We are now four weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training. Grapefruit League games are less than six weeks away. Hooray for that. Baseball is coming. Sooner than you think. Anyway, here are some scattered thoughts on this Wednesday.
1. The Yankees are very talented and they’re going to win a lot of games in the coming years. I just can’t shake the feeling they are missing out on an opportunity to become THE TEAM this offseason. They’ve opted to spread the money around and acquire several good players rather than one or two great players. You can argue that is the smart way to go — the 2013 Red Sox won a World Series that way — but I also feel the Yankees were uniquely positioned to capitalize on this free agent class. The homegrown core is excellent and cheap, and when you’re in the game’s biggest market, that’s when you use your financial might to acquire stars. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are both 26 years old. They’re younger than Aaron Judge! They fit into the young core nicely and make the Yankees much better. The Yankees were all set up for a blockbuster offseason. The core is cheap and the luxury tax rate has been reset. I’m not sure what more they needed to do. The Yankees have had a good offseason. James Paxton and DJ LeMahieu are strong additions and having J.A. Happ and Zach Britton for a full season will help. Assuming the Yankees do not sign Machado or Harper — both remain unsigned, so a signing is still possible — this winter feels like a giant missed opportunity. The Yankees might not ever be better set up to spend on transcendent talent than they were coming into this offseason, and it hasn’t happened. Shrug.
2. This has no real on-field value, but you know what? The Yankees signing Machado would be just tremendous for the rivalry with the Red Sox and a great thing for baseball overall. It’s been a long time since the Yankees and Red Sox were this good at the same time. You have to go back to what, 2007? The rivalry went stale for a while there. Now it has some meaning again. Adding Machado to it? Gosh, that would be fun. Baseball needs a villain and, like it or not, the Yankees are that villain. It’s just the way it is. They’re the best and most successful team in the sport’s history and everyone is sick of hearing about them. Remember when the baseball world seemed to embrace the lovable underdog 2017 Yankees? That was fun. It’s never happening again. Not anytime soon, anyway. The 2017 Yankees caught everyone off-guard and now they’re all right back to hating them again. Embrace it. Adding Machado not only makes the Yankees better on the field, but it adds some spark to the rivalry with the Red Sox, and it further gives baseball fans around the world that common enemy. If you’re reading this, chances are you love the Yankees. Pretty much everyone else hates them though. Hey, it’s good for business. Machado — and even Harper to some degree — would give everyone even more of a reason to hate the Yankees. Would be great for ratings and attendance and social media, and baseball overall.
3. I’ve seen lots of folks, both fans and people in media, say the Yankees need to watch their spending now because at some point they have to sign all their homegrown stars, namely Judge, Luis Severino, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, and Miguel Andujar. It’s true, the Yankees will have to pay those guys at some point. The idea they can’t spend now because they have to pay them later is silly though. First of all, who says they’ll be worth paying down the road? I love all those guys and I hope they do well. This is baseball though, and sometimes things don’t work out as expected. Secondly, if paying those guys is so important, why aren’t the Yankees signing them to extensions now? The earlier you sign them, the more you save. Seems like a smart idea. The Yankees have been extension adverse for several years now though. Third, guys like LeMahieu, Britton, Happ, Masahiro Tanaka, and Jacoby Ellsbury will all be off the books before those young players start making serious money in a few years. A lot of payroll space will open up between now and then. And fourth, the Yankees can afford to pay those guys and others! I know this because once upon a time they had to pay Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada. They did that and still had money left over for Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Johnny Damon, and others. Crazy, I know. The “don’t spend now because you might have to spend later” logic floating around is highly flawed. Highly flawed and also didn’t we do this already the last few years? Don’t spend money this offseason because Machado and Harper will be free agents in a few years? Yeah, that really worked out. Point is, don’t worry about having to pay the young guys yet. They Yankees have the financial wherewithal to make it happen. Let the Yankees win one title with this core before we worry how they’ll lock everyone up and win more championships together.
4. One last Machado/Harper thought, I promise. You know we’re going to spend the next few years (maybe even the rest of our lives!) second-guessing this offseason, right? I am certain I will take part in it, I can’t resist, but it is going to capital-S Suck. The Yankees probably won’t win the World Series in 2019. That’s because it is hard to win the World Series and only one team overcomes the longs odds to do it each year. Don’t get mad at me. That’s just reality. If the Yankees don’t win the World Series, we’re never going to hear the end of “they should’ve signed Machado or Harper!” next winter, and however many winters there are between now and the next parade. I’ll probably take part in the second-guessing so I apologize in advance. (In my defense, I am first-guessing the hell out of it.) Heck, even if the Yankees do win the World Series this year, there will still probably be some complaints about not signing Machado or Harper because those two would give them better chances of repeating in 2020. The only good outcome here is the Yankees winning the World Series and Machado and Harper both having poor years. That is the only scenario in which there will be no second-guessing among fans and the media and whoever else. I know it’s coming and I dread it because it is inescapable. Some things can be easily ignored. This will not be one of them.
5. The Yankees signed Didi Gregorius to a one-year contract worth $11.75M prior to the arbitration salary filing deadline last week. That is a touch below his $12.4M projected salary. A few weeks ago I said the most likely outcome was a one-year deal at the projected salary or thereabouts, and that’s exactly what happened. Go me. Anyway, the question now is what’s next? Brian Cashman says the Yankees want to sign Gregorius long-term. Does that mean they’ll try to hammer out an extension as quickly as possible? Or do the Yankees want to wait until Sir Didi returns from Tommy John surgery so they know exactly what they’re getting into? I wouldn’t blame them one bit for waiting. That said, working out an extension now might be their only way to get some sort of injury-related discount. It is possible to sign Gregorius now without changing his luxury tax number for the coming season. I explained it last year. As long as the extension doesn’t kick in until next year, Gregorius will still count as $11.75M against the luxury tax this year. There’s a way to build in short-term luxury tax relief. I’m more interested in the process behind signing Didi than the luxury tax terms. I’m sick of talking about the luxury tax. Will the Yankees sign him now or nah? That’s all I’m curious to know. Now that Gregorius has his $11.75M salary for the coming season locked in, I think he might be more willing to wait out his rehab and show he’s healthy before agreeing to a new deal. Even with free agency being what it is nowadays, he should do pretty well on the open market next winter. Now that he has more security, Didi can be patient. The Yankees probably missed their best chance to get him signed long-term to a below-market rate due to the injury.
6. The Kyler Murray situation is pretty fascinating. The short version: The A’s selected Murray ninth overall in last year’s draft and gave him a $4.66M signing bonus after he said he would play baseball full-time. Then he went back to Oklahoma this past fall, broke out as a football prospect and won the Heisman Trophy, and now he’s trying to leverage a potential NFL career into a larger MLB contract. Good for him. The Athletics and MLB sent people to talk to Murray this past weekend and apparently Oakland was given the okay to offer him a Major League contract, meaning he gets more money and goes on the 40-man roster. Teams can not give draftees Major League contracts anymore, and there are rules forbidding teams from promising draftees another contract down the road. In Murray’s case, MLB believes the A’s did not promise him anything following the draft last summer. He said he would play baseball, then he raised his football stock and the NFL became a legitimate option. Since MLB is allowing this, other draftees could try it I suppose, but how many MLB draft picks have a chance to go in the first round of the NFL draft like Murray? Pretty much none. Murray is a big time outlier. Hopefully this is a wake up call for MLB and they allow teams to increase their draft spending to ensure the best athletes play baseball. MLB shouldn’t lose talent to other sports. I’m sure MLB won’t change a damn thing because owners are doing everything they can to reduce spending, but hopefully something happens. Also, if I were Murray, I’d totally go to the NFL unless the A’s pony up a nice contract (the Scott Kingery extension maybe?). The final pick in the first round of last year’s NFL draft walked away with $9.47M. Murray has to repay the A’s part of the $4.66M bonus should he choose the NFL, but, as long as he’s drafted before the middle of the second round — most NFL mock drafts have him as a late first rounder right now — he’ll break even. Then, in three years, he can negotiate a new contract with his NFL team. From what I understand, even crummy quarterbacks get paid well after three years as long as they’re young. Hopefully Murray and the A’s can work out a deal and he can remain in baseball. Financially, the NFL makes much more sense in the short-term. That first big MLB payday is so far away between the minors and pre-arbitration years.
7. One of the best things the MLBPA can do between now and the next round of Collective Bargaining Agreement talks is get fans on their side. They have three seasons and two offseasons to do it and it will be close to impossible. Generally speaking, fans have no sympathy for the millionaire ballplayers who are making fewer millions than they did a couple of years ago. I totally get it. I also think there’s a chance for the MLBPA to get fans on their side in the coming years. Maybe I’m naive. I don’t think this would ever happen, but imagine a world where Clayton Kershaw rips the Dodgers publicly for cutting payroll. “We lost back-to-back World Series and we play in Los Angeles, why are we worried about the luxury tax?” Think that would energize fans? Now imagine Judge or CC Sabathia doing something similar. Or Kris Bryant. What if Felix Hernandez were to say the Mariners should be embarrassed for wasting his prime and starting another rebuild? Dallas Keuchel said he was disappointed the Astros didn’t get anyone at the 2017 trade deadline, and, last week, Jake Arrieta warned young players that they’re next in line to get screwed over by ownership. Maybe players speaking out against the front office and ownership isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. I sure do think it would help endear the players to fans. I think there’s a lot of frustration in baseball right now. The players are definitely angry their salaries are being cut. There are also a lot of fans upset their teams are not signing players or, in some cases, aren’t even trying to be competitive. More than one-third of the league is tanking or rebuilding or whatever you want to call it. Casual fans don’t care about rebuilds or five-year plans. They want a competitive baseball team. Instead, there are more meaningless games now than maybe ever before. Big name players calling out the front office and ownership for not doing more to field a competitive team — and calling out MLB for allowing it as well — could equal more fan support for the MLBPA going into the next round of CBA talks. Maybe that fan support means nothing and has no tangible impact. Or maybe it changes everything because MLB realizes winning back fans won’t be easy after years of at best ignoring and at worst endorsing teams not making an effort to be competitive. I’d like to think MLB will be held accountable at some point for turning a blind eye to owners turning their teams into get rich quick schemes with no regard for competitive integrity. The MLBPA is the only entity with the power to do that. Any support fans give them will be a plus, but the players will have to earn it.