colonel Jacob Ruppert to George M. Steinbrenner III, the Yankees have always enjoyed an economical edge that has allowed them to remain a dominant franchise regardless of the era.
The Yankees financial might has also proven to be a benefit to the players who have plied their craft in the era of free agency. Many athletes have taken the Yankees money to play under the bright lights of New York. Some have succeeded and become legends. Others have wilted under the pressure. Neither of these highs and lows matter to the third party that has also used the Yankees for their economic prowess. Player agents know that they need the Yankees to be in any conversation regarding their clients, even if it is just to extort more money from a rival team. Therefore, it was no surprise when, late last week, Carlos Beltran’s name was floated in the news for there being a mutual interest between the Cardinals slugger and the Bombers.
The Yankees enter to 2013 offseason in somewhat uncharted waters. Hal Steinbrenner, son of the late “Boss” has taken a different approach to running the organization than his patriarchal father. Many fans feel that this offseason, one which the Yankees enter after failing to make the postseason for only the second time in an 18 year stretch, will show if ownership is about the teams on field success or a healthy bottom line. It is no secret that the Yankees would like to get their 2014 payroll under $189 million, and the reasons make sense. If the Yankees were to get under their self-imposed budget, their luxury tax hit would reset. This means that the Yankees wouldn’t have to pay a hefty tax that is distributed to the other 29 teams. It is the proverbial losing of the battle to win the war.
The questions regarding the Steinbrenner Family’s willingness to try and win at all costs began to arise last offseason when they chose to let catcher, Russell Martin, walk and didn’t replace him with another established starting catcher. As the injuries mounted throughout the 2013 season, the hard line budget became more of a goal that the team would like to attain, but not at the cost of keeping a competitive edge on the field. Now it seems that the Yankees top brass may be devising a possible $300 million spending spree that could still allow them to get under the magic number of $189 million for 2014, but there are some obstacles that could potentially stand in the way of making their offseason plan a reality. The biggest of which are the free agency status of All-Star second baseman, Robinson Cano and the looming arbitration decision regarding the Alex Rodriguez 211 game suspension.
During the season, it was reported that Robinson Cano was seeking a 10 year, $305 million contract. That number seems unrealistic, especially now that the Dodgers, the only other team with enough financial muscle to discuss a contract of that size, just signed Cuban second baseman, and Alexander Guerrero to a 4 year, $28 million deal. Realistically, there doesn’t seem to be a scenario in which Cano isn’t wearing Pinstripes next season. Most likely, he will sign in the 7 year, $175 million range.
This deal could essentially replace Alex Rodriguez’s annual $25 million salary, as well as save them an estimated additional $6 million in bonuses that could possibly be owed to the embattled 3rd baseman. The problem with this plan is that arbitrator, Fredric Horowitz, isn’t expected to rule on the matter until December, possibly hampering the Yankees pursuit of free agents, as well as give other teams a leg up on wooing free agents away from the Bronx.
The Arbitration hearing has quickly descended into a circus like atmosphere that now has A-Rod suing the MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig for, among other things, “engaging in vigilante justice to prove that Rodriguez was using performance enhancing drugs” and each side’s lawyers almost coming to blows in the hearings. The latest news is that MLB is claiming that A-Rod paid $305,000 for evidence that would have linked him to biogenesis. The claim states that A-Rod purchased documents, as well as video and audio recordings. However, during cross examination last Thursday, MLB’s COO, Rob Manfred, admitted to authorizing a payment of $125,000 for the same evidence. The bottom line is that neither side looks very reputable at the moment. From the Yankees point of view, even a reduced suspension of 162 games (or an entire season) would go a long way in helping them achieve their target financial goal in 2014.
In addition to the statuses of both Cano and A-Rod, the Yankees have quite a few other needs, as well as some financial wiggle room beyond the possible relief from A-Rod’s enormous contract. Due to the retirement of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, along with the expiring contracts of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Curtis Granderson, and Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees have an estimated $90 million coming off their payroll in 2014. Hughes and Chamberlain have most likely played their last games in the Bronx. There is a rumor that the Yankees would like to bring Kuroda back on another one year deal that is very similar to the contract he signed prior to the 2013 season.
Curtis Granderson is a bit of a question mark. While he is clearly a better option in the outfield than Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki, the Yankees will not have to overpay for his services because both Wells and Suzuki are already on the roster and large chunks of their salaries are being paid by their former teams. And then there is Beltran, a player who has previously expressed a desire to play in the Bronx, even going so far as to say he would have taken less money from the Yankees before signing with the Mets. While Beltran’s age would be a concern, his postseason prowess would quickly endear him to Yankee fans. This doesn’t mean that the Yankees should walk away from Granderson, and vice versa. Granderson is coming off an injury plagued season and could benefit from signing a qualifying offer sheet and taking advantage of the short porch in Yankee Stadium to help get him a better contract in 2015. An outfield consisting of Gardner, Granderson, and Beltran is a clear upgrade over one that consists of Gardner, Wells, and Ichiro.
The other names linked to the Yankees are Atlanta Braves free agent catcher, Brian McCann and Japanese standout pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka was 20-0 with a 1.24 ERA this past season. One report has the Yankees possibly offering $60 million just to purchase the rights to negotiate a contract with the JPPL star. Many scouts view him as a Yu Darvish type pitcher and see him receiving a similar contract to play in the Major Leagues.
McCann would represent a clear upgrade over anything that the Yankees can currently offer at the catcher position. Chris Stewart was clearly exposed as a poor hitter as his playing time increased due to the injuries to Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine, along with the departure of Russell Martin. Romine seemed to get better as the season progressed and Cervelli is expected to return to the Bronx after recovering from a season ending elbow injury. Cervelli was also suspended for his role in the biogenesis scandal, but has largely flown under the radar thanks to his more high profile teammate. Cervelli was allowed to serve his suspension while on the disabled list, allowing him to start 2014 with the Yankees. However, the Yankees never seemed all that comfortable with Cervelli as their starting catcher. J.R. Murphy got playing time down the stretch and highly touted prospect Gary Sanchez is still playing his way through the arm system. Neither player is set to make an impact on the major league roster anytime soon, so it would seem that McCann would make sense.
Beyond these plans, the Yankees still have questions regarding the health of their aging core and dealing with a rotation that is now in transition. If they can add these pieces, as well as keep the luxury tax money in their own pockets, then Yankees ownership will have proven that they are indeed guided by the same principles of their forefathers. They will have also have kept the rest of the league from trying to keep pace with their franchise’s money.