2015 Payroll Breakdown: Part One

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The dust is still settling following the end of the 2014 regular season, but the Yankees have already started their offseason by beginning contract talks with GM Brian Cashman. That’s the very first item on the winter agenda — finding a GM, whether it’s Cashman or someone else. Nothing can happen until the guy in charge is in place.

I have no interest in debating the merits of re-signing Cashman now. It’s pretty clearly going to happen regardless of what you or I think. Instead, I want to get a jump on the offseason and free agency by looking at how much money the Yankees will have to spend this winter. It should go without saying this is nothing more than an estimation. Salary figures are available but luxury tax calculations are complex and we really have no idea how much the Yankees can or are willing to spend. All we can have is their recent spending trends.

Anyway, if you’re worried the team may try to squeeze under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2015 after back-to-back postseason-less years, don’t. Alex Rodriguez‘s hefty salary comes back on the books and last winter’s free agent signings make getting under the threshold all but impossible at this point. Ten players are either hitting free agency or retiring (Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Rich Hill, Derek Jeter, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Young) but that still doesn’t leave the team with much wiggle room. Let’s break it down.

UNDER CONTRACT (ten players signed for $175.07M)
Players: A-Rod ($27.5M), CC Sabathia ($24.4M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Masahiro Tanaka ($22.14M), Jacoby Ellsbury ($21.86M), Brian McCann ($17M), Carlos Beltran ($15M), Brett Gardner ($13M), Martin Prado ($10M), Brendan Ryan ($1.67M)

Just to be clear, those are luxury tax “hits” since that’s the most most important number to the Yankees. Each player’s actual 2015 salary may be different. The Yankees have ten players under contract next year and the scary thing is that they have no idea what they’re going to get out of A-Rod or Sabathia, plus they’ll be holding their breath every time Tanaka throws a pitch, at least for the first few weeks. Those ten players don’t come with much certainty.

The only contract option the Yankees have to worry about this offseason is Andrew Bailey’s club option. Forgot about him, didn’t you? The team signed him to a minor league deal last spring then rehabbed him from shoulder capsule surgery this summer with an eye on getting him in their 2015 bullpen. The option is valued at $2.5M, so not much but not nothing either. Bailey did not pitch at all this year — Joe Girardi confirmed Bailey had a “few setbacks” in his rehab back in August — and the option isn’t a slam dunk. He might have looked awful towards the end of his rehab, enough to scare the team away. We have no way of knowing.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Arbitration-Eligible (seven players)
Players: David Huff (first time), Michael Pineda (first time), David Phelps (first time, Super Two), Ivan Nova (second time), Esmil Rogers (second time), Francisco Cervelli (second time), Shawn Kelley (fourth time, Super Two)

The Super Two cutoff this offseason is projected to be two years and 133 days of service time according to MLBTR, so Phelps will qualify at two years and 156 days. He should clear the cutoff comfortably even if the projection is off a bit. The Yankees managed to prevent Pineda from becoming a Super Two last year by sending him to the minors when his rehab was complete in July, but there’s no more avoiding arbitration now. He’ll get a nice raise in his first time through even after missing all that time.

Huff and Rogers are non-tender candidates. Huff won’t get a big raise at all and, even though he pitched well this year (211 ERA+!), I don’t think he’s someone you go out of your way to keep. Rogers actually made $1.85M this past season and the Collective Bargaining Agreement says the Yankees can’t pay him less than 80% of that next year, or $1.48M. No player has ever had their salary reduced through arbitration either. The Yankees may like Rogers’ arm but there’s no way they’ll keep him at that salary.

Estimating arbitration salaries is damn near impossible, at least for me, but I’m going to ballpark it anyway:

  • Pineda: $3M, up from $500k-ish (awesome when healthy, All-Star in 2011)
  • Phelps: $2M, up from $500k-ish
  • Nova: $3.8M, up from $3.3M (hurt all year)
  • Cervelli: $1M, up from $700k
  • Kelley: $2.5M, up from $1.765M
  • Huff and Rogers non-tendered

Sound okay to you? MLBTR’s crazy accurate arbitration projections are still a few weeks away, so this will have to do for now. If you don’t like Cervelli and/or Kelley at those salaries, you still sign then them trade them, not non-tender them. They have some actual value. Not much, but some.

Anyway, my spit-balled arbitration numbers give us another $12M for five players on top of the $175.07M for ten players above, bringing us to $187.07M for 15 players. Considering I did nothing more than guess with those arbitration numbers, let’s round it up to $188M and go with that. Round numbers are easy. Like I said earlier, this is nothing more than an estimation. In a few weeks we’ll get a better idea of the arbitration salaries once MLBTR crunches the numbers.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Pre-Arbitration (18 players)
Players: Manny Banuelos, Dellin BetancesJose Campos, Preston Claiborne, Ramon Flores, Shane Greene, Slade Heathcott, Bryan Mitchell, John Ryan Murphy, Eury Perez, Jose Pirela, Jose Ramirez, Antoan Richardson, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Zelous Wheeler, Adam Warren, Chase Whitley

Richardson and Wheeler will likely be cut loose this winter, maybe Perez too. He is out of minor league options (I think) but could stick around all winter and come to camp to compete for a bench job. Then again, if the Yankees need a 40-man spot in the offseason, he’ll probably get the axe. Either way, the pre-arbitration guys who get knocked off the 40-man roster will be replaced by more pre-arbitration players (Rule 5 Draft eligible players, waiver claims, etc.), so the salary numbers are a wash.

Of those 18 players, only Betances and Warren are locks to be on the Opening Day roster. Greene is a good bet to make the team in some capacity. Something would need to happen with Cervelli for Murphy or Romine to crack the big league roster. Claiborne and Whitley are classic up-and-down depth arms while Perez, Pirela, and Flores could compete for a bench job, I suppose. The rest — Banuelos, Heathcott, Ramirez, and Sanchez — are ticketed for the minors.

Like most other teams, the Yankees have a sliding scale for pre-arbitration salaries based on service time and awards voting, stuff like that. Warren and Betances won’t make the league minimum next season even though the Yankees could technically renew their contracts at that salary. There’s a relationship aspect to this. You don’t want to upset players and agents by cheaping out with pre-arbitration salaries. Conservatively assuming $600k each for Warren, Betances, and Greene puts us at $189.8M for 18 players with this roster:

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
McCann 1B Teixeira LF Gardner Tanaka Betances
2B Prado CF Ellsbury Pineda Warren
DH SS Ryan RF Beltran Sabathia? Kelley
? 3B A-Rod! Greene ?
Phelps ?
Bench Disabled List ?
C Cervelli ? Nova ?
? ?

Some of those open spots can and presumably will be filled internally. Claiborne or Mitchell or Ramirez or Jacob Lindgren or Nick Rumbelow or any number of other reliever could work their way into the bullpen. Maybe Bailey and Huff too. Pirela or Perez could squeeze onto the bench. The Yankees do have some options in house but no long-term answers to any of those question marks. There’s no shortstop to push Ryan to the bench, for example.

Aside from an injury-fueled outlier in 2013, the Yankees have opened the season with a payroll in the $195M to $210M range every year since 2008, give or take a few million here or there. That $189.8M covers 18 MLB roster players, though there will be another 15 players on the 40-man roster but not the active 25-man roster that count against the luxury tax. They’re usually estimated at $2M (they earn lower salaries in the minors). There’s also $12M or so in benefits every team must play. Now we’re up to $203.8M for 17 active roster players plus Nova.

If the Yankees are going to stick to that $210M or so payroll limit, they have very little room to maneuver this winter. They need a shortstop (pushing Ryan to the bench), preferably another starter (pushing Phelps or Greene to the bullpen), and miscellaneous depth pieces at the absolute minimum. Retaining David Robertson and adding another starting caliber infielder at second and/or third base seem like two items that should be pretty high on the offseason to-do list as well.

The Yankees don’t have nany pieces to offer in a cash-clearing trade either. Dealing Cervelli or Kelley is nothing more than rearranging furniture at their salary levels. Same with Phelps or even Pineda. To clear some real money, they’d have to trade Gardner or Prado, two of their three or four best offensive players. How do you trade them and realistically improve the team? I’m sure it’s possible. I just don’t see how. It would take some creativity and luck — not many clubs are willing to take on useful big money pieces in exchange for useful low-cost pieces. The Yankees are generally the salary dumpees, not the salary dumpers.

George King recently reported the “early industry vibe is the Yankees aren’t going to spend big money this winter” and I totally buy that. Seems completely plausible after spending all that money last winter and winding up with a worse record and fewer runs scored. They took their shot(s) last offseason and may now focus on tinkering rather than overhauling. And, to be honest, the Yankees aren’t one or two big free agents away from contending either. Figuring out how to get this club back on the right track without ballooning payroll will be one heck of a task for Cashman & Co.

The Yankees and 2014’s major awards

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

The regular season ends six days from now, which means the voting for the various league awards will soon end as well. The voting ends after the regular season but before the postseason — what happens in October has no bearing on anything. These are regular season awards, as it should be.

The Yankees are an extreme long shot to make the postseason and teams that don’t make the playoffs tend not to have major awards winners. That’s not always the case — Alex Rodriguez was the 2003 AL MVP on the last place Rangers, for example — just most of the time. Don’t get mad at me. That’s the way the voters vote. The Yankees do still have some candidates for each of the major awards this season, however. Let’s run them down.

Most Valuable Player
There is an excellent chance the Yankees will not have a player finish in the top ten of the AL MVP voting this year for the first time since 1996, when Mariano Rivera finished in 12th place. The lack of a truly elite player, a Robinson Cano or prime-age A-Rod or Derek Jeter, combined with their second straight postseason-less year all but eliminates anyone on the team from serious MVP consideration. The BBWAA has shown time and time again they prefer to vote for players on contending teams.

Now, that said, the MVP ballot is ten players deep and those last two or three slots are like the Twilight Zone. A lot of weird stuff happens there. Raul Ibanez received a tenth place MVP vote in 2012, remember. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have been the team’s two best players all year and I’m guessing they’ll combine for at least one down-ballot vote this year. Same with Dellin Betances and maybe David Robertson. The Yankees don’t have any serious MVP candidates this season but I feel comfortable saying someone on the roster will appear on a ballot.

Cy Young
Had he not gotten hurt, Masahiro Tanaka would have been an excellent Cy Young candidate alongside Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber (and Chris Sale). The injury takes him right out of the running for the award, unfortunately. The Cy Young ballot is one five players deep and it would surprise me if Tanaka even managed to sneak on and grab one fifth place vote at this point. He simply missed too much time and there are too many good pitchers in the AL. Maybe Betances will grab a fifth place vote like Robertson did in 2011. Maybe. He is the club’s only real shot at being included in the Cy Young conversation this season.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Rookie of the Year
Believe it or not, the Yankees have never had two players receive Rookie of the Year votes in the same season. That is all but certain to change this year thanks to Tanaka and Betances. There are a lot of good rookies in the AL this year but Jose Abreu has lapped the field — I think he should win unanimously, this is a no-brainer in my opinion — so neither Tanaka nor Betances will win. I do think both are safe bets to garner multiple second and third place votes though. (The ballot is only three players deep.)

Shane Greene has had a nice year but I would be very surprised if he received any votes. There are too many other good rookies in the league (Collin McHugh, Matt Shoemaker, George Springer, Marcus Stroman, Yordano Ventura, etc.) for him to get serious consideration. That doesn’t take away from what he’s done this year. This just isn’t a good year to be a good but not great rookie in the so-called Junior Circuit.

Manager of the Year
The Manager of the Year award has morphed into the “manager whose team most exceeded expectations” award, so Joe Girardi won’t win. I’m guessing the award will go to either Ned Yost of the Royals or Lloyd McClendon of the Mariners, depending on which non-Athletics team wins a wildcard spot.

The Manager of the Year ballot is only three names deep and it’ll be tough for Girardi to get even a third place vote this year given his competition. I’m guessing at least one BBWAA member will give him a vote based on the team’s ability to linger in the wildcard race until the final week of the season though. After all, nine of 15 AL managers received at least one Manager of the Year vote last season.

Comeback Player of the Year
This one will be interesting. If Jeter put together nothing more than a decent season, say hitting .280 with a .340 OBP and no power, I think he would have won the Comeback Player of the Year award easily. Mariano Rivera won last year and deservingly so, but, even if he had been merely good instead of excellent, I think he would have won anyway for sentimental reasons.

Jeter’s brutal August and pre-current homestand September really dragged down his season numbers (.256/.304/.313) and it will be hard for voters to look the other way. Melky Cabrera and Albert Pujols stand out as two deserving Comeback Player of the Year candidates, so there is no lack of competition. Maybe Jeter will win on the strength of sentimental votes, but I don’t think it’s a slam dunk at all.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Gold Gloves
A sabermetric component was added to the Gold Glove voting a few years ago, but it only counts as 25% of the vote. The other 75% is still based on the league’s managers and coaches. Whether they admit it or not, offense still has some impact on the voting, though it has gotten better in recent years.

Right off the bat, we can completely eliminate the entire infield. I mean, maybe Jeter will get a sentimental vote, but I can’t see it at this point. Gardner is a good left field Gold Glove candidate — they used to hand out three general outfield Gold Gloves, but they are position specific now — but Alex Gordon has this one in the bag. He’s outstanding in left and his offense won’t hurt his case either. Yoenis Cespedes might also get more votes than Gardner because of his throwing arm.

Ellsbury has been stellar in center field all season though the numbers hate him for whatever reason: -6 DRS, +1.1 UZR, and +0 Total Zone. I don’t get it. That doesn’t match up with the eye test at all. The various defensive stats always seem to hate Yankees center fielders. Maybe because Gardner takes plays away from them. Anyway, Ellsbury has some stiff Gold Glove competition in Mike Trout, Jackie Bradley Jr., Adam Jones, Leonys Martin, and Desmond Jennings. I think the chances of Ellsbury winning the Gold Glove are better than the chances of any Yankee winning any other award, but I would bet on the field with this many qualified candidates.

Silver Sluggers
Yeah, no. You actually have to hit to win a Silver Slugger and not many Yankees did that this year. Gardner and Ellsbury have been the team’s two best hitters and they aren’t beating out Gordon or Trout, respectively. Nevermind the other candidates around the league. As far as the Yankees are concerned this year, the most exciting part of the awards voting will be seeing where Tanaka and Betances finish behind Abreu for the Rookie of the Year award. Jeter’s possible Comeback Player of the Year and Ellsbury’s possible Gold Glove are the only other items of note.

How the Yankees can make the playoffs

AL Wild Card Standings on September 9

The odds were stacked against them to open September, and they haven’t helped their cause. By playing mere .500 ball at a time when every win is crucial, the Yankees have dropped from 3.5 games back from a tie for the second Wild Card to five games back.

Cleveland and Detroit now sit between them and the postseason. Toronto rides their heels in a virtual tie. The offense can’t generate any runs. The Yankees’ chances don’t look great, even with 21 games remaining.

People love to estimate how many wins it’ll take to put them into October play. Will they need to win 17 of 21? More? To make up five games in just three weeks is a pretty tall order any way you slice it.

The Yanks can forget about the AL East. While eight — EIGHT — of their remaining games are against the Orioles, they simply cannot expect a second-half-2009-against-the-Red-Sox performance. Even if they did, by some miracle, sweep the O’s, those games alone would only get them within two of the AL East crown.

On the Wild Card front, the Yankees have the misfortune of not playing any teams ahead of them the rest of the way. The best chances they had to beat up on the competition came with their recent series against Detroit and Kansas City, and they dropped two of three in both. Oops.

But I’m not here to argue what they could have done and didn’t do. What we all want to know is what comical scenarios will it take for the Yankees to actually make the postseason?

Let’s start with some semi-reasonable expectations. To date the Yankees have a .518 win percentage. Let’s say they get reasonably hot and play close to .600 ball the rest of the way, going 12-9. Seattle, current holders of the second Wild Card spot, would have to go 6-13 the rest of the way after playing .552 ball all season. And that’s while Cleveland goes at best 11-9 and Detroit goes at best 6-12.

(Which would be great for Dave Pinto’s massive tie scenario.)

Clearly, the Yanks will have to get super hot in order to stand an inkling of a chance. If Seattle, Detroit, and Cleveland play .500 ball the rest of the way — which is about as reasonably bad as you can project. (We’ll go one game under, for odd-numbered games remaining.) That would make the final standings:

Seattle: 88-74
Detroit: 88-74
Cleveland: 84-78

Just to tie, the Yankees would have to go 15-6. The odds of even doing that are pretty long. A quick glance shows the Yankees having nowhere near that good a stretch previously this season. My eye sees a 10-4 stretch as being their best to date.

This isn’t meant to bury the Yankees. We’re fans, with no control on the outcome of the games. Anything other than hope is pretty ridiculous. But it sets some solid expectations going forward. The worst the Yankees can reasonably play the rest of the way is 15-6 ball, a .714 win percentage.

We keep tally starting tonight.

Failure to beat up on bad teams has hurt Yanks in the standings

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Last night’s come from ahead loss to the Astros dropped the Yankees to four games back of the second wildcard spot with 39 games to play. Insurmountable? Of course not. Long shot? It sure feels like it. FanGraphs puts the team’s postseason odds at 6.3% while Baseball Prospectus has them at 5.4%. ESPN has them at 3.3%, if you want another measure. Point is, New York’s chances of playing in October are growing smaller by the day.

The series opening loss to Houston was the third time the Yankees lost to the Astros in four meetings this year. We’re talking about an opponent that has lost at least 106 games in each of the last three years, a level of performance so pathetic that this year’s 94-loss pace represents a 17-win improvement (!) from 2013. And yet, the Yankees are 1-3 against the Astros in 2014. Four games tell us nothing about the talent level of these two teams, but they do count in the standings and they’ve hurt the Bombers.

Obviously, this is baseball and any team can beat any team on any given day. We all know that. But if you’re a team like the Yankees, one with plans of contending, then you’ve got to rack up some wins against bad teams like the Astros. Especially at home. They failed to do that last night and lost even more ground in the standings. Unfortunately, this extends beyond Houston. Here’s how the Yankees have fared against the teams with the ten worst winning percentages in baseball this year:

  • Mets: 2-2
  • White Sox: 2-2
  • Red Sox: 8-5
  • Twins: 4-3
  • Cubs: 3-1
  • Astros: 1-3
  • Rangers: 4-3

(They have not and will not play the Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Rockies this season.)

That works out to 24-19, or a .558 winning percentage. That’s a 90-win pace over a full season. Pretty good, right? Well, not really. The rest of the league has a .573 winning percentage against bottom ten teams. The AL East leading Orioles have a .629 winning percentage against bottom ten teams. The Tigers and Mariners are essentially tied for the second wildcard spot and they have .565 and .500 winning percentages against bottom ten teams, respectively, which is why they’re battling for the second wildcard and aren’t higher in the standings, same as the Yankees.

The old adage says you’re supposed to hold your own against the good teams and beat the snot out of the bad teams, but baseball’s changed. Every team is a bad team these days, or at least it feels that way. There are two or three very good teams (zero truly great teams, though) and I’d say five or six awful teams. Every other club is scrunched together in the middle, beating up on each other. Those games against bad teams are a separator. Whoever does the best job of actually getting wins against the teams “you’re supposed to beat” will have a leg up on the competition. The Yankees haven’t done that this year and it’s hurt them in the standings.

A lot has gone wrong for the Yankees this year, mostly pitching injuries and some really bad offensive performances. It seems like they’ve been playing catch up all season. One thing goes right, two things go wrong. Dropping three of four to Astros stings. So does splitting four games with the Mets and winning only four of seven against both the amazingly terrible Twins and Rangers. There is no such thing as an easy win in baseball, but the Yankees have let some very winnable games against bad teams slip away (like this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, and last night) and that’s part of the reason why they’re facing such a big deficit in the race for a postseason spot.

Yankees must regain their home field advantage in the second half

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

From 2009-13, no team in baseball had more wins (258) or a better winning percentage (.637) in their home ballpark than the Yankees. They dominated in Yankee Stadium, outscoring their opponents by more than one full run per game (1.002 runs per game, to be exact) in the Bronx over that five-year stretch. The team had a home field advantage and knew out to use it.

That home field advantage has not existed in 2014. The Yankees came into the All-Star break at a mediocre 47-47 overall due in part to their inability to win consistently at Yankee Stadium — they are 18-23 at home and have been outscored 192-147 in the process. That’s an average of 1.10 runs per game. They have the fifth lowest home winning percentage (.439) in baseball and they’ve also been out-homered 58-47 on their own turf. That’s just not something that should happen. A team should be built for its home park.

Earlier this week, Buster Olney (subs. req’d) subjectively ranked the remaining schedules of each contender, putting the Yankees tenth out of 17 teams. (Tenth most difficult remaining schedule, seventh easiest, that is.) That ranking is based primarily on the New York’s 41 remaining home games, the most in baseball. Here is Olney’s blurb:

10. New York Yankees
Home/away: A whopping 41 games at home (including the first 10 games after the All-Star break); 27 on the road.
Games against teams with records of .500 or better: 34
Schedule notes: The Yankees’ rotation injuries will hurt them, but if playing many games at home provides any kind of an advantage, manager Joe Girardi‘s team will certainly have it. The Yankees also have six games left in July against Texas, and three in August against the Houston Astros.
Big finish: After a seven-game homestand against the Jays and Orioles, the Yankees close out their regular season in Boston.

Beyond the Box Score says the Yankees have the second easiest remaining schedule among AL teams in terms of opponent’s winning percentage. If you prefer a more analytical approach, Jeff Sullivan used projected WAR to analyze the remaining schedule and found the Yankees have the toughest second half schedule in the AL. Not by much, but the toughest based on his method nonetheless. That’s not reassuring.

Anyway, it should be obvious where I’m going with this: the Yankees need to play better at home in the second half. It’s a must if they want to at least challenge for a postseason berth and not throw in the towel on Derek Jeter‘s final season. The schedule works in their favor in that they have so many remaining home games, so the opportunity will be there. Now they have to hold up their end of the bargain and capitalize.

Now, it’s not just one reason why the Yankees have struggled at home. They average only 3.56 runs per game with a team 94 wRC+ in Yankee Stadium, both below-average and middle of the pack. On the other hand, they allow 4.66 runs per game at home with a team 4.15 FIP, which is awful. Both are among the bottom five marks in the league. They’re not scoring enough runs and they’re allowing too many runs. Losing Baseball 101.

There are two problems here, the run creation and run prevention, which is true for the team overall. The offense actually seems like it’ll be easier to fix. A big part of that is getting both Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran going, something that has to happen if the team wants to contend anyway.  The pitching … well that’s a different matter. Masahiro Tanaka‘s injury is a devastating blow and there’s no way to replace him. Brandon McCarthy is a good fit for Yankee Stadium as an extreme ground ball pitcher, plus new rotation Shane Greene is a big ground baller as well. Another trade feels inevitable.

The Yankees have been hit hard by injuries (especially pitching injuries) this year and they were able to tread water through the first half. Continuing to tread water is not good enough though. If the Yankees want to push for a postseason berth — and there are no indications they will do anything but that right now — they have to starting playing better immediately. That starts at home in Yankee Stadium. Their first ten games after the All-Star break are in the Bronx and that is the perfect time to turn the home field disadvantage around.