Mailbag: Cliff Lee and 2014


(Mark Hirsch/Getty)

David asks: Would the Yankees have any chance to get under the $189mm “cap” if they had signed Cliff Lee a few years back? I think it would be much tougher which might be good or bad.

The Yankees (and Rangers) tried to sign Cliff Lee as a free agent during the 2010-2011 offseason, a year before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and luxury tax/revenue sharing rules were put in place. It’s not like everyone knew the new system was coming and the Yankees were willing to blow past it anyway, just to be clear.

Let’s say Lee signed the contract the Yankees offered him, which according to Jerry Crasnick was a six-year deal worth $132M plus a $16M player option for a seventh year. The option doesn’t count for luxury tax purposes since it’s not guaranteed, so Lee’s annual tax hit would have been $22M. Obviously if you add that to their current payroll obligations plus Robinson Cano‘s inevitable extension, the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 looks impossible. That’s a very simplistic way of looking at it though.

Had the Yankees signed Lee two winters ago, there’s a chance they would have been willing to let CC Sabathia walk as a free agent once he triggered his opt-out clause last offseason. At the very least they probably would have been a little less desperate to work out a new contract. The new CBA was agreed to (or at least details were released) in late-November — the first report of the team’s 2014 plan broke in early-December — and it’s unlikely Sabathia would have signed before then. He would have been the best starter on the market and the top free agents usually don’t sign until the Winter Meetings or later. The Yankees could have stayed in contact before backing away once the new CBA was announced.

On the other hand, they could have re-signed Sabathia and kept their lefty duo intact for the next few years. They probably would have never signed Hiroki Kuroda in that scenario but I think they still would have made the Jesus Montero-for-Michael Pineda trade. Two $20M+ pitchers means the other three spots would have had to have been filled by dirt cheap arms, and Pineda fit the bill. Maybe they would have kept Montero and targeted a lesser young pitcher instead, who knows. The what-if game has infinite possibilities.

I don’t think that the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold by 2014 would have been scrapped all together had the Yankees signed Lee two offseasons ago. It would be much more difficult to achieve had they re-sign Sabathia last winter, but we have no way of knowing if that would have been the case. Having Lee last year also would have improved the team’s chances of advancing beyond Game Five of the ALDS a great deal, and who knows how that would have impacted their planning.

Categories : Mailbag


  1. mrdbag says:

    Woo woo boring when is cashman getting off his ass and doing some thing

    • Rich in NJ says:

      I would hope, never. Given their apparent cost-cutting plans, if he isn’t going to trade Cano or Granderson (or isn’t allowed to do it), I would prefer patience and in-house solutions rather than overpaying Martin or some other dumb move.

  2. nsalem says:

    Wondering what will happen in 2014 if both Kuroda and Pettitte have good years this year and they both would like to return in 2014. Would there be room for them under the cap?

  3. Lefftee says:

    Cashman sucks plain and simple

  4. Lefftee says:

    Cashman is terrible plain and simple

  5. ton lon ton says:

    cliff lee will never ever be a yankee; but nicky swisher will be a red sock

  6. mrdbag says:

    A fucking salary cap for a multi billion corporation. This team is a joke plain and simple

  7. The Moral Majority is Neither says:

    Maybe I’m crazy, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the team deals with an actual hard budget.

    Having more funding can lead to innovation or leveraging of good ideas, but in the Yankees’ case its been the opposite for the most part.

    • Matt says:

      Exactly. Having money is great, but knowing how to use it efficiently is an entirely different thing. It’ll be interesting to see how they transition to a budgeted team considering all of the huge contracts they currently have weighing them down.

      • Ted Nelson says:

        How do you guys propose they could have used their money much better in any realistic scenario? (Without cherry picking successes in hindsight?) Their success rate on transactions is not 100%, but no team’s is. Maybe for a couple of years some teams have everything go right, but not over a sustained period. The Yankees make the playoffs every year. A lot of teams spend a lot of money (not as much, but a lot) and don’t sniff the playoffs.

        I am also looking forward to seeing how they innovate with a budget, but I disagree that they haven’t used their money well in the past. I mean… it’s been the opposite for the most part? Really? They’ve had more flops than successes? Look around the league.

  8. Brian S. says:

    Most of the commenters on this website are terrible plain and simple.

  9. Jimmy says:

    Trade a rod for lee.

  10. Robinson Telapia says:

    How dare you insult my craft. if i didn’t do social work i would have to spend all day with my mother in law and have a mustache thickness contest that i never win.

  11. Get Phelps Up says:

    A+ comments in this thread.

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