For a while we’ve waited for the Yankees to make a move. They’ve made a couple, sure, and one was quite the splash. But none of the moves really changed the outlook for 2012. Since Brian Cashman probably didn’t mean “Freddy Garcia, Freddy Garcia, Freddy Garcia,” when he declared the team’s needs for the off-season, we continue to wait. Yet with each passing day it seems less and less likely that the Yankees make a move for a starting pitcher.
Those chances seemed even slimmer yesterday, when ESPN New York reported that the Yankees won’t bid on Hiroki Kuroda. This follows a period when the Yankees denied a connection with Kuroda. While by every indication they do like Kuroda, he just doesn’t appear to fit into their budget. That has, in some ways understandable, inflamed the ire of Yankees fans.
The issue isn’t necessarily with the $12 million base salary Kuroda seeks. In fact, for a one-year deal that’s a more than reasonable rate. The issue is the additional cost they bear. Since they’re over the luxury tax, each additional contract they sign actually costs them 40 percent extra. That turns Kuroda’s $12 million into $16.8 million in total expenditures. It’s an unfortunate situation, but it’s one the Yankees currently face.
It’s still likely, though, that the Yankees could, if they were so inclined fit Kuroda into the budget. They can definitely use another starter, and Kuroda has a very fine four-year MLB track record. Brian Cashman has said in the past — even as recently as this November — that he can takes cases for payroll increases to Hal Steinbrenner for approval. If Cashman can make a compelling case, Hal would make an exception. Yet can Cashman really make a compelling case for Kuroda?
Cashman might like Kuroda. Billy Eppler might like Kuroda. Even Hal himself might like Kuroda. But that doesn’t mean he warrants making a payroll exception. Exceptions come for pitchers like Cliff Lee, who don’t hit the market open. The Yankees were willing to make an exception for him last year, though it didn’t work out. Can Cashman really justify making a similar case for Kuroda?
Let’s just say that Cashman can and does make a compelling case for Kuroda, and Hal makes the payroll exception. That pretty much ties the Yankees’s hands financially. It might seem as though they have unlimited funds, but they clearly do not. Hal has said no before — see the proposed Mike Cameron trade from July, 2009 — and he’ll likely say no after bringing in Kuroda. That means Justin Maxwell as the righty outfielder off the bench. That means no other fringe improvements. Most importantly, it means no in-season improvements.
That is to say, the idea behind not pursuing Kuroda could be with an aim to stay as flexible as possible going forward. The Yankees do have five starters, and they do have a rotation full of worthy kids in AAA. There’s a case to be made, especially from those who want the kids to get a shot, that holding onto that money is good in two ways. It means that the kids will get a shot to prove themselves earlier in the year, and it means that the Yankees can afford to make in-season improvements if available and necessary.
Think about it this way, too. The Yankees have a ton of money already tied up in the 2013 payroll. Not only do they have the $127 million listed on their Cot’s page, but they have an additional $26 million for Cano and Granderson, plus three third-year arbitration players, plus holes at a few positions. And while a few pitchers from the free agent class have been locked up, the Yankees still might want to have some funds earmarked for them. Doesn’t it make some sense to show restraint with Kuroda if it means making an exception for a superior pitcher who will be around for longer?
It’s certainly frustrating to see the Yankees turn down short-term options due to financial constraints. They are, after all, a veritable money making machine. But even the Yankees have their limits. Apparently they have reached them, or are at least approaching them. Being prudent might hurt right now, but for all we know it could be part of something bigger. At the very least, it could help keep opportunities open that wouldn’t be otherwise.