On the Yankees and the prospect of a $500M payroll

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

As you’ve surely seen by now, Kiley McDaniel recently wrote about the ways the Yankees use their financial might to secure top minor league free agents, such as Yangervis Solarte last year. Buried deep within that story was this little nugget about the team’s finances:

A Yankees source told me they could break even financially with a $500 million payroll expenditure (including luxury tax) …

Whoa! That’s one hell of a buried lede. McDaniel used to work for the Yankees back in the day so I’m sure he still has connections in the front office and whatnot. That’s not something you can just make up and drop in a story, not if you want to be taken seriously.

Anyway, I can’t even wrap my head around a $500M payroll. That’s $20M per 25-man roster spot or $12.5M per 40-man roster spot. Since the $500M would include luxury tax, the actual team payroll would be $396.3M plus a $103.7M luxury tax bill. That’s over $100M for nothing, just washed away into MLB’s central fund. The Yankees could do that and break even, supposedly.

Now, that said, I’m not totally sure I buy the Yankees being able to support a $500M payroll, at least not on an annual basis. Maybe they could do it once and get away with it, but year after year? At this point, with attendance and ratings on the decline and the postseason far from a given, the revenue streams aren’t what they were a few years ago. I don’t have access to the team’s books, so what the hell do I know, but a $500M payroll seems a little outrageous at the moment.

The Yankees hit the point of diminishing returns a few years ago — every additional dollar they spent on the roster was bringing fewer actual wins in the standings. Baseball is a zero-sum game, there are only so many wins to go around each year. Spend $500M on players and you’d presumably have a great lineup with a great rotation and a great bullpen. That makes you … the 1998 Yankees in the best case scenario? The best teams still only win something like 105-110 games a year at the most. That’s baseball.

But let’s have fun with this for a second. Say the Yankees were going to up payroll to $500M next year. That gives them roughly $190M to spend this winter when you consider their existing commitments and the luxury tax. That $190M could buy them Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Chase Headley, David Robertson, Andrew Miller, Stephen Drew, Brandon McCarthy, Melky Cabrera, Yoan Moncada, and a bunch of lesser guys. They could also pay Alex Rodriguez to go away. They’d already be flushing $100M down the drain in luxury tax, so why not make it $120M? The team would be limited by roster size, not necessarily dollars.

Know what else would limit the Yankees? The talent pool. They could have all the money in the world to spend, but the free agent class is the free agent class. Better free agents won’t just magically appear. Sure, the Yankees could use that big payroll to take on big contracts in trades, but the only contracts teams look to move are the bad ones. (MLB frowns on buying players from another team, in case you’re wondering). Troy Tulowitzki has six years and $118M left on his deal. That’s not bad in a world where Pablo Sandoval gets five years and $95M. Why would the Rockies just give him away for salary relief?

I’m sure more than a few people read the line in McDaniel’s story and wondered why the Yankees don’t just spend $500M on payroll. First and foremost, remember they are a for profit business. They aren’t trying to break even. Secondly, a payroll that size comes with a lot of wasted dollars (in luxury tax) that don’t appreciably improve their chances of winning the World Series. It’ll add more regular season wins, sure, but only so many. They could add the same number without bumping payroll that high. The $500M is an extreme example, not a sustainable model for the Yankees or any team.

At some point in the near future, every team will have a payroll over $100M and it’s only a matter of time before someone gets to $500M. It’ll probably be the Yankees and I hope I’m around to see it. Spending that kind of money in this age, with free agency what it is and revenue presumably not what it once was, a $500M payroll doesn’t make much business sense for the Yankees. It sure is fun to think about though.

Thoughts before Thanksgiving Weekend

"He must work out." (Presswire)
“Hmmm. He must work out.” (Presswire)

As much as I love baseball, I am a sucker for the holiday season, and that kinda sorta starts this week with Thanksgiving. The short work week this week and awesome food is really great as well. Anyway, here are some random thoughts on a random Tuesday.

1. The Red Sox’s decision to play Hanley Ramirez in left field seems pretty interesting. Apparently Hanley contacted Boston and said he was willing to play the outfield — I can’t find the report now but I saw it yesterday, just can’t remember where — which is great, but being willing to do it and being able to do it are two different things. Transitioning from the infield to the outfield is pretty tough in general for a player at that point in his career, and left field at Fenway Park is a different animal entirely because of the bounces off the wall. Yoenis Cespedes is a pretty good outfielder and he looked lost out there after the trade this summer. Ramirez can flat out mash — he and Victor Martinez were the only two true impact hitters on the free agent market this winter in my opinion — but the outfield learning curve could be pretty steep and hopefully hilarious.

2. Boston made their two big splashes yesterday and I’m sure they’ll bring in a pitcher or three this winter — you don’t sign both Hanley and Pablo Sandoval only to skimp on pitching — but I don’t expect the Yankees to make any kind of big move as a knee-jerk reaction. It’s been a long, long time since they’ve done that. I think you have to go back to the Rafael Soriano signing for the last time it happened and even that barely even qualifies. The Red Sox brought in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez that winter, and the Yankees had a bunch of money burning a hole in their pocket after losing out Cliff Lee, so ownership gave it to the best free agent left on the market. It’s been a while since the team operated that way and that’s a good thing. They have enough problems to sort out this winter. If they start worrying about what other teams in the division are doing and make moves as a “response,” they’re only going to dig themselves into an even deeper hole.

3. That said, it’s probably time for the Yankees to get serious about re-signing Chase Headley. Sandoval and Hanley are both off the board, meaning Headley is clearly the top third baseman available, so his market should soon take off. I’m sure the Giants will have interest. That feels inevitable. Headley is two years older but he and Sandoval are closer in production than everyone seems to realize — Headley had a 102 OPS+ and 3.5 bWAR this past season (123 OPS+ and 13.6 bWAR since 2012) while Sandoval had a 111 OPS+ and 3.0 bWAR (116 OPS+ and 8.2 bWAR since 2012) — yet it feels like he’s going to get maybe half the money. The best free agent third baseman on the market next year will be David Freese, and, as far as I can tell, the best on the market the year after that will be 37-year-old Adrian Beltre. Headley is by far the best third baseman who will be available via free agency for the foreseeable future, and I think if a team gives him four years at $14M annually, we’ll look back at it in a year and say it was a really smart signing. I mean, Kyle Seager just got $100M. Headley’s too good of a fit for the Yankees and the upcoming third base market is too weak for it not to happen. With Sandoval and Ramirez signed, it’s time for New York to get this hammered out.

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

4. There is a shockingly large number of people who are sincerely angry with Brian Cashman for the whole “sleeping on the street/rappelling down a building for charity” thing he does every winter. Like really, really angry. I can’t possibly wrap my head around that. They seem to think that if Cashman misses a call from, say, Jon Lester’s agent because he spends ten minutes going down the side of the building, the Yankees will miss their chance to sign him all together. As if the two sides haven’t already been in touch or agents won’t circle back to the highest spending team on the East Coast just to see if they’ll make one last offer. Why do people act like athletes and sports executives should be working 24/7? Like half of you reading this are at work right now. This is the silliest, most inconsequential thing to get upset about. Seems like a total waste of perfectly good outrage.

5. The 2015 Hall of Fame ballot was released yesterday and, off the top of head, I count 16 guys I would vote for: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Pedro Martinez, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz, and Sammy Sosa. There are one or two others I’m on the fence about who I’d have to research further. Point is, there are more than ten deserving players on the ballot this year in my opinion, yet the BBWAA only allows voters to vote for ten players each year. If I had a vote, I’d be forced to essentially rank the guys and I want to vote for and pick the ten most deserving. Or would it be better to leave guys like Pedro and Johnson off my ballot because I know they’re going to get in anyway and others will need more help, like Mussina and Raines? These are decisions I don’t think a voter should have to make. Voters should be allowed to vote for as many players as they want. A player either is or isn’t a Hall of Famer and the voting process should be that simple. Limiting the ballot is unfair to the players, more than anything.

Thoughts two weeks into the offseason

(Justin K. Aller/Getty)
(Justin K. Aller/Getty)

Yesterday was the busiest day of the offseason so far but the Yankees were not directly involved with anything. Every move in baseball indirectly impacts every other team in some way though, plus one of New York’s division rivals made a major addition, so it’s not like yesterday’s two moves don’t matter to the Yankees. Anyway, here are some miscellaneous thoughts:

1. I think the Jason Heyward trade makes a potential Justin Upton to the Yankees trade much less likely. (To be clear, that was never rumored, I just hoped and prayed it would happen.) That doesn’t mean there’s no chance of it happening, but it was a long shot to begin with, and the odds just got even longer. Braves quasi-GM John Hart has made it clear he’s seeking pitching this winter and the Yankees don’t have much of that to give up. One year of Heyward cost four years of Shelby Miller, and I assume Upton will be similarly priced. Unless the Bombers are willing to part with Michael Pineda, I can’t see it. (Aside: Am I the only one who thinks the Cardinals giving up on Shelby Miller, who they shopped aggressively last offseason, is a red flag? Miller wasn’t all that good this year and St. Louis knows pitching. They might have serious concerns about his long-term outlook.)

2. The Russell Martin signing is a pretty nice upgrade for the Blue Jays, who finished only one game behind the Yankees in 2014. Martin’s probably never going to hit like he did this past season again — he put up a .290/.402/.430 (140 wRC+) line for the Pirates this year — but he had a 99 wRC+ from 2011-13 and is an exception defensive catcher. Toronto’s backstops had an 87 wRC+ in 2014 and were terrible at throwing out base-runners (only 20%) and framing pitches. Martin is an upgrade in every way for them and that hurts the Yankees’ chances of contention going forward. Don’t get me wrong, Martin’s not a bargain, the Blue Jays paid top dollar to get him — five years and $82M, more or less Brian McCann‘s deal — but an upgrade is an upgrade, and the Jays made what should be a significant one yesterday.

3. The Cubs had been pursuing Martin before he agreed to sign with Toronto and I suppose that could put them in the trade market for a catcher. They have a decent backstop in Wellington Castillo, so it could be they will go forward with him and were only pursing Martin because they think so highly of him. If they are in the trade market for a catcher, the Yankees could offer John Ryan Murphy as part of a package for an infielder, but he wouldn’t be the centerpiece. I highly, highly, highly doubt there’s a McCann deal to be made. Chicago was reportedly offering Martin four years and $64M, which is approximately what’s left on McCann’s deal (four years and $68M), but McCann wasn’t all that good this past season and Martin was. McCann’s no-trade clause would be an obstacle as well. Maybe the Cubbies really like Murphy. Otherwise I expect them to go after a lower priced veteran catcher if they pursue one at all.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

4. For whatever reason, I am not at all confident the Yankees will re-sign David Robertson. I’m probably still scarred from Robinson Cano leaving last year. That was a bit different though. The Mariners made it very easy to say goodbye to Robbie with that contract. Something tells me Robertson will get a pricey but not insane contract the Yankees should totally match or beat, but won’t. I’ve got this terrible feeling that it will all play out similar to Martin’s free agency a few years ago. He hits the market, the Yankees talk about having interest in re-signing him, then bam, he agrees to contract with another club before New York even makes an offer. I dunno, maybe I’m just paranoid. Re-signing Robertson seems like a such an obvious move yet it hasn’t happened yet and that worries me.

5. So, with Martin and Victor Martinez signed, the Yankees are currently slated to have the 17th overall pick in next June’s draft. That is obviously still subject to change pending the other nine unsigned qualified free agents (including Robertson). The Yankees last picked that high back in 2005, when they took Oklahoma high school shortstop C.J. Henry with the 17th overall selection. Before that, you have to go all the way back to the 1993 draft to find the last time they picked that high. (The Yankees took Florida high school righty Matt Drews 13th overall in 1993.) I think the Yankees will keep their first rounder this offseason but that could always change in a heartbeat. Ownership could decide to sign Nelson Cruz out of the blue a la Rafael Soriano or something. That said, it’s not unrealistic to think the Yankees could end up with a top 15 draft pick in 2015. All it takes is two more qualified free agents changing hands, and I would bet on Hanley Ramirez and Max Scherzer wearing something other than a Dodgers and Tigers jerseys next year, respectively.

Update: I should note that because of protected picks, the Yankees will only climb into the top 15 if the Rays, Marlins, Padres, Braves, and/or Brewers forfeit picks to sign free agents. Possible but unlikely.

6. Thursday is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man rosters for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. The Yankees have four open spots on the 40-man but could easily open a few more by jettisoning Zelous Wheeler, Esmil Rogers, David Huff, and/or Eury Perez. Among the team’s Rule 5 Draft eligible players this winter are Matt Tracy, Mark Montgomery, Cito Culver, Angelo Gumbs, Mason Williams, Kyle Roller, Danny Burawa, Tyler Austin, Branden Pinder, and Zach Nuding. Austin is the only one I feel 100% confident the team will protect, though I also expect the Yankees to protect two or three of those bullpen arms. Maybe Pinder and Burawa. Adding Williams to the 40-man just feels like something the Yankees would do too. They’ve been … let’s so proactive at protecting former top prospects in recent years, like Jose Campos last year. Williams has done nothing to earn a 40-man spot, but he was arguably the top prospect in the organization two years ago. If another team wants to see if he can stick as a fifth outfielder, fine, let them. I have no reason to think he can. The Yankees have those four open 40-man spots and I think they’ll use all of them, which means they’ll have to open other spots when they make moves later in the offseason.

Thoughts at the end of the 2014 World Series

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Giants won their third World Series title in the last half-decade last night. If that’s not a dynasty in this parity filled age of baseball, I don’t know what is. They rode Madison Bumgarner’s left arm to the championship just like they rode Tim Lincecum in 2010 and Matt Cain in 2012. As good as those two were, Bumgarner was better this year. He was unreal. Historically great. Anyway, here are some scattered thoughts now that the offseason is set to begin.

1. I enjoyed watching the Giants win again because they go against so many baseball axioms. Need youth to win in today’s MLB? The Giants had literally the oldest roster in MLB. Need a strong rotation? The Giants had one good great starter in Bumgarner. Their non-Bumgarner starters had a 4.23 ERA during the regular season (in that ballpark!) and a 5.59 ERA in the postseason. Need your highest paid players to be your best players? Cain and Lincecum were non-factors at best and detriments at worst in 2012. How many people said it wouldn’t be worth it if the Yankees only made the postseason as a wildcard team? There were countless comments like that here. Well, the Giants were the second wildcard team. Not even the first. And they won the whole damn thing. Just get in and you can win. I can’t say that enough. The Giants have won three titles in five years with three very different rosters and philosophies. There’s no magic formula, no right way to build a winning team. Just be good at as many things as possible, hope everyone performs at the right time, and roll with it. Baseball in a nutshell.

2. The Yankees still have not yet hired a new hitting coach or first base coach, though I suppose that could happen as soon as today now that the World Series is over. MLB doesn’t like clubs making any announcements that could draw attention away from the Fall Classic. (Unless you’re Joe Maddon, I guess.) I do wonder if the Yankees have been waiting so long to name new coaches because they plan to interview someone on the Giants and/or Royals staff. There are a ton of Yankees connections on the San Francisco coaching staff, including hitting coach Hensley Meulens, assistant hitting coach Joe Lefebvre, and first base coach Roberto Kelly. Those three played all played for the Yankees once upon a time, as did Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum. So maybe they’re on the radar and the club just hasn’t been able to interview them these last few weeks. Either way, I’m sure this is a loose end that will be tied up fairly quickly.

3. Speaking of Maddon, isn’t it amazing how he managed to steal headlines from not one, but two World Series games with zero backlash? He did it last week when he opted out and again yesterday when Jon Heyman reported he was joining the Cubs. And he got Rick Renteria fired. Think about all of that. Maddon said he intended to manage in 2015 when he opted out, but only the Twins had a managerial opening at the time. So either he already had something lined up (tampering!), or he opted out thinking “some team will just fire their manager and hire me.” What a dick move. So small time. Can’t wait for Maddon to be hailed a tremendous leader and a great guy at his press conference in a few days. At least Alex Rodriguez only interrupted one World Series game and didn’t get anyone fired when he opted out in 2007. (Aside: Renteria was the Padres hitting coach from 2008-10. Maybe the Yankees will interview him now.)

4. Since the end of the 2012 season, the Yankees have acquired five veteran outfielders either through trade or free agency: Ichiro Suzuki (re-signed), Vernon Wells (trade), Alfonso Soriano (trade), Jacoby Ellsbury (signed), and Carlos Beltran (signed). I’m talking about guys who were not picked up off the scrap heap, just to be clear. Not Chris Young or Thomas Neal, for example. Those guys cost nothing but the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. Here is what the Yankees gave up to acquire those five outfielders:

  • A good but not great pitching prospect (RHP Corey Black for Soriano).
  • Two super fringy prospects (LHP Kramer Sneed and OF Exicardo Cayones for Vern).
  • Two supplemental first round picks (the compensation picks for Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson were surrendered for Ellsbury and Beltran).
  • Committed to $231.7M in total salary spread across 15.5 contract seasons (Soriano was a midseason pickup). Approximately $161.9M and eight contract years of that is still pending.

So, in return for all of that, those five outfielders combined to hit .254/.301/.382 (~88 wRC+) in 2,963 plate appearances from 2013-14, totaling 4.5 fWAR. You don’t want to know what those numbers are without Ellsbury. Okay, yes you do: ~83 wRC+ and 0.9 fWAR in 2,328 plate appearances. That’s really bad! I mean, really really bad. Like, what the hell happened here bad. How many of those acquisitions were the result of pure desperation? At least four, right? Ellsbury and Beltran after Cano left, Soriano because no one was hitting, and Wells because of all the injuries in Spring Training last year. Maybe you can argue one of Ellsbury or Beltran wasn’t out of desperation, but three out of five still isn’t good. The Yankees collectively invested an awful lot in these five players the last two years and didn’t get much return at all. Yeesh.

5. As I was scrolling through the FanGraphs’ contract crowdsourcing results yesterday, none of them stood out to me as a real bargain. Granted, these are just FanGraphs readers voting in a poll, but I figured there would be one or two players (out of 55) who struck me as undervalued by the masses. I guess not. Sergio Romo at $12M across two years is a nice short-term deal for a late-inning reliever who misses a ton of bats and never walks anyone, and Mike Morse at one year and $7M is pretty good considering he can rake, but that’s about it. I think the problem is me, not everyone else. I need to recalibrate what I consider market value, because right now free agent prices are insane. Teams have a ton of money to spend and there are so few quality free agents to spend it on. That’s why Brandon McCarthy got two years and $18M two offseasons ago and will end up with three years at like $12M annually this winter despite being two years older and not pitching all that well for the Diamondbacks the last year and a half. Man, the Yankees have to get away from building through free agency. It ain’t happening anymore.

Thoughts before the start of the World Series

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The World Series finally starts tonight after four baseball-less days. That felt like an eternity. My official prediction is Royals in six for no apparent reason. It’s a total guess. More than anything, I want a long and exciting series that goes the full seven games. Both the LDS and LCS rounds were a blast. Hopefully the World Series is just as fun. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts.

1. I think this is the first time since 2005 that I don’t really care who wins the World Series. Last year I wanted the Red Sox to lose because duh. The year before that I wanted the Tigers to lose because they swept the Yankees in the ALCS. I wanted the Rangers to lose in both 2010 and 2011 because they beat the Yankees in the 2010 ALCS. I rooted against the division rival Red Sox and Rays in 2007 and 2008, and in 2006 I wanted the Tigers to lose because they beat the Yankees in the ALDS. Common theme here? I wanted teams to lose. I didn’t necessarily want the other team to win, I just wanted the team I didn’t like to lose. How messed up is that? Almost all neutral fans I come across these days are rooting against a team — Dodgers fans rooting against the Giants, etc. — more than anything, myself included. That’s so screwed up. Everyone is rooting for someone else to not be happy.

2. Every postseason for the last I dunno, 15-20 years or so we’ve seen how important it is to have a deep and excellent bullpen. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Bullpens seem to be getting more attention this postseason because of that three-headed Kelvin Herrera-Wade Davis-Greg Holland monster in the Royals bullpen, but they’ve always been important. That’s why I think the Yankees absolutely have to re-sign David Robertson. Re-sign him and add more quality relievers as well, with Andrew Miller being the most obvious candidate. I like Adam Warren as much as the next guy and Shawn Kelley has his moments, but those two are best used as sixth and seventh inning types. Not eighth inning relievers. I have no concerns about Dellin Betances closing if that’s what it comes to, but how could you watch this past season and not see how valuable he was in a multi-inning setup role? With so many close games being played these days, stack that bullpen with as many power arms as possible. There will still be plenty of opportunities for guys like Jacob Lindgren and Nick Rumbelow next year.

3. I’m a power guy and chances are you knew that already. Homers are the single best outcome for any at-bat and doubles aren’t far behind. Pile up a bunch of extra-base hits and you’ll to score a ton of runs. Here, look:

2000-14 XBH vs RperG

Score more runs and you’re more likely to win. That’s the kind of hard-hitting analysis you’ve come to expect from RAB. Now, that said, man are the Royals fun to watch. Their brand of “put the ball in play and run like hell” controlled chaos is exciting and it has me on the edge of my seat with every pitch because you never know when they might take off. It really is fun and I’m sure it drives the other team nuts. I don’t buy it as a model for perennial contention — in case you haven’t noticed, the Royals have benefited from some enormously clutch homers this postseason, it hasn’t been all speed — but it’s worked for Kansas City these last eight games. It’s refreshing to see such a different style of play.

4. If the Giants win the World Series again, don’t we have to consider them a dynasty? Three titles in five years is pretty damn impressive. I’m pretty sure we’d all consider it a dynasty if the Yankees did it, wouldn’t we? I think the coolest thing about San Francisco’s recent success is all the roster turnover, specifically their regulars. Their 2010 and 2014 World Series rosters only have three position players (Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, former Yankee Travis Ishikawa (!)) and one starter (Madison Bumgarner) in common. In fact, if they win another championship this year, they’ll have had a different ace/closer combination in all three title years: Tim Lincecum/Brian Wilson in 2010, Matt Cain/Sergio Romo in 2012, and Bumgarner/Santiago Casilla in 2014. (Bumgarner is their Andy Pettitte, if you haven’t noticed.) Anyway, I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I just find the Giants recent success impressive. They’ve managed to win a bunch of championships without having people try to discredit them because of their massive payroll (sixth in MLB at $155M!).

5. With Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis heading to the Red Sox and Rangers hitting coach Dave Magadan out of the running, it sounds like the Yankees next hitting coach is going to be an off-the-radar hire. That doesn’t mean it will be an outside the box hiring — Jason Giambi, anyone? — just someone we haven’t heard connected to the team at all. That happened four years ago when the Yankees named Larry Rothschild pitching coach. They were no reports he was in the running or had even been interviewed, then bam, he was hired. Either way, I hope the Yankees go with the two hitting coach system because it just seems like something that could be very beneficial. Another set of eyes and another person to help communicate stuff can only help. (I don’t think two hitting coaches falls into “too many cooks in the kitchen” territory, but what do I know.) Nearly two-thirds of the league has a hitting coach and an assistant hitting coach these days. This is the perfect time to implement that system and I really hope the Yankees decide to do it. They’re always a year or two behind the rest of the league with this stuff. It’s time to catch up. (Example: The Rays and Blue Jays were using infield shifts all the time years ago, but the Yankees just got around to it in 2014.)